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AZ Technology & Innovation: Desert Silicon
Original Airdate: 2013-06-12

Tempe-based Desert Silicon is a global supplier of materials and services used by the semiconductor industry to make integrated circuits. Desert Silicon President Tom Brown will discuss his company’s products and mission.

 
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Ted Simons: Tonight's focus on Arizona technology and innovation looks at Desert Silicon, a Tempe-based company that supplies materials and services to the semi conductor industry for use in the development of integrated circuits and other high-tech items. Joining us is Tom Brown, president of Desert Silicon. Give me a better definition of what your company does.

Tom Brown: We make coatings for wafers. Typical devices make to different coatings, level by level by level. If we can make one of those levels a little better we can improve the efficiency, give greater yield, make things work better, give better performance.

Ted Simons: So it's either specialty coatings for these wafers.

Tom Brown: Yes.

Ted Simons: Tell us why a wafer would need a specialty coating.

Tom Brown: For example, LED lighting is a high-growth industry right now. They are looking at putting LED lights in homes and other places. If you match the refractive index of a bottom layer with a top layer, you let more light go through. So we have new technology that makes that work better. We can improve the efficiency of lighting by about 15%, a really big difference for LED lighting.

Ted Simons: This is the process -- correct me if I'm wrong -- the process is called spin-on coating. What is that?

Tom Brown: To me it's almost like magic, really, really interesting. You take a liquid in a bottle and pour it on a wafer that's spinning. It turns from a wafer to solid glass. We can make different types of glass that give different properties to these wafers.

Ted Simons: How thin a wafer and how thin of glass?

Tom Brown: Like a hundred microns or something. Much, much smaller, very, very thin layers.

Ted Simons: These will eventually be used in phones and tablets.

Tom Brown: It can be used in everything. We have companies using them to make better health care devices, companies that are making new energy conversion devices. One company wants to take the heat from a muffler and change that to electricity. So you could replace the alternator on a car for example.

Ted Simons: Interesting idea. You have stuff here with you now. What are we looking at now as far as -- now --

Tom Brown: So this is a silicon wafer. It has a thin coating on it. And sometimes you can see it a little better on the back of the wafer.

Ted Simons: That's spun on, as it were?

Tom Brown: This is put on by a more traditional method, but this is an example. We can create these same types of layers with the spin-on material.

Ted Simons: Okay. What else you got over there?

Tom Brown: A different -- same type of thing only a little different layer, because it has a different color to it. The colors vary by how thick the layers are. It's like a scale on a butterfly wing. They have different reflections depending on how thick they are. This is very similar to that.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Does your company have a factory? Does have it a lab? How are they produced? How is this spun-on coating done?

Tom Brown: For several years we worked out of my partner's garage. He has a big garage on his property and we have worked to make materials there. We have an investment from a business incubator, that really believes in conscious capitalism, creating honorable businesses in the state of Arizona. And so we work with them to -- they have funded us and given us space to work. We will get a year of free rent in one of their facilities, and we're building a laboratory to make a larger expansion where we can produce larger quantities of our chemicals.

Ted Simons: How much room would you need for this kind of expansion?

Tom Brown: Our materials are relatively expensive, a small bottle may cost a little over $1,000. We don't need a lot of space. We have may be 4,000 square feet of manufacturing space, enough to make lot of material.

Ted Simons: Let's say Ted's Tablet Company, I call you and I say, I need something to improve the performance of my tablets. You say --

Tom Brown: On our website we have a page called designer glass. So someone can call us up exactly like you said. They might say, we want to have a different refractive index to better match, or a high dialectic constant. A local company asked for high dialectic constant materials. We go to our laboratory and create and design a new material that would work better for their process.

Ted Simons: Do you work mostly with big companies, small companies?

Ted Simons: A lot of small companies where new innovations are coming, we spend a lot of time with them.

Ted Simons: As far as Arizona is concerned, you're basing this company, your space is in Tempe, correct?

Tom Brown: That's correct.

Ted Simons: Talk about Arizona and the opportunities, the high-tech opportunities we have here in the Valley and in the state as a whole.

Tom Brown: We feel like we have a really important role because a number of years ago, if you wanted to have really creative people, what you might do is have a lot of machine shops where they ground metal and made things very precise and exact. Today we live in a different environment. High-tech companies need new materials, and that's what we provide. We feel like we're an important part of the Arizona business ecosystem. We can help new companies get new innovative materials, they can have a giant step up ahead of other people because of what they are doing. We have orders this week, from India, and another country -- we have them from all over the world. But we do focus a lot over Arizona, also.

Ted Simons: And that I think helps quite a bit, I would imagine.

Tom Brown: They do. You know, no one talks about this, but having a small business at times can be kind of a lonely job. You're trying to create something new, taking it to the rest of the world. Sometimes they love you, sometimes they hate you. It's a good thing to be with others trying to do the same thing. You can encourage each other and build on each other's work.

Ted Simons: Thank you so much, sounds like you've got things going there. Good to have you here.

Tom Brown: All right, thank you very much.

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