By 1979, the development of Bell Labs' Bellmac32, the first 32-bit chip, had already been underway for a few years. It followed the Bellmac-8, an 8-bit microchip that the company debuted in 1977. This film shows how integrated circuits specifically were manufactured within the Bell System in the late 1970s.
Chip manufacture (and this film goes more in-depth than the other Bell System microchip films in this regard) requires the design of not just machines to cut or process chips, but an entirely new manufacturing environment. This film examines the essential clean room right down to the lighting and filtering system placement. It also explains the photosensitive etching process—the lithographic masks that define a chip's characteristics. Beyond that, the film shows cleaning, diffusion, mounting and wiring (i.e. "bonding and packaging"), testing, and the process of vaporizing aluminum onto the chip's surface.
Amazingly, though the lithographic masks are designed by computer and chips contain billions, not thousands, of transistors, the basics of chip manufacture in 2012 are mostly the same. Round slices of silicon are still the basis for the chips, and clean rooms, though improved, are not drastically different (for instance, facemasks are commonly worn now). One other major change in I.C. design is that while in the 1970s, only one or sometimes two mask layers were used, today chip designers can have as many as 50 mask layers in the production of modern microchips.
These other Bell System films examine the microprocessor's creation and manufacturing environment:
- Microworld, hosted by William Shatner
- Microprocessor for the Information Age, about the Bellmac32 chip.
- Microelectronics Videodisc Exhibit, originally created for the InfoQuest Center in the 1980s.
Footage Courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