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Process Control Deals with Big Data, Busy Engineers

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

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By Dave Lammers, Contributing Editor

Turning data into insights that will improve fab productivity is one of the semiconductor industry’s biggest opportunities, one that experts say requires a delicate mix between automation and human expertise.

A year ago, after the 2015 Advanced Process Control (APC) conference in Austin, attendees said one of their challenges was that it takes too long to create the fault detection and classification (FDC) models that alert engineers when something is amiss in a process step.

“The industry listened,” said Brad van Eck, APC conference co-chairman. Participants at the 2016 APC in Phoenix heard progress reports from device makers as diverse as Intel, Qorvo, Seagate, and TSMC, as well as from key APC software vendors including Applied Materials, Bistel, and others.

Steve Chadwick, principal engineer for manufacturing IT at Intel, described the challenge in a keynote address. IC manufacturers which have spent billions of dollars on semiconductor equipment are seeking new ways to maximize their investments.

Steve Chadwick

“We all want to increase our quality, make the product in the best time, get the most good die out, and all of that. Time to market can be a game changer. That is universal to the manufacturing space,” Chadwick said.

“Every time we have a new generation of processor, we double the data size. Roughly a gigabyte of information is collected on every wafer, and we sort thousands of wafers a day,” Chadwick said. The result is petabytes of data which needs to be stored, analyzed, and turned into actionable “wisdom.”

Intel has invested in data centers located close their factories, making sure they have the processing power to handle data coming in from roughly 5 billion sensor data points collected each day at a single Intel factory.

“We have to take all of this raw data that we have in a data store and apply some kind of business logic to it. We boil it down to ‘wisdom,’ telling someone something they didn’t know beforehand.”

In a sense, technology is catching up, as Hadoop and several other data search engines are adopted to big data. Also, faster processors allow servers to analyze problems in 15 seconds or less, compared to several hours a few years ago.

Where all of this gets interesting is in figuring out how to relate to busy engineers who don’t want to be bothered with problems that don’t directly concern them. Chadwick detailed the notification problem at Intel fabs, particularly as engineers use smart phones and tablets to receive alarms. “Engineers are busy, and so you only tell them something they need to know. Sometimes engineers will say, ‘Hey, Steve, you just notified my phone of 500 things that I can’t do anything about. Can you cut it out?’”

Notification must be prioritized, and the best option in many cases is to avoid notifiying a person at all, instead sending a notification to an expert system. If that is not an option, the notification has to be tailored to the device the engineer is using. Intel is moving quickly to HTML 5-based data due largely to its portability across multiple devices, he added.

With more than half a million ad hoc jobs per week, Intel’s approach is to keep data and analysis close to the factory, processing whenever possible in the local geography. Instead of shipping data to a distant data center for analysis, the normal procedure is to ship the small analysis code to a very large data set.

False positives decried

Fault detection and classification (FDC) models are difficult to create and oftentimes overly sensitive, resulting in false alarms. These widely used, manually created FDC models can take two weeks or longer to set up. While they take advantage of subject-matter-expert (SME) knowledge and are easy to understand, tool limits tend to be costly to set up and manage, with a high level of false positives and missed alarms.

An Applied Materials presentation — by Parris Hawkins, James Moyne, Jimmy Iskandar, Brad Schulze, and Mike Armacost – detailed work that Applied is doing in cooperation with process control researchers at the University of Cincinnati. The goal is to develop next-generation FDC that leverages Big Data, prediction analytics, and expert engineers to combine automated model development with inputs from human experts.

Fully automated solutions are plagued with significant false positives/negatives, and are “generally not very useful,” said Hawkins. By incorporating metrology and equipment health data, a form of “supervised” model creation can result in more accurate process controls, he said.

The model creation effort first determines which sensors and trace features are relevant, and then optimizes the tool limits and other parameters. The goal is to find the optimum between too-wide limits that fail to alert when faults are existent, and overly tight limits which set off false alarms too often.

Next-generation FDC would leverage Big Data and human expertise. (Source: Applied Materials presentation at APC 2016).

Full-trace FDC

BISTel has developed an approach called Dynamic Full Trace FDC. Tom Ho, president of BISTel USA, presented the work in conjunction with Qorvo engineers, where a beta version of the software is being used.

