Working at Texas Instruments(TI) in Dallas in the summer of 1958, Jack Kilby conceived and built the first electronic circuit in which all of the components were fabricated in a single piece of semiconductor material half the size of a paper clip. This historic innovation revolutionized the industry and ultimately, the world. For his efforts, — and some 60 other patents he owned — Kilby received the National Medal of Science, was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame and finally, in 2000 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.
We were in Dallas yesterday for the NAM’s Communications Council meeting, marveling at the end result (thus far) of what Jack Kilby hath wrought, touring Texas Instruments’ Dallas Metal Oxide Semiconductor Plant #6, or DMOS6, a state-of-the-art wafer fab plant.
This plant, first and foremost, is enormous. It covers some 190,000 square feet — the size of three football fields. The centerpiece is a “clean room” where 600-700 workers make the 300 mm (about 12″) wafer. The manufacturing was impressive, but equally as impressive is the technology of guaranteeing that the facility stays “clean” — in fact, 100 times cleaner than an operating room. You don’t even want to know how much cleaner than your house that is. This facility cranks out about 15,000 wafers a month — baked at 2,000-3,000 degrees Fahrenheit — that are then sent to be cut into millions of small semiconductor chips and then find their way into computers, cell phones and other digital equipment. The plant is highly automated and is just a sight to behold.
From digital signal processors, we went to their Spring Creek facility to see their Cinema Products group and their Digital Light Processing (DLP) showroom and display. These images are incredible for their fidelity, even on large screens. Thanks to Dan Larson of TI for setting up both tours and to Steve Russo for being a great impromptu tour guide.
Washington is such a Godless place, it is easy to forget some times that there is a real world out there. For us, a trip to see a real manufacturer doing what they do best is a complete burst of oxygen, a shot of adrenaline. This is a company that spends some $2 billion a year on research and development. They are at the cutting edge of technology and innovation in a sector, an industry that changes by the half-second. It was just so inspirational and affirming to stand there in the midst of all this innovation and manufacturing and feel the vibe. All who saw it were truly blown away by the scale of the place, the technology necessary to manufacture and the technology necessary to keep the facility a level of clean that’s almost incomprehensible. This is a world-class manufacturer that is competing with the best in the world and winning.
“Many consumers associate TI with the development of the transistor radio the handheld calculator and Speak and Spell technology [made famous by ET]”, said Popular Mechanics. “Generations X and Y will know TI as the brains behind breakthrough video, digital-imaging and wireless products.”
American manufacturing is alive and well. If you run into anyone who doubts it, if you see anyone who still thinks manufacturing is dirty low-end work, send ’em down to DMOS6.
Somewhere, Jack Kilby is smiling.
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