SEMI Oral History Interview
April 8, 2004 , Tokyo , Japan
Interviewed by Craig Addison, SEMI
Shoichiro Yoshida joined Nikon Corporation in 1956 after graduating from the University of Tokyo with a major in precision mechanical engineering. For the first 15 years at Nikon he was involved in the design of optical and other precision instruments, including astronomical telescopes, spectroscopic instruments and ruling engines for optical grating. Yoshida was instrumental in Nikon's strategy to merge optical technology with precision instrumentation to develop products for the semiconductor manufacturing industry. He led the development of the NSR step-and-repeat system during the 1970s and Nikon's first stepper, the NSR-1010G, which was released in 1980. In 1983, Yoshida was appointed division manager for Nikon's stepper products. Five years later he was promoted to managing director of Nikon Corporation, with wider responsibility for the microscope and measuring instruments division as well as steppers. Yoshida was subsequently appointed executive vice president and in 1997 became president of Nikon Corporation. He served as chairman and CEO from 2001 until his retirement in 2005, when he was named as Corporate Advisor to Nikon. Yoshida was elected to the board of directors of SEMI in 1990 and served a term as chairman of SEMI in 1998/1999.
CA: Today we are with Yoshida-san, chairman and CEO of Nikon. Thank you very much for participating Yoshida-san.
YS: It is my great pleasure.
CA: Firstly, could we talk about the period before you started in your first job, during school or your early days. Whatever you care to share with us in terms of your education, family background, influences etc.
SY: I graduated from the University of Tokyo and my major was in the faculty of engineering, actually from the department of precision engineering. When I had education from elementary school to junior high school they set a special class and selected students who were good at math and science. I was actually assigned as one of the students for that class and I started to learn math at that time. So that's the background I decided to go to further my study at the University of Tokyo in the department of engineering.
CA: You said you were excellent at math. Did you know what you wanted to pursue as a career during your studies?
SY: My father was a watch manufacturer, so ever since my childhood I wanted to be an engineer for precision science and precision engineering.
CA: When you finished school you went directly to Nikon?
CA: Can you talk about your first job at Nikon, what were you doing, what was your first position?
SY: My first assignment was the design of an astronomic telescope. I spent approximately eight years [in this field] and was especially involved in the design of large scale telescopes. After that I was assigned to a special project for the creation of optical grating [machines]. I spent in total 10 years for that project. For optical grating we had a machine called a ruling engine. The ruling engine is a machine with a simple structure capable of ruling from several hundred to more than one thousand rectilinear grooves per millimeter on the surface of a glass blank several inches square [using] a diamond cutter. So it is a very precise machine. I have been involved in the development of this machine for 10 years so it was very useful for us to develop steppers after that.
CA: The lenses that you produced from this machine were they use for telescopes, or cameras?
YS: Telescope needs a very large lens, 1 meter in diameter, so it was quite a different technology for camera and microscope.
CA: So the optical grating machine, did that form the basis of stepper work at Nikon?
SY: Yes, that's correct. For optical grating we had a machine called a ruling machine. This is to draw a line for the optical grating and that became a precursor of the stepper.
CA: So you have now been at Nikon for 18 years on these two projects, 8 years for the first one, 10 years for the second. After that what did you do next?
SY: I have been involved in measuring machines…measuring for mechanical parts, especially for semiconductor industry photomasks.
CA: This product was specific to the semiconductor industry or it had many applications?
SY: Several years later we became involved in the semiconductor industry. At the first stage we developed a special measuring machine for photomask, we called it XY measuring machine for photomasks; the Nikon 2i. It was very popular in the United States to inspect photomasks.
CA: What period are we talking about, the late 70s?
YS: Around 1970.
CA: When you were developing the machines, what did you enjoy about the job? Was there a challenge you enjoyed?
SY: Probably the most impressive memory for me was my involvement in the ruling engine. I had my first hand experience for the usage of the laser interferometer and I also had to do quite precise positioning in the order of nanometers and that work was quite challenging. And those challenges exactly met the later requirements for semiconductors
CA: If we could talk more about the product targeted at the semiconductor industry, such as the Nikon 2i. Was that the first dedicated product you were selling into the semiconductor industry?
SY: Before then we produced a comparison microscopes for inspection of photomasks. At the same time we developed the laser interferometer 2i measuring machine also.
CA: Your customer base, were you selling mostly in Japan , or exporting?
SY: The first [Nikon 2i] machine we sold was to Japanese IC manufacturers. After that we exported to the U.S.
CA: What companies were your customers?
YS: Many companies, such as Hitachi , NEC, Fujitsu, Toshiba, several companies in Japan . After that we sold to IBM and National Semiconductor.
CA: At this stage you were not involved in the sales, only in the engineering, correct?
