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(Image courtesy of Lam Research).

Lam Research Buys Coventor, Whose Software Virtually Fabricates Chips

It can cost millions of dollars to design modern chips, so companies need to know about potential flaws that could occur in manufacturing. Lam Research, which sells tools for laying down transistor patterns onto silicon wafers, wants to help steer companies away from trouble.

The supplier said on Thursday that it had acquired Coventor, a software firm whose products virtually fabricate chips so that engineers can view potential defects and variations. Lam said that it had completed the deal but did not disclose the purchase price.

Coventor's software lets companies assess chips before moving onto manufacturing and testing actual silicon, which is expensive and can take weeks. Their tools not only model circuits but also analyze variations and defects that can occur while manufacturing transistors, which are now built in three dimensions.

The software is vital as companies grapple with manufacturing variations in the length, width, and thickness of transistors. As individual circuits shrink, the potential for variations increases. Foundries are now testing ways to etch 7-nanometer technology onto plates of silicon.

Coventor, which was founded in 1996, also sells software that models microelectromechanical systems – more commonly known as MEMS – which contain tiny interlocking parts. Several chipmakers are using them for radio frequency applications, as impedance tuners and antenna switches that cover a wide range of frequencies.

Rick Gottscho, Lam's chief technical officer, said that the acquisition would enable it "to deliver more simulation, more virtual fabrication, and an overall increase in computational techniques to support the development of next-generation transistors, memories, MEMS, and IoT devices."

The deal gives Lam additional artillery to deploy against increasing chip complexity. As manufacturing costs continue to rise, the company has also aimed to acquire rivals. In 2015, it offered $10.6 billion for process control supplier KLA-Tencor, but the deal fell apart after regulatory issues.

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