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Tool Relocations—On Time, To Spec and Within Budget

By Elena Navato

Semiconductor fabs are on an ever-tightening schedule to deliver the latest components for consumer-electronics buying cycles. Product lifecycles are shorter and the business risk of being late is greater for each new cycle, so it is more important than ever for all of a fab’s resources to be in place and ready to go when needed.

Those resources include tools that have been repurposed to support the current market demand. The tools may be in the wrong place in the fab or in the wrong fab, and potentially may also need some upgrades to be ready for deployment in new production runs. The number of tools involved can vary from a handful to a hundred or more, and a seemingly straightforward task of tool relocation can become a production bottleneck if the project is not properly managed.

A few days of delay for a relocation can significantly impact customer deliveries, hindering a manufacturer’s ability to maximize revenue generation. For example, in a leading-edge fab with 30,000 wafer starts per month (wspm) and an $8,000/wafer average selling price (ASP), a one-day delay in the relocation schedule that leads to a one-day delay in tool availability and fab output would result in a revenue opportunity loss of $8 million (see figure 1).

Figure 1. A few days of delay for a relocation can significantly impact customer deliveries, hindering a manufacturer’s ability to maximize revenue generation.

Moreover, when a manufacturer must continue to supply products to customers throughout the relocation period—even though the needed tools are unavailable—they must make up that lost production elsewhere in their operations. This leads to increased complexity and reduced margins.

Critical requirements for tool-relocation projects include:

  • An audit of each critical area of the system(s) involved in the project
  • Proper system decommissioning and adherence to the schedule for moving tools out of the fab
  • Satisfaction of the destination-site requirements, including safety regulations
  • Addressing obsolescence of parts or assemblies, if needed
  • Timely parts deliveries
  • Availability of technical experts for tool startup and qualification
  • Availability of critical calibration tools and trained personnel
  • Any needed tool upgrades or modifications to meet key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Fast ramps of tools in the new location
  • Effective schedule coordination for large-scale projects

With so many important variables, the speed and success of tool-relocation projects depend on how well they are managed and the availability of needed resources.

REDUCING RISK OF SCHEDULE DELAYS

Third-party vendors may have experience in some of these areas, but specialized expertise and the ability to escalate issues to networks of technical experts to solve specific challenges are needed to keep a tool-relocation project on schedule.

Likewise, no third-party supplier can match the tool knowledge of the OEM, which continues to evolve even for tools installed several years previously. This knowledge helps reduce green-to-green times, and also can increase performance in the new location when combined with upgrades and services offered only by the manufacturer.

Applied Materials offers a flexible, modular solution for the relocation of Applied tools called Factory Transition Service™ (FTS), based on Applied’s deep tool knowledge, experience with the deinstallation and reinstallation of new systems and specialized service expertise (see figure 2).

Figure 2. Applied’s Factory Transition Service™ (FTS) is designed to address the myriad requirements for on-time completion of time-critical tool-relocation projects.

The purpose of FTS is to manage and implement relocations of customer-owned tools so projects are completed on schedule, at a predictable cost, within specifications, and with the flexibility and customization required to meet a customer’s specific needs.

The value of FTS increases when a large number of tools are involved, because the job of moving them becomes much more complex.

An FTS project’s work scope is tailored to the customer’s requirements. Applied starts by performing a tool audit and fingerprint prior to deinstallation. Applied then commits to providing dedicated technical experts and labor resources, at no additional expense to the customer if it turns out more labor is needed to meet the schedule; prioritizes the delivery of necessary parts; and uses its proprietary best-known methods (BKMs) for fast startups and to meet customer requirements.

To further support each system, the FTS offering may be combined with an Applied comprehensive service agreement, which can include valuable upgrades. Examples include an upgrade to the new Vita controller for 200mm tools, or a FabVantage 360™ benchmarking study performed by our FabVantage Consulting group after startup.

HOW IT WORKS

Say a customer has a fleet of tools in Fab A that need to be relocated to Fab B to increase production capacity in the latter. An Applied FTS engagement involves thorough analysis upfront with an Applied project manager to outline the project scope, and then a coordinated execution of activities to successfully meet relocation goals.

The key items defined prior to the project’s start are the:

  • Specific list of tools for relocation
  • Program of deinstallation and re-installation at designated fab sites
  • Project’s work scope , which may include tool audit and fingerprint, decontamination, deinstallation, facilities check at the installation site, level of installation support needed (e.g., hardware setup only, installation to Applied Materials tool performance specifications, or installation to customer’s specifications), and post-installation support
  • Applied Materials’ relocation tasks
  • Customer’s relocation tasks
  • Mutual agreement on the project start and completion dates

Once the project begins, Applied mobilizes all necessary resources to meet the target completion date.

Applied’s FTS is a particularly vital service for relocation projects that involve high levels of customer investment and where minimizing risk is critical. These include when the tools are relocating to a greenfield fab where the support infrastructure is not fully in place; when the relocated tools will be used to meet an inflection in the customer’s business such as a node change in the receiving fab; and when the fab layout must be reconfigured to accommodate new tools.

TIME IS MONEY

Today’s semiconductor industry is more dynamic than ever, and manufacturers may need to relocate tools to expand or enhance production in certain locations. Applied Materials FTS helps them do that with tailored work scopes, assurance of performance to schedule, and faster green-to-green times. This means Applied customers can now complete relocation projects on time and at predictable cost—while minimizing the risk to their business.

For additional information, contact elena_navato@amat.com