Kyiv Plant “Crystal”: from Europe’s First Micro Calculator to 16-bit Microprocessors | History of Computing in Ukraine

Kyiv Plant “Crystal”: from Europe’s First Micro Calculator to 16-bit Microprocessors

In the early 1960’s a very powerful center of microelectronics, SPA "Crystal", was created from scratch in an extremely short period in Kyiv. Devices produced here include the first thin-film chips in the USSR and Europe based on tantalum a calculator on 4 large-scale integrated circuits, the MOS LIC circuit with a degree of integration up to 500 transistors on a chip, and many more. In the 1980’s Ukraine was the main supplier and processor for semiconductor materials germanium and gallium arsenide in the USSR, and the second largest in Europe.


Stanislav A. Moralev

Before microelectronics, computers contained a huge number of vacuum tubes, capacitors, resistors. In order to reduce computer size, electricity consumption, and cost, and to improve manufacturability, scientists performed breakthrough research in unprecedented time. This resulted in unprecedented time, enabling the development and manufacture of new, microelectronic devices.

The Soviet microelectronics industry began in 1962 when a resolution was adopted on the establishment of a Microelectronics Research Center in the Russian town Zelenograd, with branches in Kyiv and Minsk. Within a few years this small town near Moscow had become the capital of microelectronics, so called the Soviet "Silicon Valley."

In the same year an exhibition of microelectronics was staged in Kyiv. The leaders of Kyiv’s instrument-making enterprises were invited to attend. Alexander Shokin was a chairman of the Soviet State Committee on Electronic Engineering (later Minister of Electronic Industry) and spoke at the opening. With his speech he was able to persuade the authorities to develop the microelectronic industry in Ukraine.

The first who responded to the chairman’s challenge was Ivan Kudryavtsev, director of Kyiv SRI of Electronics. He had long waited for an opportunity to transfer bulky ship radio electronic systems onto a new technical base. Immediately after the show he asked a group of young engineers, led by Stanislav Moralev, to research the current state of affairs in the USSR and abroad and to draft some proposals.

Six months later there was a government decision on the development of the microelectronics industry and the Kyiv Design Engineering Bureau on Microelectronics, KB-3 was founded by the Soviet State Committee on Electronics. Moralev was appointed as its head.

In 1963 the KB-3 team started working. Its "founders", S.A. Moralev, V.D. Borisenko, A.I. Kornev, and V.P. Belevsky, decided to undertake the development of hybrid integrated circuits (ICs) using thin films of tantalum. However, tantalum was a difficult material. In order to make new types of films they had to create fundamentally new types of high-powered electron beam guns, complicated vacuum equipment and special installation to control the parameters of the schemes. All that took a lot of time and mass production of IC’s on tantalum began only in 1968. A number of thin-film IC hybrids on tantalum (system ‘Penal’) were developed. They also developed the system "Kulon" for household electronic equipment manufactured by the Ministry of the Electronics Industry.

The Crystal team developed the first production technology in the former Soviet Union for thin-film resistive and capacitive circuits based on tantalum, delivering a 5-10 fold increase in productivity in hybrid IC production. It alsoboosted the percentage yield of IC to 90% of IC up to 90%. The complexity of the problem is evident given that only three companies in the world had such technology at the time and only one of them, BM Laboratories, USA, developed it on its own.

In 1966 the Scientific and Research Institute "Micropribor” was created based on the KB-3. Stanislav Moralev was appointed as director for the Institute, with K.M. Krolevets and A.I. Kornev as his deputy and chief engineer. They decided on a gradual transition to develop solid-state circuits in MOS (metal, oxide, and semiconductor) transistors. The main feature of these schemes was that all of the components (transistors, diodes, resistors and capacitors) were executed on a single-crystal plate semiconductor.

The analysis showed that IC on MOS devices was structurally simpler compared to the IC on a bipolar structure. These devices are also easier to manufacture, have a higher percentage yield of products and do not require additional insulation components in the circuit.The main advantage of MOS transistors is their small size. This allows for the creation of IC with a high degree of integration, especially for computer devices with a regular structure (memories, registers, etc.)

Proposals by Micropribor to carry out research  in the field of MOS integrated circuits were considered by the Board of Zelenograd Research Center. The board approved the plans put forward by Moralev's Institute, and a new stage in the work began.

Physical and technological issues of MOS LSI circuit development were led by K.M. Krolevets and Y.A. Petin, A.I. Molchanov and A. Kobylinsky were in charge of circuitry engineering development, and V.G. Taborny led  the machine layout section. S.A. Moralev and K.M. Krolevets were the scientific coordinators of the work.

Initially they developed a series of integrated circuits "Cobra" with an integration level of up to 30 elements on the chip. In 1968 they launched mass production at the pilot plant of the research institute.

