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Weebit Nano (ASX:WBT) achieves next milestone
June 29, 2022
WBT, Weebit, Weebit Nano
Weebit Nano is another step closer to mass production
We spoke to Weebit Nano (ASX:WBT) CEO, Coby Hanoch, about the company’s latest milestone. It taped out its ReRAM demo chips at a commercial fab for the first time. We expect this tape-out will make conversations with current and future prospects a lot easier as the technology is now another step closer to going into mass production.
IMPORTANT: At the end of the interview Coby talks about how ReRAM is now increasingly a topic for discussion among chip manufacturers. Also, Crossbar and Adesto, two companies similar to WBT, have largely faded away from the emerging memory scene. This makes WBT’s technology one of a very few options on the market!
Disclosure: Pitt Street Research/Stocks Down Under directors own shares in Weebit Nano.
See full transcription below.
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Marc: Hello, and welcome to Stocks Down Under. Today we’re talking to Coby Hanoch, the CEO of Weebit Nano. Welcome, Coby.
Coby: Hi, Marc.
Marc: You had some awesome news to report on the tape out of the demo chip at the SkyWater facilities, but let’s start off by…if you could explain to us specifically what taping out means.
Coby: Okay. Yeah. I realize that not everyone is a semiconductor expert. So, you know, the process of designing a semiconductor chip is actually a very long one with many, many steps, you know, dozens of steps. And, you know, it includes defining the functionality, defining the timing, the voltages, you know, all the electrical parameters, etc.
And once you have all of that done, you go through a verification phase and you can make sure that everything’s okay, you do a lot of simulation. And you get to the point where you say, “Okay. Everything’s ready, and now we need to go into production.” So you basically need to package everything and ship it over to the manufacturing facility so that they can get ready to manufacture. Now, you know, 30, 40 years ago, that process was actually, you would take it and put it on a magnetic tape and you would chip it out to the fab. So that’s where the term tape-out came from. It’s stuck, and today everyone always uses the term tape-out for the process of actually shipping the final design to the manufacturing facilities so that they can start working on it.
Marc: Right. So it’s not an actual piece of hardware, but it’s the actual design, basically, sort of, in software, I guess? And you can send it digitally to the manufacturing plant?
Coby: I mean, basically…Well, it’s too big to send by email, so there are other facilities, but it’s shipped electronically today. We don’t use a physical tape anymore.
Marc: So you taped out a demonstration chip at Leti last year. How is that different from what you just announced at SkyWater?
Coby: In some sense, it’s similar, in other senses, it’s very, very different. Leti is an R&D facility, so we taped out the design, by the way, itself. It’s not that different. It’s pretty similar. But the fact that we’re doing it now at a production facility means that we finish transferring the technology to SkyWater. You can’t tape out in a fab before you have the technology transferred and working, and ready. So the big news is really that we finished the technology transfer and now the SkyWater fab is ready to manufacture our ReRAM, so we can tape out this demo chip to SkyWater once it’ll be manufactured at SkyWater. We’ll actually have a chip, for the first time, that was manufactured in a mass production facility.
Marc: Right. And why is that important for say, you know, other prospects looking at your technology?
Coby: First of all, customers want to know that if they adopt our technology, they can manufacture it in a mass production facility. Leti is an R&D facility, so customers can’t actually manufacture there. So the key point here is really, we’ve gone from R&D to production mode. Customers can actually come to SkyWater and, you know, place orders and manufacture their designs, which will incorporate our ReRAM in them. We can talk to the customers, and it’s a different level of confidence, you know. Because customers… Even though Leti has an unbelievable facility and their fab is top-notch, you know, it’s still not a mass production fab. So it’s just yet another step towards commercialization, increasing the confidence of the customers.
Now, once the chip comes back from the SkyWater fab, then we’ll be able to finally qualify it and, you know, do all the testing that’s needed to show that it’s ready for mass production. And then we can really go into mass production and, you know, work with customers, get revenue, and all the nice things.