Tom Ho

Ho said Dynamic Full Trace FDC starts with the notion that the key to manufacturing is repeatability, and in a stable manufacturing environment “anything that differs, isn’t routine, it is an indication of a mis-process and should not be repeatable. Taking that concept, then why not compare a wafer to everything that is supposed to repeat. Based on that, in an individual wafer process, the neighboring wafer becomes the model.”

The full-trace FDC approach has a limited objective: to make an assessment whether the process is good or bad. It doesn’t recommend adjustments, as a run-to-run tool might.

The amount of data involved is small, because it is confined to that unique process recipe. And because the neighboring trace is the model, there is no need for the time-consuming model creation mentioned so often at APC 2016. Compute power can be limited to a personal computer for an individual tool.

Ho took the example of an etch process that might have five recipe steps, starting with pumping down the chamber to the end point where the plasma is turned off. Dynamic full-trace FDC assumes that most wafers will receive a good etch process, and it monitors the full trace to cover the entire process.

“There is no need for a model, because the model is your neighboring trace,” he said. “It definitely saves money in multiple ways. With the rollout of traditional FDC, each tool type can take a few weeks to set up the model and make sure it is running correctly. For multiple tool types that can take a few months. And model maintenance is another big job,” he said.

For the most part, the dynamic full-trace software runs on top of the Bistel FDC platform, though it could be used with another FDC vendor “if the customer has access to the raw trace data,” he said.

Applied Materials Intros High Res E-Beam Inspection System

Monday, July 11th, 2016

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Applied Materials, Inc. introduced its next-generation e-beam inspection system that offers resolution down to 1nm. This allows users to detect the most challenging “killer” defects that other technologies cannot find, and to monitor process marginality to rapidly resolve ramp issues and achieve higher yields. Called PROVision™, the system offers 3x faster throughput over existing e-beam hotspot inspection tools.

Ram Peltinov, senior director, strategic marketing for the Process Diagnostics and Control Group at Applied Materials, said the development of the new system was driven by a number of new challenges: Structures and defects are now too small for optical resolution; multi-patterning triggers a need for massive measurements; and 3D architectures limit the ability to detect and measure.

“FinFETs are becoming increasingly complex, the multi-patterning creates multiple steps, the DRAM aspect ratios are getting very high and the VNAND is going vertical,” he said. “All these changes are happening in parallel and this creates great opportunity for metrology and inspection,” he said. According to Gartner, the market for e-beam inspection systems has tripled in the last five years, from $81M in 2010 to $241M in 2015.

The system’s high current density (beam current per sampling area) eliminates the sampling/throughput tradeoff of previous systems, allowing the fastest sampling throughput at its 1nm resolution. Imaging capabilities encompass techniques such as see-through, high aspect ratio, 360° topography, and back-scattered electron detection.

“It allows them to capture defects they couldn’t see before,” Peltinov said. The system can detect, for example, epi-overgrowth in FinFETs. “While the epi overgrowth is clearly visible on the PROVision, it’s almost impossible to see in conventional EBI. Without the resolution and the special imaging, it’s very difficult to catch that.”

“They can also increase their sampling with the faster throughput on the most challenging layers. This also helps them reveal process signatures of their most subtle process variation,”  Peltinov added. Massive sampling reveals hidden process trends and “signatures” that help identify sources of abnormalities, and shorten the time to root cause from days to minutes.

Applied Materials Releases Selective Etch Tool

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

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By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

Applied Materials has disclosed commercial availability of new Selectra(TM) selective etch twin-chamber hardware for the company’s high-volume manufacturing (HVM) Producer® platform. Using standard fluorine and chlorine gases already used in traditional Reactive Ion Etch (RIE) chambers, this new tool provides atomic-level precision in the selective removal of materials in 3D devices structures increasingly used for the most advanced silicon ICs. The tool is already in use at three customer fabs for finFET logic HVM, and at two memory fab customers, with a total of >350 chambers planned to have been shipped to many customers by the end of 2016.

