Before I interviewed Professor Luh-Maan Chang, I tried to read as much as I could about him. I discovered that in 1977, the year I was born, Chang helped design and build Taiwan’s 1st Integrated Circuit Demonstration Plant at the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI). 45 years later at the age of 76, Professor Chang is still passionate about his work. When I met with him, he was excited to share his experiences of braving the pandemic to go abroad to conduct research, give lectures and participate in visits so that Taiwan can remain a global leader in high-tech facilities. Professor Chang said, “My time here on earth is limited, that’s why I am a lifelong advocate for Taiwan’s high-tech semiconductor facilities.”
Picture 1: Professor Luh-Maan Chang Holding a 12-inch Wafer (Photo Courtesy of Pei-Lin Lin)
A low-key living legend at NTU with no regrets dedicating his life to scientific research
When you talk about Taiwanese semiconductors, it’s inevitable that two heavyweights always come up. The first being Morris Chang, the founder of TSMC, the company which is also known as “Taiwan’s Guardian Angel.” And the second, the famous CEO of UMC, Robert Tsao, who recently donated NT $3 billion to bolster Taiwan’s national defense. However, this interview will introduce a lesser-known heavyweight, the highly respected NTU professor, Luh-Maan Chang. Taiwan’s high-tech manufacturing and engineering’s “hidden” heavyweight might be low-profile, but he is still important enough to be on a first-name basis with Robert Tsao.
Professor Luh-Maan Chang said, “30 years ago I was more or less a guest at NTU. Almost no one knew that I had built a demonstration plant for integrated circuits. When I came back to NTU as a professor 15 years later, the latest generation of scientists in the semiconductor world were even less familiar with me. The only person who remembered me was an old colleague that ITRI sent to America to train at RCA during the 70s. However, after reading Ding-Hua Hu-A Life of Innovation, you can instantly understand the significance of Professor Luh-Maan Chang. In the book, former ITRI Executive Vice President Ding-Hua Hu, who is said to be the pioneer of Taiwan’s integrated circuit industry, said, “The first people to help me set up an IC plant were people such as Luh-Maan Chang, Lu-Pao Hsu, and Robert Tsao” (Note 1). Hu also said, “Luh-Maan Chang was really capable, and he was in charge of supervising construction. He wasn’t scared of arguing with the workers, and was always telling them the proportion of concrete and sand had to be exact. If Chang weren’t there acting as the resident enforcer, the proportions would have probably gotten messed up. Everyone eventually got tired of getting on the workers, that’s why Luh-Maan Chang was so important, he stuck with it.”
For comparison’s sake, UMC and TSMC were founded in 1980 and 1987 respectively. Professor Chang smiled when he said, “I was a civil engineer for ITRI from 1976-1977 while they were setting up their IC plant. I didn’t know a thing about semiconductors. In reality, Ding-Hua Hu personally planned and led every inch of Taiwan’s first IC demonstration plant. I just helped him out. Later on, I heard that Robert Tsao and Morris Chang went their separate ways. In terms of who was the first to have their own foundry, all I can say for certain is that Ding-Hua Hu and I were the industries earliest “workers.” Despite what Hu said in his book, it was hard to imagine the modest professor sitting in front of me as someone capable of arguing with anyone. Hu also praised Professor Chang in a documentary when he said, “It was impossible to have anyone with lots of experience for our project. But, we did have some outstanding young talent. For instance, when we were setting up our foundry, I recruited Luh-Maan Chang, a graduate from the Cheng Kung University Department of Civil Engineering.” Luh-Maan Chang, the demonstration foundry’s first construction engineer, said, “Ding-Hua Hu was the principal investigator, so he treated the project like his baby” (Note 2). Luh-Maan Chang recalled that his 30-year-old self observed Hu sparing no effort in giving everything he had for Taiwan’s semiconductors. Chang also said that Hu “had to take it upon himself to stop the construction workers from doing anything to compromise the project as well as scaring off illegal contractors from getting involved. Hu would have done anything for this project, even if it cost him his own life.” Chang said Hu poured his heart and soul into his work so they could finish the National Level of Semiconductor Plant Constructed Program on time without cutting corners.
During the interview, Professor Chang filled up with emotion when he said that Taiwan’s chance at becoming the world’s king of semiconductors has only been possible thanks to the dedication and sacrifice of countless people.
Going to great lengths to make smart high-tech foundries earthquake-proof and eco-friendly
Luh-Maan Chang, who helped build Taiwan’s 1st Integrated Circuit Demonstration Plant, didn’t choose to go into the private sector and make billions with his visionary colleagues. On the contrary, Chang doesn’t feel the slightest bit of regret that he chose to devote himself to his passion, academia. 45 years ago, when Chang was sent to study at RCA, the advanced equipment and technological R&D in the US shocked him. Luh-Maan Chang had no hesitations about going abroad because he knew that the US had always possessed cutting-edge technology. If Taiwan didn’t want to be an original equipment manufacturer forever, the country would have to start understanding and developing critical technology. Eventually, he got a job at Perdue University, a world-famous institution that places high importance on cross-discipline research, theory, and practice, and taught “High-tech Construction and Clean Room Design.” For me, the big question remained “Why were you willing to give up tenure and a high paying job to come back to teach at NTU?” Professor Chang replied, “I couldn’t stand to see civil engineering fade away. Taiwan doesn’t have lots of land, there are lots of earthquakes, the soil under most foundries is soft, and we have serious water shortages and air pollution issues. There was a huge potential for growth in civil engineering. Moreover, I could use my expertise in high-tech facility engineering to assist in developing value-added technology for high-tech advanced manufacturing processes. In addition, I could collaborate with others to help advanced manufacturing processes overcome many logistical supply constraints. Most importantly, the semiconductor industry in Taiwan would become more resilient the faster I helped accomplish this.” Right when Professor Chang returned to Taiwan, he dove right into making significant contributions to semiconductors. Looking back on the past 4 years, TSMC has sent over 200 foundry service managers to find answers to the most pressing real-world problems by taking classes at Professor Chang’s High-tech Facility Research Center.
