The Memory Guy recently had a rare opportunity of a private fab tour at the Monolithastery, a memory fab in Saint Gobain Pont-à-Mousson, France. This facility combines a very traditional monastery with a semiconductor wafer fabrication plant. It’s the only such facility in the world.
When you consider it, there should be nothing so unusual about this combination. Monks make brandy, wine, and beer – even fruitcake, while some raise cattle, bonsai trees, and make ceramic art, caskets, and other items. Why can’t they make semiconductors?
My tour escort was Brother Cuthbert, the Monolithastery’s Abbot himself. Brother Cuthbert is justifiably proud of the facility, the products it delivers, and the end applications of its customers. The fab makes niche emerging memories, MRAM and ReRAM, that are preferred in space applications thanks to their radiation tolerance. “We take great consolation in the knowledge that our chips are used in systems that float in the heavens.”
When entering the fab the friars change from their traditional brown robes to white “Bunny Robes” rather than the more conventional bunny suit. They find that this is more in keeping with their order’s traditions.
The photo below shows these robes being worn during a session of morning devotions and process review, as the fab staff starts their typical day:According to Brother Cuthbert: “We had considered the use of copper metallization at one point, but that would have required quarantines. The convention in most fabs is for the quarantine zone workers to wear orange bunny suits to set them apart. Were we to use orange robes we would be likely to confuse some of the faithful, since orange robes are traditionally used in Buddhist monastic communities.”
Religion vs. Science
The Abbot observed: “Some people worry that there is a conflict between science and religion. These souls forget that monks have embraced the scientific method for centuries. For example, consider Gregor Mendel OSA, the founder of modern genetics, or France’s own Dom Perignon, the Benedictine monk who used science to improve the quality of Champagne wine. Here at the Monolithastery we use a combination of Divine Guidance, good science, and careful management to provide abundant yield.”
When I asked what the Monolithastery’s yields are, Brother Cuthbert declined to answer, citing his vow of corporate silence.
I did learn that the Monolithastery’s process rules are all kept up-to-date in “The Other Good Book,” which is kept under lock & key. From a corporate security standpoint, this facility is similar to most other wafer fabs.
Brother Cuthbert told me that in the Middle Ages theologians were said to have argued about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. “A pinhead’s diameter is 2mm, giving it an area of about three trillion square nanometers. Today we would be able to fit nearly two billion 20nm transistors into that space. If we were using the stacked approach pioneered with 3D NAND, there’s no telling how many transistors we could get on there, but it would be a lot more.” These numbers would have confounded these early theologians, since back in the Middle Ages there weren’t even names for numbers like billions or trillions!
The Order Itself
It’s not uncommon for members of the laity to take on a patron saint’s name when they take monastic vows. In the Monolithastary the monks have a tradition in which they take on “Bert” names: Cuthbert, Norbert, etc. This is one of those playful kitschy things that technical people find amusing.
In addition to Brother Cuthbert, the Monolithastery includes Brothers Elbert, Hilbert, Hubert, Wilbert, Filbert, Norbert, Osbert, Humbert, Dagobert, Rimbert, Egbert, Siegbert, Gualbert, Gerbert, Lambert, Engelbert, Friedbert, Gombert, Calbert, Leebert, and Colbert. A number of novices, those preparing to take their vows, are also members of the production team. These men will also be choosing a new “Bert” name when their time comes.
The Monolithastery would like to increase its level of business. “It’s very difficult to fund fab tools on mere donations,” says Brother Cuthbert. To that end it is planning to open its doors to more visitors over the coming months.
They have welcomed readers of The Memory Guy Blog to tour the facility, particularly those working on “Celestial Projects,” the Monolithastery’s term for satellites.
I will be arranging a plant tour next April 1 for those interested in seeing the facility. Please contact me for details.