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Applied’s Digital Service Tools Cut Time to Productivity

By Brad Eaton and Amitabh Sabharwal

Strong demand for semiconductors at both leading-and trailing-edge technology nodes is driving an urgent, growing global need to troubleshoot, repair and upgrade tools as quickly as possible—and to accelerate installations and product qualification to speed production ramps.

Recently, these challenges have been compounded by global travel restrictions and supply chain disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. This situation has spotlighted the need for fab managers to further emphasize business continuity planning and ensure resource allocation to support ongoing production despite the most serious unanticipated events.

The mission of Applied Global Services (AGS) has always been to help customers keep their tools up and running at optimum performance levels. Even before the pandemic erupted worldwide in 2020, Applied has been utilizing and expanding its portfolio of service solutions to meet the growing customer need for remote support.

For example, more than a decade ago Applied began offering comprehensive service agreements that included some remote connectivity capabilities. Today, Applied’s remote service capabilities are enabled by a unique and growing portfolio of digital service tools. These give global customers fast, easy access to Applied’s network of experts, enabling the quick response times and expert repair, maintenance and qualification services customers require.

Applied has continued to invest heavily in developing these digital tools with enhanced remote support capability. As a result, when the COVID pandemic restricted travel, Applied transitioned seamlessly in ramping support levels remotely without missing a step. In fact, the number of tools covered under comprehensive service agreements actually grew substantially during 2020, even as travel for support decreased about 80%. Instances where digital tools—such as Applied’s field service server, with its powerful analytics engine—were used to resolve technical support escalations grew by an unprecedented 150%.

INSIGHTFUL COLLABORATIONS WITH EXPERTS

A key advantage of Applied’s digital tools is that they apply analytics to problem-solving, making possible deep, insightful and efficient collaborations between Applied’s worldwide network of experts and Applied customer engineers (CEs) working onsite at the customer’s premises.

Our experts possess the broadest base of technical expertise in the industry, which is needed to solve particularly complicated issues. Their expertise is critical because the true complexity of a problem often is not known until work begins. By remotely aiding and directing the onsite team, Applied experts can accelerate the customer’s time to resolution without delays for travel and quarantine.

These remote engagements also give customers an efficient and effective alternative to local third-party service providers. While local providers may be conveniently located near the customer’s fab, they may need support from specialized experts to resolve complex problems quickly.

Currently, the digital tools at the core of Applied’s remote service offerings include:

  • Remote Tool Access: Applied’s highly secure remote connect software allows Applied service personnel anywhere in the world to view a system’s graphical user interface (GUI) in real time. They perform basic functions just as if they were physically located at the tool using the local GUI.
  • Field Service Server: Applied’s secure data analytics engine is installed at customer sites, enabling Applied service teams to work with high efficiency. Once customer permission is granted, AGS service personnel can access this secure engine to collect high-resolution sensor data, perform historical reviews, see fleet-level overviews, and access equipment health indicators.

The capabilities of Applied’s analytics engine accelerate diagnostics, resulting in shorter mean time to repair (MTTR); enhanced preventive and predictive maintenance for reduced scrap, increased output/uptime and faster green-to-green times; and quicker tool startups and chamber-matching for quicker product ramps.

  • Remote Video Assist: Applied employs the latest augmented-reality (AR) headsets, plus other video-capture techniques, to remotely direct onsite Applied CEs, reducing the time to problem resolution. These technologies enable remote Applied experts to access the very same view as the onsite CE.

Remote video assist also offers other powerful benefits. One is that the remote expert can annotate and point to objects in the video feed, and the onsite CE sees where the expert is pointing as if they were together in the same location. Another is that remote experts can upload technical drawings for the onsite CE to reference while viewing real objects, leaving both the CE’s hands free to perform complex maintenance tasks. During the pandemic, remote video assist has been deployed at 28 sites by more than 1,000 Applied onsite CEs.

Our digital tools are deployed in all regions and specially trained engineers are using them in their regular shift operations. A majority of customer tools under service agreements can now be remotely accessed and supported. Applied’s ability to respond remotely to customers during the COVID-19 era has demonstrated the value of this robust portfolio of tools, as the following customer examples demonstrate.