In 1970 a calculator featuring 4 large-scale integrated circuits MOS LSI, and integrating up to 500 transistors on a chip was created -- a first in the USSR and Europe. Large-scale IC circuits were produced at the pilot plant of the Research Institute "Micropribor" and the assembly line for the calculators was located in Svetlovodsk at a branch of the pilot plant.

In December 1970, SPA "Crystal” was launched by the resolution of the Minister of the Electronics Industry. It included SRI "Micropribor" and the Kyiv plant of semiconductor devices, the pilot plant of "Micropribor". SPA "Crystal” had to undertake the development and production of large-scale integrated circuits based on MOSFET. At first At first they worked on circuits integrating a thousand transistors, then extended it to 100 thousand or more (the size of the elements grew smaller to 1 micron).

In 1972-1973, at "Micropribor" the system of machine design was unveiled based on the BESM-6 and other computers, allowing for the design of highly integrated large-scale IC circuits. The development time for large-scale IC circuits was reduced to 50-70 days. It was necessary to develop a complex set of programs to manage the large-scale IC circuits design process. Each contained hundreds of thousands of components which had to be connected to each other in accordance with the large-scale IC circuits function. Accuracy was vital, or else the circuit would be useless. Only a machine could have performed such work.

Starting in 1973 the main focus of Crystal became the development and production of large-scale integrated circuits for MOS devices. The first designed were several types of large-scale IC circuits for different types of calculators, large-scale IC circuits’ memory, etc.

To produce new large-scale IC circuits they had to develop more advanced technological processes which could ensure an integration level of more than 100 thousand transistors on a chip and the switching speed of up to tens of megahertz. It should be noted that they had to start this process "from a scratch" as they couldn’t use any previous global experience, because publications on the subject were just coming out in the western press.

In 1974, developers had already fully developed the manufacturing process of large-scale IC circuits on MOS devices and started mass production of large-scale integrated circuits (first in the USSR and in Europe) at the plant of SPA "Crystal ". The same year they produced 200 thousand large-scale IC circuits, 100 thousand calculators, and 200 thousand keyboards for computers.

However, the development of the SPA was not always easy. The question of who should be in charge of the association constantly arose: the Institute or the plant. The factory workers could not maintain the high pace set by the Institute. They would accuse the leadership choosing the wrong technological policies. Moralev didn't wish to argue, so in 1974 he left SPA and returned to 'Quantum'.  Even though Moralev left “Crystal” it was still a rather influential SPA due to C.M. Krolevets. New problems would emerge and be solved relating to the development and production of ever more elaborate large-scale IC circuits. The smaller the transistors became, the more complicated their production processes and the higher the demands placed on the production equipment not only for large-scale IC circuits but also for extra large-scale IC circuits.

In a very short term Kyiv SPA “Crystal”, with its branches in other cities of Ukraine, became one of the key centers for microelectronics development and production in the USSR. Some facts speak volumes about the scientific research and production workload; for example, 148 thousand sq. m. of premises were required in order to house SRIs, and the plants which were fully equipped with all the required machinery. In the early 1980s more than 30 thousand people worked there. In 1970-80s the association produced IC circuits (about 30 different types), keyboard computers, calculators, microcontrollers, small-sized computers and other devices. SPA “Crystal” assisted in the successful development of different industries helped many different industries to develop, not only in Ukraine, but also in other countries of the USSR. Due to “Crystal”, digital electronic equipment was provided for planes, missiles and ships, as well as for household appliances (radio-sets, recorders), etc.

However, SPA "Crystal" was not the only producer of microelectronics in Ukraine. Almost simultaneously five other SPAs were created, such as "Rodon" in Ivano-Frankivs’k, "Graviton" in Chernovtsi, "Gamma" in Zaporizhzhya , "Dnepr" in Kherson, and "Octyabr" in Vinnitsa. Together with "Crystal" there were more than 100 thousand people working at similar SPAs.They produced about 150 million semiconductor devices and integrated circuits each year. Generally speaking, in the 1970-80’s Ukraine was the leading supplier of the semiconductor materials germanium and gallium arsenide, and means of processing in the former USSR, as well as second in Europe.

In the late 1980's, due to a shift in policy of the Ministry of Electronics Industry, SPA Crystal was required to abandon its own designs in favour of reproducing the model of microprocessors developed in the USA. However, even in reproducing the American processors, SPA "Crystal" managed to bring in its creativity. When they sent 8-bit and then 16-bit microprocessors into mass production even US experts couldn't tell the difference between the copy and the original.

This was the last major Soviet development by the SPA. Today "Crystal" is a private company which designs and manufactures integrated circuits for a number of foreign countries.