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Closer Cooperation Among Suppliers and OEMs Needed to Control Contamination

By David Lammers

As technology progresses beyond the 14nm node, reducing contamination in materials and equipment is shaping up to be a key challenge, one that will require increased collaboration among suppliers, sub-suppliers, and semiconductor manufacturers. Improved detection techniques that work in a high-volume manufacturing environment are also needed, said participants at a forum on fab contamination control for next-generation nodes, organized by SEMI’s Texas chapter.

Held in late March at Samsung Austin Semiconductor (SAS), the standing-room-only event featured speakers from Samsung Austin Semiconductor, Brewer Science, Shin-Etsu Polymer, and Entegris, among others.

Michael Raiford, Samsung Austin Semiconductor

Michael Raiford, corporate vice president of production and systems at SAS, said the Austin advanced manufacturing facility, now a pure-play foundry with multiple customers, is gearing up for increased demand from automotive customers. The "life and limb" safety concerns by automotive companies put increased pressure on their semiconductor suppliers, from the foundry down to suppliers and sub-suppliers of materials and equipment parts.

“One of our biggest problems is getting clean parts and materials below 14nm. That is having a significant impact as we enhance our automotive focus,” Raiford said.

Pratik Joshi, an SAS staff engineer, said device scaling will continue beyond the 10nm node, and said “It is like guiding a cruise ship through a very narrow opening.” Yields will largely determine a fab’s success, and fab yield “will be heavily dependent on parts and materials quality,” he said.

Nora Colligan, Samsung Austin Semiconductor

Nora Colligan, a staff engineer at SAS who works closely with materials suppliers, said when SAS engineers meet with their end customers, especially those in the automotive space, there is close attention paid to quality assurance issues. Change management at materials suppliers and their sub-suppliers, more advanced detection techniques, and data sharing, are all areas of emphasis.

To prevent incidents, Colligan said SAS is working to “manage the change points, with an increased focus on sub-suppliers. We need better detection at the suppliers’ sites, not just in the fab. This has to be built in to the supply chain.”

Colligan said Samsung normalizes the data that it shares with suppliers, in ways which make the data sharing meaningful, and protect Samsung’s intellectual property while improving cooperation. “We are constantly tightening the specs that we give to suppliers. Some of them may not like it, but overall they understand that we need to have higher quality standards.”

Tony Ozzello, a technologist at the liquid filtration division of Entegris Inc., noted that sharing in the semiconductor industry has been hampered by IP concerns. “Everybody has their secrets, and when they share they want to make sure they are not giving away their key IP,” Ozzello said.

Metrology Challenges Growing

Julie Ply, director of quality materials at Brewer Science, said “metrology is the biggest challenge facing the semiconductor industry, by far.”

Ply said the detection signals must be correlated, so that semiconductor fabs, materials suppliers, and sub-suppliers are all working with the same data. “The bridge with the customers is so important, and the best customers are those that are sharing data with us. If we can see the same signals as the customer, and if the sub-supplier can see strong data, then we can respond to it,” said Ply, who worked in the automotive industry for 25 years before joining Brewer Science five years ago.

Not only must metrology tools be able to detect ever-smaller particles, they must operate in a high-volume manufacturing environment. And everyone up and down the supply chain is concerned with keeping costs under control, even as more inspection is brought to bear, participants at the forum said.

Because of the life-or-death nature of driving cars, the automotive industry has evolved a set of quality standards that are far more developed than what exists today in the semiconductor industry, Ply said. She pointed to a series of core quality tools developed by the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) as a guide toward assessing and mitigating risk, starting with the design process. 1

Regular supplier audits, which are updated often and not just put up on a shelf for years at a time, are necessary, participants at the SEMI seminar said. And if sub-suppliers balk at putting in improvement processes, they must be culled from the supplier base. Costs are often cited as an inhibiting issue, but everyone must be flexible about pricing when new detection and quality procedures are required to meet tighter materials and equipment specifications, participants agreed.

1https://www.aiag.org/quality/automotive-core-tools