Marc: Yeah. Okay.
Coby: And I will also add a comment here. The first fab, the first customer, they’re always the most difficult ones to get on board and get working, you know. Other fabs are looking already at what we’re doing with SkyWater. And once, you know, they see that we actually manage to get the qualification done there, I mean, we’re doing tape-out now, we’re going to be doing qualification. All of this opens them up much more to talk to us, and we’re already talking to several other fabs about transferring the technology to them as well, you know, because now they’re seeing that this is actually real and it is moving to production
Marc: Right. Yeah. I was gonna ask you about conversations that you’re having. What sort of influence will this tape-out have on the conversations you’re having with prospects, and could it actually expedite the ongoing discussions you’re having?
Coby: Yeah. Of course. As I said, it’s really just giving more confidence to people. Everyone is really concerned when they’re doing a chip design that costs them many millions of dollars to do. You know, it’s really a high-risk situation, you know. They wanna make sure that whatever their product is, you know, when they ship it, that it’s working, that everything’s fine. And when there’s a new technology, it’s very natural, it’s human nature, and justified human nature, people are concerned, you know “How do I know that this is rock solid, it works, I won’t have any issues? You know, I can’t risk losing, now, tens of millions of dollars of investment because of something small in the design or some element in the design.”
So, you know, as we progress, as we move from an R&D facility to a production facility, as we progress in the steps, you know, we do the tape-out, we’ll get the chips, we’ll do the testing, the qualification. All of these are additional steps on this long path to get to the commercialization and mass production.
Marc: And just coming back to SkyWater, and you alluded to it a bit earlier already, what’s the next step then for that process? And can you talk a little bit about timelines for those steps?
Coby: So, we did the tape-out and SkyWater has now received that package. They need to prepare it for production. It’s a process that takes a few weeks to prepare everything, to prepare the mask set, and so on, and then it will go into the production fab.
I think if you remember last year, it took about half a year for Leti to manufacture. The demo chip, we expect it to be a bit faster at SkyWater. So before the end of the year, we’re expecting to see the wafers come out and we’ll be able to start doing the qualification process. And, you know, there will be several lots.
One of the thing is you don’t just manufacture one set of wafers and you do all the testing on them. You actually need to manufacture several sets of wafers, and you need to show that between the different sets of wafers or the lots, is what’s called, everything is consistent, everything is repeatable, everything really works well. So, you know, if you do mass production, all of the different lots that come out will be almost identical or basically identical, and everything is ready.
So that’s kind of the process that we need to go through. So early next year, we hope to have the qualification results, Q1, and if all goes well, and we expect it to go well, but there’s always, you know, a lot of work to do here, we’ll be ready for mass production.
Marc: All right. Excellent. Last question, Coby. You also announced, I think it was last week, that you did a demonstration at the Leti, I think, Innovation Day it’s called. And that was of the new demo chip. Can you talk us through how that went and also what that means for…you know, there’s a lot of executives coming, but probably mostly tech people. But what it means for, sort of, the…well, you can call it Marketing if you want, but for the proliferation of, you know, future ReRAM technology in future products?
Coby: Yeah. So, the Leti Innovation Day is really a key event for us. We had a booth there, we showed this demo. This is, by the way, the demo chip that we taped out last year and was manufactured at Leti. And now we really have it working. We announced that it’s functionally working, everything’s really looking good.
The demo was, I think, very impressive. People really liked it. We got very good feedback. We managed to show the memory working, first of all, you know, that it’s non-volatile. That you can cut off the power, turn it back on, the data is there, how fast the memory read is, which is really a key element in the memory design, and the fact that we are a bit addressable and so on.
So we managed to demonstrate several features of our memory and get good responses. This is, by the way, part of a much more intensive Marketing activity that we’re doing now. I think you already saw announcements that we were at IMW and we presented there. We didn’t announce all of the conferences that we went to, but we’ve participated in quite a few conferences in the last few months, gave presentations in different places. And really it’s part of moving to commercialization, gaining public awareness of our technology, getting more people to contact us, to talk to us about it.
