Article last updated on: May 04, 2017 recently had the opportunity to interview David Hurley, CEO, Magnetic Solutions

Magnetic Solutions is a global supplier of High Field, Magnetic Annealing Tools to semiconductor and data storage industries for magneto-electronic applications. It’s MRT Magnetic Annealing Tool Technology is used in volume production of thin film heads for data storage, and in development lines for MRAM, magnetic sensors and emerging magneto-electronic applications.

Prior to taking the helm at Magnetic Solutions in 1999 David was a researcher in magnetic technology, primarily focusing on high energy permanent magnet materials and structures. David holds a PhD from Trinity College in Dublin which has a fine tradition in magnetism, with stints as a researcher in Germany and Japan in the 1990’s. His research expertise in permanent magnet materials and structures was a driver in Magnetic Solutions push into manufacture of high field magnetic annealing tools for MRAM and Data Storage.

Q: Hello David, and thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. First of all, will you explain Magnetic Annealing for our readers?

A: As deposited magnet layers in MRAM structures do not have magnetic properties sufficiently uniform and optimized for correct repeatable device performance. Magnetic Annealing, as its name implies, is a thermal process carried out under the influence of an applied magnetic field that is used to ‘homogenizes’ the magnetic properties of the layers and set the correct inter-layer exchange interactions to achieve high MR ratio in an MTJ.

Q: You offer two products for MRAM processing: MRT1000/2000. Can you describe those machine and the difference between them?

A: The MRT tool provides a configurable platform for magnetic annealing in a high volume Fab environment and has been used in production since ~2000 in the data storage industry. The different models of MRT refer to the strength of the magnetic field applied on the wafers. MRT1000 provides 1000 mT (1 Tesla), MRT2000 provides 2 Tesla, MRT5000 provides 5 Tesla, etc. Tools come in 150mm, 200mm and soon 300mm variants.

Q: You also provide contract services and research solutions. Can you give more info?

A: In addition to our MRT tools for volume semiconductor manufacturing, we manufacture research scale annealing tools for MRAM and Data Storage. Some of these can be quite high field systems up to 10 Tesla. Also, we manufacture a wide range of magnetic field sources for beam line applications for people working at places like Brookhaven Nation Labs, European Synchrotron, TATA Institute in India, Brazilian Synchrotron, etc. These tend to be bespoke projects that give us a lot of fun challenges.

On contract services, we maintain a process lab for magnetic annealing that covers a very broad process range of options at 300mm, high field magnets, low vacuum capability, etc. This allows developers to try out annealing conditions for new devices prior to specifying their requirements and spending the $$. We run a lot of wafers for a lot of groups covering MRAM, Data Storage, Magnetic Sensors and some interesting emerging device ideas.

Q: Who are you business partners?

A: We are an independent private company, but we have conducted technical development programs with a number of partners. Highlights would be with Magnex Scientific in the UK and PraxAir in the USA. On the corporate side, Intel Capital are shareholders in the business for the past few years and we have an alliance with Anelva Corporation regarding our marketing strategy in Japan.

Q: in April 2005 you have announced that your MRT2000 machine was selected by an "international semiconductor company". Is it possible to have the name of this company?

A: I am afraid I cannot give names. But can confirm that it was for a US based MRAM project and that that project is progressing very well.

Q: Do you have any updates about the MRAM research performed with your machine?

A: That is a very broad question and gets us into confidential areas. Suffices to say that our MRT tools are used by ~80% of MRAM development groups to cover the full range of possible MRAM structures being developed. They all need to be magnetic annealed in some fashion.

Q: What do you make of the recent Freescale MRAM product? will this encourage more companies to invest
in MRAM research and production?

A: Its great news for everyone in this space and gives confidence that MRAM can make the jump to production. I personally don’t believe that the announcement in itself will increase the investment $ in other organizations, but will help in gaining corporate support for continuing funding for programs that are 2+ years from product.

Q: Where do you see MRAM in about 5 years?

A: Starting what the semiconductor industry generally would recognize as volume production with a capital V. I believe macroscopically we are in small v territory for the next ~3 years.

Q: When do you estimate we'll be able to buy a MRAM-on-key or have MRAM in mobile phones or A/V players?

A: Realistically 3-4 years from now for general application.

Q: Where do you see Magnetic Solutions in about 5 years?

A: Leading vendor for 300mm tooling for magnetic annealing in the ‘magnetoelectronic’ space, a space which I believe will extend far beyond just MRAM at that point.

Thank you again for your time, I wish both you and Magnetic Solutions good luck!