Why are technology facilities important? Professor Chang brought up this example. “Chips and vaccines are different. Vaccine development is based on random sampling. Even the best vaccines still have a chance of adverse reactions. However, there are dire ramifications if a chip has one ounce of impurity or damage. For instance, maybe a rocket won’t launch, an airplane might malfunction midflight, or a cellphone could explode. So not only must chips have a low defective rate, but testing must be extremely accurate and comprehensive. On top of this, the critical technology in a research facility must become more reliable as processing becomes more advanced. Currently, the most advanced fabrication process has up to 65 billion tiny individual transistors on each chip. On a chip that’s approximately one square inch, we need to make lithographs, etches, perform ion implantation and conduct testing using picometer and femtometer nano-microscopes. In this type of precision environment, large movement such as earthquakes, car noises, vibrating equipment, but even small disturbances like people’s voices, light waves, and electromagnetic waves can create interference.” After telling me this, Professor Chang then took me to the Innovative Filtration Technology Laboratory, which is a key research facility where Chang has teamed up with Taipei University of Technology to develop dozens of procedures such as controls for particle filtration of semiconductor manufacturing equipment and controls for chemical micro-pollutants. This type of meticulous construction process has helped create today’s value-adding technology.
Picture 2: Professor Luh-Maan Chang at the Innovative Filtration Technology Laboratory (Photo Courtesy of Pei-Lin Lin)
Running around the world to defend Taiwanese semiconductors
Not long after the media broke the news that UMC was going to build a foundry using 22 and 28 nm process in Singapore, Professor Chang went there in July to visit the construction sites of UMC and Global Foundries. Afterwards, he was invited to give lectures at National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, and Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman. Right after that, he kept the ball rolling by flying to the US to attend Semicon West 2022 in San Francisco. Most young people couldn’t handle this type of nonstop schedule. Despite this, Professor Chang’s research assistant Huang Zi-Yun said, “Professor Chang spends every waking moment devoted to his work.”
Picture 3: Professor Luh-Maan Chang Visiting the Construction Site of UMC’s 12-inch Foundry Expansion Project in Singapore
Picture 4: Professor Luh-Maan Chang Giving a Lecture at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman in Malaysia
Professor Chang figures that when he left Purdue University in the US, Taiwan was still trying to catch up with Intel and Samsung. However, since 2016, Taiwan has pulled far ahead of the pack and is continuing to pick up steam because Taiwan’s low defective rate for processing under 7 nm. During Professor Chang’s last trip to Southeast Asia, he observed that Malaysia’s back-end package testing industry is developing quickly. Malaysia’s progress might significantly impact China, but won’t threaten Taiwan’s semiconductor industry in the short term. Chang also said, it’s worth noting that thanks to integrated development, biomedicine chips in Singapore might catch up with Taiwan soon.
Looking back on his career of devoting a lifetime of effort towards semiconductors and high-tech facilities, Chang said, “As we have moved from 40 to 26, and now down to the most advanced 3 and 2 nm processing, the foundry system doesn’t only use water, power, and raw materials for its products and then treat and reuse waste and discharged water, liquid, and gas. The system includes sustainable development such as cutting down on carbon and bolstering environmental protection. We need to keep protecting and enhancing Taiwan’s semiconductor process technology while striving for further R&D. Moreover, facilities are one of the essential nodes in R&D for semiconductor processing. We can’t just sit on our heels when it comes to R&D for facilities. We must always be looking ahead as we move forward. Every step in the R&D process relies on the hard work of countless individuals. In this regard, I’d like to give my sincere thanks to the National Science and Technology Council for its affirmation and support of R&D for high-tech facilities. This has allowed Taiwan to stay relevant and remain cutting-edge by developing all of the facilities required for semiconductor manufacturing.
- Note 1: Shu-Ming We. Ding-Hua Hu-A Life of Innovation. (2019). Hsinchu: Rehobothpioneer
- Note 2: ITRI Technological Innovation Track Documentary. Episode 1. Integrated Circuits
Pei-lin Lin obtained her B.A. in Philosophy from Fu Jen University and her M.A in Political Science from National Taiwan University. Lin embodies a humanistic literacy and political sensibility. In recent years, Lin has collaborated with the Taiwanese government to shoot videos promoting various policies. Currently, Lin splits her time between running a Chan Lands Ltd., Zongdipan, making documentary films and hosting the podcast “Human Translation Machine.” In the past, Lin has been a reporter for several media outlets and the anchor of shows on TVBS, CBC and Da Ai Television. While at Da Ai Television, Lin’s piece “Muhammad Yunus- Savior of the Poor,” was nominated at the First Taiwan Golden Wheel Awards for Outstanding Television News Feature.