In January 1989, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded Texas Instruments (TI) a $112.6 million contract to develop the wafer fab of the future. The Pentagon’s goal was to ensure that American semiconductor manufacturers could produce the micro-electronics vital to U.S. defense by developing and commercializing new technologies and dramatically reducing the time and cost involved in producing silicon wafers. TI’s goal was to pare the cost of building a wafer fab from several hundred million dollars to $30 million, decrease the wafer production cycle time from 30 days to three days, and make the production of small batches of wafers economical. TI was also responsible for making these advancements commercially available to other U.S. manufacturers.
TI teamed leading-edge machinery and production techniques with a computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) system to oversee the entire wafer production process. TI chose an object-oriented approach to improve productivity and application quality, lower maintenance costs, and take advantage of object reusability. Cincom Smalltalk was chosen to develop the prototype for the application. Smalltalk enabled TI to develop the first fully integrated prototype of the CIM system in just six months, including the time spent training programmers to use Smalltalk and the concepts of object-oriented programming. As a result, TI met the goals for the project that the Defense Department set.
TI developers were so impressed by Smalltalk’s pure object-oriented nature and the significant code reuse during the prototyping phase that they chose to develop the production system with the VisualWorks client and server tool, instead of C++. The production system’s overall goal of flexibly handling all aspects of wafer processing to cut costs, improve quality, and reduce cycle time was flushed-out with several specific requirements. These included support for client-server computing across a wide range of platforms, a customizable graphical user interface (GUI) builder, and support for quickly incorporating new features and functionality. VisualWorks met all of these requirements.