RELIABILITY UPGRADE FOR ECD TOOL

At one customer site, the system module of an Applied Materials Mustang® electrochemical deposition (ECD) tool used in production process characterization (PPC) needed to be upgraded to reduce downtime and wafer scrap.

The task was an uncommon and complex upgrade, but because of COVID-19 travel restrictions Applied was unable to quickly deploy specialized service personnel to perform the work. Instead, Applied used remote video assist to connect the onsite Applied CE to Applied experts located in the U.S. or elsewhere, who coached the CE through the unfamiliar and difficult procedure (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The illustration shows Applied Materials’ use of remote video assist to guide its onsite customer engineer (CE) through an uncommon and complex tool upgrade.

With the remote experts’ step-by-step guidance, the onsite CE performed all required upgrade tasks while following all safety protocols. The team then verified the upgrade through a video conference, and the tool was returned to production with no impact to the customer’s production schedule or wafer-outs.

TOOL-MATCHING FROM R&D TO PRODUCTION

Complex tool-to-tool matching is another example of how Applied’s digital tools enable remote services that save customers time and money.

One customer had an Applied Materials Centris® Sym3® etch tool in a development fab in North America. To meet surging demand for its products, the customer needed to qualify a twin of that tool for high-volume production in a fab in Asia as quickly as possible.

Applied helped the customer meet their demanding process qualification schedule using the analytics engine in the Asia-based fab, along with remote tool access. These digital tools enabled hardware fingerprinting and comparison of equipment constants, recipes, and software between the two Centris Sym3 tools.

By combining the analytics engine and remote access, Applied performed the complex matching operations in a fraction of the time it would have taken without them (Figure 2). In addition, the 17 days that would have been needed for traditional in-person service (3 days travel + 14 to quarantine) were shaved from the schedule.

Figure 2. Applied’s analytics engine, along with remote tool access, greatly accelerated one customer’s transfer of a process developed on an Applied Centris® Sym3® etch tool in an R&D fab in North America, to a twin tool in a high-volume production fab in Asia.

FIRST-TIME-RIGHT TOOL INSTALLATION

Tool installations are always critical, but never more so than with ion implanters because the high-energy source needed for ion implantation make safety a priority both for personnel and facilities.

One customer in Asia needed to install an Applied VIISTA® ion implant tool. However, this was the fab’s first installation of this particular model of the tool, and the local Applied field service organization had no experience with the complicated procedures required. At the same time, travel restrictions caused by the pandemic meant that Applied could not quickly deploy tool and service experts to the site.

Instead, remote video assist was used to stage collaborations between technical experts in Applied’s ion implanter business unit, AGS and the onsite field service team. The remote team was able to guide the local team through a highly complex and potentially dangerous source-tuning and beam-alignment process, and then verify its first-time-right completion (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Applied’s remote service capabilities ensured the first-time-right installation success of an Applied VIISTA® ion implant tool in a fab in Asia. It was the fab’s first tool of this kind and the local team had no prior experience with the potentially hazardous installation process.

The remote collaboration kept the installation schedule on track and met the customer’s timeline for completion.

THE RIGHT CONNECTION

As the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end and restrictions are lifted, many things will go back to the way they were before. But servicing fab equipment will be forever changed by the power of digital tools, as these customer examples demonstrate.

Going forward, a growing array of digital tools like the ones described in this article will be needed for better and faster tool fingerprinting, data analytics for large sensor sets, equipment health monitoring and other functions.

One thing that won't change though, is the mission of AGS and the commitment that Applied’s service organization makes to our customers. Applied Materials stands ready to support fabs worldwide, whether the circumstances are business as usual or during a dire emergency. Digital tools provide the means through which Applied’s industry-leading technical knowledge can reach any fab, anywhere, to help customers reach their production goals—no matter what challenges they face.

Brad is Strategic Marketing Director and Amitabh is Managing Director of Strategic Marketing at Applied Global Services. For additional information contact brad_eaton@amat.com

 
Brad Eaton,
Strategic Marketing Director
 Amitabh Sabharwal,
Managing Director, Strategic Marketing, Applied Global Services