Metrology – not to be confused with meteorology – may be more obscure than studying the atmosphere, but it is just as important when it comes to the daily functioning of your everyday devices.
Without the tools and testing equipment used by metrology experts, manufacturers would be unable to ensure quality control and consistency in their chips.
And leading the way in this field is KLA-Tencor, the world’s largest metrology company, developing devices and protocols to test silicon chips.
“It’s our equipment that allows Intel, Samsung and many others to churn out the chips that power the cellphones, tablets and laptops we depend on nowadays,” said John Van Camp, KLA-Tencor’s global head of human resources. “It’s safe to say that without us, there would be no digital era, at least in the way we have come to know it.”
Among the tools KLA-Tencor makes, for example, are systems to check for uniform silicon wafer thickness, shape and flatness; tools to inspect the quality of reticles (glass plates with chrome on one side in which a pattern is etched and then transferred to a silicon wafer); systems for the automated optical inspection and metrology of microelectronic devices on a variety of wafer substrates; advanced defect detection and classification of micro-pits, bumps, and particles on media and drives; and so on.
The tools are complicated to build and need to be highly precise, and developing them requires a great deal of mathematical and engineering skills.
It is the talent to build those tools that KLA-Tencor seeks out and employs in Israel. The company employs about 200 engineers in Israel, in addition to 45 PhDs in mathematical science. Indeed, it sees itself as one of the biggest “customers” of math PhD holders in Israel. Over the past 18 months, the company has hired 100 people in Israel to staff its two facilities, both in the north.
“We have a large manufacturing facility in Israel from where we ship hundreds of millions of dollars of semiconductor fabrication equipment annually,” said Van Camp.
Ami Appelbaum, head of KLA-Tencor operations in Israel, said that the company was well-known for its recruiting efforts at Israel’s top universities.
“They know what we are looking for and point us in the direction of appropriate talent. Israel is also centrally located for this business, because of the many multinationals that have R&D facilities here, and because of Israel’s close ties with manufacturers in China. We have a strong ecosystem for a business like this, and Israel is very popular with KLA-Tencor executives,” said Appelbaum.
Worldwide, KLA-Tencor has 6,000 employees, and it’s Van Camp’s job to meet with each and every one. The company is a pioneer in the “roaming management” method of running a company.
Although Van Camp and other executives – from the CEO on down – have offices in KLA-Tencor’s worldwide headquarters in California, they spend a great deal of time on the road, meeting at least once with every new employee and reviewing the performance at over three dozen facilities around the world; three are located in Israel.
For KLA-Tencor, say company officials, its KLA-Tencor Insight Program is an important way to keep their finger on the pulse of the industry. And for employees in far-flung places like Israel, they say, it is a refreshing change from the usual situation in most other organizations, in which a company executive might visit once in a blue moon.
It is because of those visits that KLA-Tencor is such a big believer in Israel, said Van Camp.
“Everyone knows the risks involved in doing business in Israel, and we do evaluate that question when making business decisions on where and how to deploy,” he said.
“In the eight years that we have been in Israel, we have not seen any reason not to continue with our work here and to expand it. Yes, the wars and unrest are facts we can’t – and don’t – ignore, but we have been much more exposed due to problems in other parts of the world than in Israel. The benefits we get here far outweigh the risks.”