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Process Innovation and Learning by Doing in Semiconductor Manufacturing


  • Nile W. Hatch

    (Department of Business Administration, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois 61820)

  • David C. Mowery

    (Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720)


This paper analyzes the relationship between process innovation and learning by doing in the semiconductor industry where improvements in manufacturing yield are a catalyst for dynamic cost reductions. In contrast to most previous studies of learning by doing, the learning curve is shown here to be the product of deliberate activities intended to improve yields and reduce costs, rather than the incidental byproduct of production volume. Since some of the knowledge acquired through learning by doing during new process development is specific to the production environment where the process is developed, some knowledge is effectively lost when a new process is transferred to manufacturing. We find that dedicated process development facilities, geographic proximity between development and manufacturing facilities, and the duplication of equipment between development and manufacturing facilities are all significant in improving performance in introducing new technologies. Once in manufacturing, new processes are shown to disrupt the ongoing learning activities of existing processes by drawing away scarce engineering resources to "debug" the new processes.

Suggested Citation

  • Nile W. Hatch & David C. Mowery, 1998. "Process Innovation and Learning by Doing in Semiconductor Manufacturing," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 44(11-Part-1), pages 1461-1477, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:44:y:1998:i:11-part-1:p:1461-1477

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ronald S. Jarmin, 1994. "Learning by Doing and Competition in the Early Rayon Industry," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 25(3), pages 441-454, Autumn.
    2. Irwin, Douglas A & Klenow, Peter J, 1994. "Learning-by-Doing Spillovers in the Semiconductor Industry," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(6), pages 1200-1227, December.
    3. Dudley, Leonard, 1972. "Learning and Productivity Change in Metal Products," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(4), pages 662-669, September.
    4. Paul S. Adler & Kim B. Clark, 1991. "Behind the Learning Curve: A Sketch of the Learning Process," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 37(3), pages 267-281, March.
    5. Kenneth J. Arrow, 1962. "The Economic Implications of Learning by Doing," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(3), pages 155-173.
    6. Martin B. Zimmerman, 1982. "Learning Effects and the Commercialization of New Energy Technologies: The Case of Nuclear Power," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 13(2), pages 297-310, Autumn.
    7. Dick, Andrew R, 1991. "Learning by Doing and Dumping in the Semiconductor Industry," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(1), pages 133-159, April.
    8. Marvin B. Lieberman, 1984. "The Learning Curve and Pricing in the Chemical Processing Industries," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 15(2), pages 213-228, Summer.
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