YS: I belonged to the design department, after that I was involved in the sales department.
CA: The ideas for these products, did you get input from customers? How did you get the ideas?
SY: I came up with the ideas myself and I presented my concept to potential customers, and they got a budget by themselves and the ordered from me to develop the product.
CA: Do you remember your first customer visit?
SY: As far as the 2i was concerned, Hitachi was our first customer.
CA: Was that a difficult job to sell?
YS: Yes, it was difficult because there was no such machine…an XY coordinating machine with laser interferometer and with photo electric microscope. This was a quite new product so it was difficult to persuade [the customer] how this machine would benefit them.
CA: Did this machine solve a problem…where did your product fit into the customer need?
YS: It depends on the specification of the machines. The resolution is 0.1 micron at that time. This is the first machine for inspection of the photomask at 0.1 micron.
CA: What about the competition, where there other similar machines or was this pioneer concept?
SY: At that time there were no competitors as far as 2i was concerned. But the price was very expensive so we could [only] sell one or two machines per each customer.
CA: So the 2i a big success would you say?
SY: Yes, I think so. [Laughs] It was a good chance for us to enter into the semiconductor industry. Also the XY measuring machines technology base was transferred easily to steppers because both were very similar.
CA: Could you talk about the transition to steppers; was that a logical progression to produce steppers.
SY: As you know, the stepper has several essential components. One is the optical lenses…we call it the Ultra Micro Nikko (UMN). We have been selling Ultra Micro Nikko at that time to the printing industry. This Ultra Micro Nikko technology was transferred to steppers, both were very similar. And as I mentioned we had been developed XY measuring machines, so these mechanical parts and the controlling system were transferred to steppers. At the semiconductor industry at that time, the resolution was becoming smaller and smaller and [customers] requested from us less than 1-micron resolution. So I proposed to customers that the optical reduction system is the best method to manufacture such high resolution devices. Fortunately, the Japanese government VLSI consortium [created in 1976], this consortium ordered the first optical stepper machine from us. This is the first machine for us to develop the stepper.
CA: Did the VLSI consortium provide funds to you, or they bought the first machine?
SY: They ordered the first machine…it was a government procurement contract. It was a joint consortium between the Japanese government and five other companies, the chip manufacturers.
CA: At that state what was the competition like, were there similar machines?
YS: Yes, GCA from the United States .
CA: Was Nikon the first Japanese company to produce a stepper?
SY: Yes, the first in Japan .
CA: Did you try and export to U.S?
SY: As a first step, we sold mainly to Japanese customers. After that we exported our machines to the United States .
CA: Do you recall the first customer in the U.S.
SY: I'm very sorry…maybe, IBM or TI, but I don't remember exactly.
CA: So the first stepper was the SR-1, correct?
SY: Yes, NSR-1.
CA: What was your role in the product development? Did you have a hands-on role in developing the systems?
SY: I was involved in the total cycle of design because I myself came up with the ground design concept. And I actually led the design team.
CA: I understand that Nikon sold lenses to other stepper companies. Did you continue to do that after you developed your own stepper?
SY: Before the stepper age we were selling our special Ultro Micro Nikko lens for photo repeaters, but after entering into the stepper business we have never sold our optical element to anybody.
CA: Did you sell your lenses to GCA before?
SY: For the photorepeater we have sold Ultra Micro Nikko lenses [to GCA]. They used to be a customer so I visited there at that time.
CA: What was the thinking behind Nikon's move into the stepper business? Did you think it was a new opportunity, that it would be a profitable market?
SY: Since we started out with inspection machines we had always wanted to penetrate into the manufacturing machines as well, so I thought it would be a great chance and it should be a good opportunity.
CA: So Yoshida-san, what was your role in the company after the first stepper, did you continue to design future models?
SY: I continued several years in the design department and after that I managed the sales department concurrently.
CA: The sales dept for steppers?
CA: What was the competitive environment like? Where there are Japanese stepper makers?
SY: No, but at that time alternating technologies were available, such as projection aligner from Perkin Elmer, and also the stepper itself from GCA. And also the projection aligner from Canon, so there was competitive business.
CA: Was it difficult to sell your steppers to customers?
SY: Yes, but our optical steppers had three major sales point. One is optical reduction ratio, we have introduced 5 to 1. At the beginning age every stepper had a 10 to 1 reduction ratio, so the exposure area is only 10x10 mm at that time, but we have introduced 5 to 1, so we can expose 15x15 mm -- almost double the exposure area. This was a very strong sales point for us [because the customer could] increase throughput. Also, our machines had a laser interferometer, it could get less than 0.1 micron resolution. So this was also a strong sales point at the time. Another one was the automatic alignment system of the Nikon stepper which brought higher accuracy for the alignment scheme. These are the strong sales point against competitor machines.
