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College of Technology debuts $6 million semiconductor facility

January 30, 2003

A new $6 million Microelectronics Teaching Factory at Arizona State University's Polytechnic campus is heralding a new approach to educating students and preparing them for direct entry into the global semiconductor work force.

ASU President Michael Crow joined representatives from companies including Intel, Motorola and Microchip October 29 in dedicating the microchip fabrication facility, which is the cornerstone of the Electronics Engineering Technology program's microelectronics concentration.

The 15,000-square-foot, Class-100 cleanroom provides students hands-on experience in the design, development and production of microchips, which are the heart of everything from personal computers and cell phones to automobiles and airplanes.

Leading semiconductor companies have partnered with ASU's Polytechnic campus to produce graduates who possess the skills and discipline needed for immediate employment. An advisory board, made up of representatives from higher education and global semiconductor corporations, will guide and validate the curriculum and programs in the factory.

"We're delivering an education that is guided by industry leaders, taught by doctoral-level faculty with industry experience, and aimed at making a work-force ready graduate," said Lakshmi Munukutla, associate dean of the College of Technology and Innovation and executive director of the teaching factory. "Students utilize a mix of theoretical concepts and practical applications in a facility that emulates the factory environment."

Intel donated more than $1 million worth of equipment for the facility, when the San Jose, Calif.-based company closed its Fab 6 facility in Chandler, Ariz. Motorola's Semiconductor Products Sector provided another $2 million of equipment and services. Intel and Motorola join Microchip Technologies, ST Microelectronics, On Semiconductor, Medtronic, Texas Instruments and Amkor as the program's industry partners and significant donors.

Ken Williams, operations manager for Motorola's MOS-12 Chandler wafer fabrication facility, said the teaching factory and ASU's curriculum benefit the university, graduates and industry.

"Graduates from this program will be steps ahead because they possess hands-on experience using the tools and techniques employed by leading chipmakers. Industry will not have to spend thousands of hours and dollars in training new hires about the tools, safety protocols and skills needed to work in a high-tech manufacturing environment."

The partnership also extends to Arizona community colleges. ASU's Polytechnic campus's teaching factory will be used in degree programs from the associate's through master's degree level. Certification and continuing education opportunities will also be offered to those already employed in high-tech manufacturing companies.

Utilizing the fully functional facility, students will learn proper methods for gowning bunny suits, using complex tools for realistic small-scale manufacturing, and the safe handling of chemicals.

"We are emulating the essentials of a real fab environment," said ASU's Polytechnic campus Professor John Robertson. "Students are exposed to the culture and disciplines necessary to make quantified, cost-effective decisions."

As technology changes, the partnership with industry will help ASU adapt its program. But the basic skills students will learn in the clean-room environment will not change for generations to come, according to Albert McHenry, dean of the College of Technology and Innovation at ASU.

"A significant portion of high-tech manufacturing involves clean rooms and small-scale process, whether in the semiconductor, biotechnology or pharmaceutical industries," McHenry said.

Planning for the Microelectronics Teaching Factory began in 1998 with the appropriation of funds from the Arizona Legislature to build the physical facility. Industry partners joined and provided equipment and expertise in the years that followed. The first students began taking classes in the factory this fall.