KLA 100 machine
Inspection system for chipmakers

KLA-Tencor Corporation is the world’s leading supplier of process control and yield management solutions for the semiconductor and related microelectronics industries. Headquartered in San Jose, Calif., with sales and support facilities around the world, the company has revenues of more than $2.7 billion. A J. P. Morgan analyst named KLA-Tencor one of the best-run semiconductor companies in the world.

KLA-Tencor’s leadership resulted from the 1997 merger of two pioneering companies: KLA Instruments and Tencor Instruments. Founded in 1976 by current KLA Tencor chairman Kenneth Levy and Robert Anderson, who met while at startup Computervision Corporation, KLA Instruments focused on improving the manufacturing yields for complex semiconductor devices. The company’s first product, the KLA 100, which automatically inspected the photomasks that defined the pattern layers of integrated circuit fabrication, shipped in 1978. This innovative product reduced the time required for photomask inspection from eight hours to 15 minutes and provided a much more thorough inspection than previously could be done.

In 1980 KLA broadened its product line to include wafer inspection and soon after expanded into wafer metrology as well as software that integrated inspection and measurement data for analysis.

Tencor Instruments also got its start in 1976 and introduced its first product just seven months later. The Alpha-Step significantly improved step height measurement, a process critical to producing precise semiconductor film layer thickness. Tencor’s Surfscan product, which followed in 1984, raised the bar on particle and contamination detection based on laser-scanning technology. The company later expanded its offerings to include defect review and data analysis tools.

Today, the combined company is a new-product-introduction machine, introducing on average one new process control and yield management solution each month that spans a broad range of inspection and measurement requirements. A 2005 Electronic Business article focused on the company’s product development and internal training programs while highlighting KLA-Tencor as one of Silicon Valley’s most innovative companies. Leveraging KLA-Tencor’s innovative solutions, semiconductor manufacturers are able to more quickly overcome the defect and parametric yield challenges that otherwise could cripple the performance, reliability, and affordability of new types of semiconductors. In addition the company’s solutions help manufacturers get new products to market more quickly, thereby realizing greater revenues and profitability.

KLA-Tencor offers customers unmatched yield management and process control solutions that help them meet the challenges of increasing device complexity, reduced product life cycles, and increased competition. To continue to meet their customers’ IC manufacturing challenges, KLA-Tencor is expanding its analysis software solutions. The company also created the industry’s first yield management consulting practice to provide the systems, software, and experts needed to get customers’ yield improvement programs quickly up and running. KLA-Tencor is committed to continuing to aggressively invest in new technologies and services to advance the excellence of process control and yield management.

This history was written in 2008 by the Silicon Valley Historical Association.

KLA-Tencor website