CA: Which competitor did you fear the most, which was the toughest?
SY: Oh, the GCA machine
CA: Can you talk about the export of the steppers. How did you push into the U.S. market? Did you travel many times and visit customers…
SY: Oh sure, we have to visit many times…and at that time we established a [subsidiary] company in the United States, we called it Nikon Precision Inc, or NPI. They tried to sell our machines in the United States .
CA: Could you talk about your progression…so you were concurrently in charge of design and sales. After that period how did you progress up in the company?
SY: After that I was promoted to the stepper division manager, in charge of not only sales and design but also the manufacturing facility I managed.
CA: By division, meaning stepper division?
SY: Yes, stepper division
CA: Did you still have a chance to be more hands on with the design. It sounds like you were interested in being creative and involved in the design, but as you move up the ladder you have more administrative duties. Which one were you most happy with?
SY: Frankly speaking, my personal interest is in design or developing the technology. So right now I visit frequently our design department and discuss [technology issues] with the young people [engineers].
CA: How long did you stay as the division manager, do you recall?
SY: From 1983…for five or six years.
CA: What was your greatest challenge during that period?
SY: As you know, we had to develop a next generation model. At that time we were using only a mercury lamp. After that we decided to go to a new light source, excimer laser. There is a big challenge from mercury lamp to excimer laser and at the same time the stepper exposure system was transferred to a scanning system. So there are big challenges in the design department.
CA: During this period did the device makers provide much input to you…was there any technology transfer or was it done independently
SY: Of course we have cooperated with customers. We wanted to get process technology from customers. It was very important for us to improve our machines. Then we had many meetings between customers' technology people and our design people.
CA: Following the period as division manager what was your next role?
SY: I was promoted to managing director of the entire Nikon Corporation. I managed not only the stepper business but also the microscope and measuring instrument division. After that I was promoted to executive vice president of Nikon. Fortunately, I was involved in the camera business also.
CA: Were you very familiar with camera business when you started with that responsibility?
SY: I personally use Nikon cameras and I have a lot of interest in cameras also.
CA: But cameras and steppers are very different markets, consumer vs. industrial. Was there a learning curve to adapt to the consumer business?
SY: Basically, the technology background is very similar between the stepper business and the camera business. So I still have a strong interest in designing and developing cameras (as well as steppers).
CA: Did you ever personally design a camera?
SY: No, unfortunately, only stepper, and astronomical telescopes. A very specialized area.
CA: How did you become the CEO of Nikon?
YS: Probably it was because I pioneered a new business domain in Nikon.
CA: Did the previous CEO approach you and say I want you to take over?
SY: That should be true because Nikon has a long standing tradition that the former president should assign the next president and that should be true for the CEO.
CA: The Nikon's semiconductor equipment business was very successful, and that was your achievement, so do you think that played a big part…because of that you were promoted to the CEO position. Would you agree with that?
YS: Yes, I think so.
CA: Now do you have much involvement in the semiconductor equipment side of the business now? Do you still like to go and talk to the designers?
YS: No. I have transferred [that responsibility] to the president of the stepper business unit. He is now managing everything in the stepper business. I rely upon him.
CA: Talking about the development of equipment companies in Japan , previously the equipment was produced in house, and in the 70s and 80s independent equipment companies emerged. What is your view of the development of the Japanese semiconductor equipment industry? Were there many spin-offs from larger companies, or they were mostly subsidiaries of larger companies?
YS: I think it depends on the different fields or domains. But as far as steppers are concerned, what we saw was the customer (device maker) came to the independent stepper manufacturers. I did not see so many cases where device makers have made any exposure machines in house.
CA: The skill to develop a stepper was so specialized that device makers did not want to develop their own machines
SY: In the infant age, device makers such as TI or IBM they made original exposure machines, such as contact printing machines. But after the projection age or stepper business they didn't manufacture by themselves.
CA: Was Hitachi the one exception?
SY: That's right. Hitachi was the one exceptional case. They had lot of experience in manufacturing systems so they tried to enter into the stepper business.
CA: Could we talk about the downfall of the U.S. stepper makers like GCA and Perkin Elmer. They lost the business. In your view, what was the reason for that?
YS: As far as stepper technology [is concerned], optical technologies are the most essential part. But unfortunately in the United States they did not have optical manufacturers for such special use. In Japan there are several, Nikon, Canon, Olympus and so forth and in Europe there is Ziess and Leica. They all have the skill of optical technologies. This is one reason. But in the United States there are more high-grade optical technologies such as special satellite optical equipment. So in these special areas they have excellent technologies, but for mass volume production they have not.
