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My Life at Fairchild Semiconductor – 1979

My Life at Fairchild Semiconductor – 1979
by Mark Rioux on 11-29-2015 at 8:00 pm

 This week it was announced that Fairchild Semiconductor was sold to On Semiconductor for $2.4B. The end of an era. As I look back at my career of 36 years with the only company that I have worked for since graduating college, I can’t help but feel a bit sad but extremely grateful for the wonderful experience that Fairchild has provided to me. It has been a wild ride but I wouldn’t trade it for any other career on the face of the Earth.

Please allow me to reminisce….

The day was Monday, June 4, 1979. I had just graduated from the University of Maine at Orono with a BSEE degree. I was 22 years old, a young, wide-eyed kid raised from a large family (5 brothers and one sister and two great parents) in Lewiston, Maine. It was my first day of work at Fairchild Camera and Instrument located at 333 Western Avenue in South Portland, the exact same location that I will be retiring from on March 4, 2016 at 8:05am. This factory is the oldest semiconductor fabrication site in existence, starting operations in 1962.

I was one of many new engineers to report for work that week. The business climate was strong and the semiconductor market was growing rapidly. My first stop was HR, where I was given basic orientation on the work requirements and company benefits. A guy by the name of Peter Wiberg was the HR Manager and my boss was Mike Pawlik who was the Engineering Supervisor in charge of the Diffusion Fabrication area. Mike was an excellent supervisor and engineering talent. Shortly into my new job, He spent a week with me working on second shift, providing personalized one-on-one training. It was probably the most significant week of my entire career. I learned a tremendous amount about fabrication processing, parametric testing (measuring transistor beta, BVcbo and LVceo, etc.) and people. At that time, approximately 2000 people worked at the factory of roughly 100,000 sq. ft and I was proud and excited to be among the workforce. Today, the workforce has been reduced to less than 300.

I was hired to be a sustaining Process Engineer in charge of the Diffusion area for the 3″ Class 100 Fab. My starting salary was $16,800/yr. At that time, the fab had a start level of approximately 13,000 wafers per week and we ran TTL, Low Power and Standard Schottky logic products that had minimum feature sizes in the range of 4um – 7um. Our new technology was FAST logic, which was semi-recessed locos oxide isolated that offered tremendous speed power performance benefits relative our junction isolated technologies.

The Diffusion area used Thermco furnaces which had all copper plumbing (not stainless steel) with leak-prone swagelok fittings. Gas flows in the diffusion tubes were regulated using manual flowmeters as mass flow controllers were not developed as yet. This was the era before ion implantation so all semiconductor dopants were sourced through diffusion predeposition processes. antimony trioxide (Sb2O3) and arsine gas (AsH3) was used for bipolar collectors, boron nitride (BN) and boron trichloride (BCL3) to form base junctions and phosphorus oxychloride (POCL3) used to form emitter regions. Diborane (B2H6) was used for junction isolation. Each of these predeposition processes were quite unique in how they introduced dopant to the silicon surface. Although these dopants were quite hazardous and potentially deadly to work with, we did not have all the safety interlocking systems that are commonplace today but we did educate the workforce on the material properties of the dopants and the need to follow strict procedures.

Silicon wafers were loaded onto long quartz ladders using stainless steel tweezers (imagine the contamination induced) and the loaded ladders were then slid onto a carrier (quartz lined stainless steel) that would enable the operators to carry the ladder from a loading station to the diffusion tube. The wafers were then slid into the the furnace manually using a long quartz push rod. Once loaded, the operator capped the tube using a quartz end cap that had a hole to direct exhaust gases to the vestibule exhaust of the furnace.

Equipment and processes were significantly more manual than the advanced equipment of today. Of course wafer and die yields were very low by today’s standards. The average bank of diffusion furnaces cost far less than $100K.

We did have cleanroom garments that consisted of lab coats and booties and hairnets.

The office area of that time was quite different than today. The floors were all tile and we had cubicles that housed 6 to 8 desks. It was common for people to smoke cigarettes at their desk and ashtrays were commonplace. We had no PCs as they hadn’t been invented yet. There were no cell phones, no beepers, no emails. When we wanted to contact someone, we called their name on the intercom and asked them to call our number. When we wanted to write a report, we wrote the report and gave it to the secretary to type up and distribute. When a correction had to be made, they used white-out and typed over the mistake. When the fab had to communicate to the assembly sites overseas, they used teletype (TWX) machines to send written information. Phone service was typically not used as it was prohibitively expensive.

I could go on but you get the idea. The industry has seen much change since 1979 and I feel extremely fortunate for the great opportunity and career that Fairchild has provided me.

…more to come.

More articles from Mark…..

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