So very exciting times now with all of these discussions with the potential customers, with fabs that are now aware of us, and then they’re talking to us, and so on. So really very exciting times.
Marc: Yeah. And you’ve got the flash memory…what is it called? Summit? Flash memory…
Coby: Flash Memory Summit is coming up. That’s, you know, the biggest…
Marc: That’s the big one, right?
Coby: …event for us in August. And, you know, we’ll have a very nice booth there and we’ll, of course, be showing the demo there as well.
Marc: Yeah. Okay. Final question, Coby. We spoke recently, and in general terms, about how the Market is seeing ReRam, and there’s a lot of things happening, right, in that space. So right now the only big player In the world that’s got some sort of ReRAM offering is TSMC. A few of the smaller players that have been working on this technology seem to have sort of faded away a little bit. Can you talk a little bit about…and just, you know, briefly, about what you’re seeing in the industry-wide when it comes to sort of the buzz around ReRAM and what’s happening there?
Coby: Yeah. Again, the time is ripe now. This is it. For a long time when I was talking to people about ReRAM, you know, people always refer to it as, “Yeah. That’s the emerging technology of the future.” And it was always kind of the future thing. Well, now I think people realize that it’s here. It’s now, it’s here, customers are asking for it. I’ve already heard from several fabs that they got requests for ReRAM. I’ve already heard about fabs losing major deals because they didn’t have ReRAM. I mean, it’s here. People are looking for ReRAM, and that’s a big change from even, you know, I would say, a year and a half, two years ago.
Now, in terms of the Marketplace, I would say that, you know, in the past we saw… I mean, among the big companies, there’s always been some activity around ReRAM, but none of them really managed to get very far. They just didn’t have the management attention for it. TSMC has announced that they have a ReRAM solution and, you know, we’ve yet to see how good it is, or, you know, how much the Market is adopting it. But TSMC is one fab, and actually when they announce that, all the other fabs realized, “Oh, wait a minute. We need a ReRAM solution.”
Coby: And that’s part of what’s triggered a lot of the discussions that we have now. In reality, you know, the other two big players that were in the Market, among the smaller companies, Adesto and Crossbar, they’ve both…I don’t know what term exactly to use, but they basically disappeared. Crossbar, you know, already two years ago, they had major financial issues and the management team left. And since then, except for a little bit in China, you don’t really hear about them. And Adesto was acquired by Dialog, which was acquired by Renesas.
And, you know, we’ve seen many of the Adesto people already leave. I mean, we hired Ishai. We were very lucky to get Ishai as our CTO. He was one of the founders of Adesto.
Marc: That’s clever.
Marc: Good hire.
Coby: …you know, we don’t really see Adesto anywhere in any real activities almost anywhere. You know, I’ve had people in conferences tell me, “Oh, so it’s basically TSMC and Weebit. That’s our choice right now.” So it was kinda nice to be in that camp.
Marc: Yeah. You make it sound really nice, Coby. That’s a good, you know, decision for people to make, right? TSMC or Weebit Nano because I think… Look, I think if you look at the landscape, TSMC is the very big fish, but there is a lot of other, you know, fabs out there needing this technology. And I’m not sure TSMC would be willing to share this sort of technology easily with competing players, right? So you need other choices in the Market.
Coby: No way. No way.
Coby: TSMC will be using it in their fab, and all the other fabs need to find the solution. And, by the way, there was another analysis, which I really liked, that came out of Yole, one of the key analyst groups in the industry, which kind of showed how the ReRAM Market is going to go through an unbelievably fast growth in the next three years. So, you know, they’re expecting it to go from almost zero, now, to about half a billion U.S. dollars in just three years, and really grow rapidly. We’re going to be part of that.
Marc: Yeah. Awesome. Exciting times, Coby. And getting more excited each time we talk, so it was very good to catch up. Thank you very much for your time, Coby.
Coby: Well, thanks, Marc.