CA: I read one article about the history of GCA and some people say one reason they didn't success was because they had a huge inventory before the ‘84 or ‘85 downturn. They misread the market. Do you think riding the cycles is an important thing to survive?
YS: Yes, reading the cycles is a very important thing for the management of the stepper business. But it is the same story for us. We also have the problem of inventory, especially in the downturn phase. We are trying to shorten the manufacturing lead time right now.
CA: Now we'll talk about your involvement with SEMI and SEMICON. Can you tell us the story of how you became a director of SEMI, and later chairman?
YS: I actually spent a number of years as one of the members of the Japan committee for SEMICON exhibitions and one of the committee members for the technical sessions. Since I had long years of experience attached with the SEMI events, that is why I was invited to be one of the directors of SEMI.
CA: During that period there was the trade friction between the U.S. and Japan and I understand that some people resisted the establishment of the SEMI Japan office?
YS: It was quite impressive because while device mfrs and chip mfrs are in the midst of U.S Japan trade friction we [the equipment industry] had a trade partners conference held in Hawaii and organized by SEMI and the atmosphere was tremendous. Actually the people from the device manufacturers envied us.
CA: What is your view on the success of that program bringing the industry together and having global partnerships?
YS: The fact is that the U.S. market took the lead for equipment and materials in the semiconductor industry. They took the leadership for the establishment of the organization of SEMI as well. At that time, Japan was actually the follower of the U.S. market and U.S. industries, second largest and trying to catch up with U.S. industries. We also knew that there would be so many things to learn from the U.S. at that time so both the Japanese equipment manufacturers and materials makers started to realize we should be on good terms with the U.S. industries while learning more from them.
CA: Could you talk about your recollections of the first SEMICON Japan show. Did you attend it, or did you exhibit, what was your recollection?
YS: For Nikon, the first [SEMICON Japan ] was 1978. It was the second SEMICON Japan . It was the first time for me to attend. Before then we exhibited at InterNepcon show.
CA: So in your view it was a good development to have a specific show for semiconductor equipment?
CA: What is your feeling about the show, how it's developed since 1978. The first show, for example, was that a small show with not many visitors? What do you recall?
SY: The SEMICON show [in Japan ] met great turnout from the very first because the Japanese semiconductor industry was picking up very rapidly at that time. Many people attended.
CA: Did many of your device customers attend the show?
SY: Yes, many of our customers are coming to look around at our equipment.
CA: At SEMICON West for example, many companies announce their new products. They specifically launch the product at the show. What about in Japan , do they announce the product at the show?
SY: That's also true of SEMICON Japan . The new products, many of them are announced and launched at the timing of the SEMICON show.
CA: I noticed you said 1978 was the first show you exhibited at.
YS: Yes, SEMICON Japan . But Nikon attended its first SEMICON West in 1976. So before SEMICON Japan was started we attended SEMICON West.
CA: Did you go to SEMICON west in 1976?
SY: Yes, at our first SEMICON West we exhibited only measuring machines, comparison microscopes and some XY 2i [machines], just a demonstration by panel. At that time we have not developed a stepper, only measuring or inspection machines. The booth was very small. But I myself went to SEMICON West show at that time and I installed our machines to demonstrate. So it was very hard work for me.
CA: Did you exhibit the SR1 stepper at any SEMICON show?
YS: That should be two or three years later for the first exhibit, so it was around 1980 when we first exhibited the stepper at the [SEMICON] show.
CA: Do you recall the market reaction to the new machines?
YS: At that time Nikon had already penetrated into the stepper market. We actually drew much attention and our booth was assigned quite close to the main entrance, so we had many visitors.
CA: Would you say SEMICON West an important part of your strategy to reach into U.S. market?
YS: Yes, that's right. It was quite an important strategic step for us to the U.S. market and we had so many customers visiting the booth that we were actually quite busy and it was quite an attractive set up for us.
CA: One last question not about history but about the future, what is your view on the future of lithography industry. There is a lot of debate about immersion lithography and coming up against the “red brick walls” of the roadmap. Can you talk briefly about where you think the technology will go in the future.
YS: It is big concern for me. As you know, for the next generation lithography there are some candidates, F2 or EUVL, extreme ultra violet lithography. We are now concentrating to develop the immersion type for ArF [argon fluoride] and KrF [krypton fluoride], mainly ArF immersion steppers. After that we are developing EUVL as the strongest candidate for next generation. If we can develop EUVL tools we will obtain 32- nanometer [resolution]. This is actually the ultimate lithography tool. After that, and this is just my personal opinion, some three dimensional devices should be developed because the minimal line width should be a limit of technology. So we have to go to multiple layers or something like that.
CA: Thank you very much Yoshida-san.
SY: It was my great pleasure.
-- end --