Friday night I got back from a two-week trip to Japan, my first business trip for my new job. It was an interesting experience, I’ll do my best to blog about it without revealing too many details about specifics, since my job is very sensitive about IP issues.

I work for a Japanese semiconductor company that makes various tools used by the major chip-making companies: Intel, Samsumg, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, etc. In this case ‘tool’ generally means a huge machine that’s 10’x20′ or larger and performs various processes on hundreds of wafers per hour. To put in perspective, a single tool can cost millions of dollars. One thing that has been consistent in the semiconductor industry over the past decades is that they are continually trying to make things smaller, faster, and cheaper. This requires constant innovation, which means that there are never a shortage of new and difficult problems to work on. My company has all of its production facilities in Japan, several large factories where it makes the tools that are then sold to the various companies. It also has a few research facilities and such too, where they try and work out problems with current of future tool implementations.

A lot of the various processes that our tools perform involve transport phenomena: coating, baking, drying, spinning, cleaning, etc. Some of these processes can get very complicated, and understanding all the pertinent physics at play can be a bit too complicated for a regular engineer with a B.S. Add to that the fact that Japanese industry traditionally does not hire a lot of people with advanced degrees, and you end up with a shortage of knowledge that could be helpful in solving many of these problems.

That’s where my group comes in. My boss had built/nurtured a group of researchers in America, most of us with PhD’s and/or years of experience working in the semiconductor industry, and we essentially work on the most difficult problems they are dealing with in the factories or research facilities back in Japan. When I started in September my boss gave me two introductory projects to start on, and for me to report my progress in Japan in October.