Figure 1 shows a simplified cross-sectional schematic of the Selectra chamber, where the dashed white line indicates some manner of screening functionality so that “Ions are blocked, chemistry passes through” according to the company. In an exclusive interview with Solid State Technology, company representative refused to disclose any hardware details. “We are using typical chemistries that are used in the industry,” explained Ajay Bhatnagar, managing director of Selective Removal Products for Applied Materials. “If there are specific new applications needed than we can use new chemistry. We have a lot of IP on how we filter ions and how we allow radicals to combine on the wafer to create selectivity.”

FIG 1: Simplified cross-sectional schematic of a silicon wafer being etched by the neutral radicals downstream of the plasma in the Selectra chamber. (Source: Applied Materials)

From first principles we can assume that the ion filtering is accomplished with some manner of electrically-grounded metal screen. This etch technology accomplishes similar process results to Atomic Layer Etch (ALE) systems sold by Lam, while avoiding the need for specialized self-limiting chemistries and the accompanying chamber throughput reductions associated with pulse-purge process recipes.

“What we are doing is being able to control the amount of radicals coming to the wafer surface and controlling the removal rates very uniformly across the wafer surface,” asserted Bhatnagar. “If you have this level of atomic control then you don’t need the self-limiting capability. Most of our customers are controlling process with time, so we don’t need to use self-limiting chemistry.” Applied Materials claims that this allows the Selectra tool to have higher relative productivity compared to an ALE tool.

Due to the intrinsic 2D resolutions limits of optical lithography, leading IC fabs now use multi-patterning (MP) litho flows where sacrificial thin-films must be removed to create the final desired layout. Due to litho limits and CMOS device scaling limits, 2D logic transistors are being replaced by 3D finFETs and eventually Gate-All-Around (GAA) horizontal nanowires (NW). Due to dielectric leakage at the atomic scale, 2D NAND memory is being replaced by 3D-NAND stacks. All of these advanced IC fab processes require the removal of atomic-scale materials with extreme selectivity to remaining materials, so the Selectra chamber is expected to be a future work-horse for the industry.

When the industry moves to GAA-NW transistors, alternating layers of Si and SiGe will be grown on the wafer surface, 2D patterned into fins, and then the sacrificial SiGe must be selectively etched to form 3D arrays of NW. Figure 2 shows the SiGe etched from alternating Si/SiGe stacks using a Selectra tool, with sharp Si corners after etch indicating excellent selectivity.

FIG 2: SEM cross-section showing excellent etch of SiGe within alternating Si/SiGe layers, as will be needed for Gate-All-Around (GAA) horizontal NanoWire (NW) transistor formation. (Source: Applied Materials)

“One of the fundamental differences between this system and old downstream plasma ashers, is that it was designed to provide extreme selectivity to different materials,” said Matt Cogorno, global product manager of Selective Removal Products for Applied Materials. “With this system we can provide silicon to titanium-nitride selectivity at 5000:1, or silicon to silicon-nitride selectivity at 2000:1. This is accomplished with the unique hardware architecture in the chamber combined with how we mix the chemistries. Also, there is no polymer formation in the etch process, so after etching there are no additional processing issues with the need for ashing and/or a wet-etch step to remove polymers.”

Systems can also be used to provide dry cleaning and surface-preparation due to the extreme selectivity and damage-free material removal.  “You can control the removal rates,” explained Cogorno. “You don’t have ions on the wafer, but you can modulate the number of radicals coming down.” For HVM of ICs with atomic-scale device structures, this new tool can widen process windows and reduce costs compared to both dry RIE and wet etching.

—E.K.

New Tungsten Barrier/Liner, Fill Processes Reduce Resistance and Increase Yield

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

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By Pete Singer, Editor-in-Chief

Today’s most advanced chips pack two billion transistors on a die size of 100 mm2. Considering transistors are three terminal devices, that equates to six billion contacts to those transistors, which connect to 10-15 Layers of stacked wiring. Although the wiring is copper, the contacts at the transistor level and the so-called local interconnect level just above the contact level are made of tungsten (Figure 1). Although tungsten has slightly higher resistance than copper, the danger of copper contamination killing the transistor is such that tungsten is still used.

Figure 1. The contact (black area) is the first, smallest, most critical connection between the transistor and interconnect wiring. Source: TECHINSIGHTS

Two looming problems are that contact resistance is going up, to the point where it will soon be higher than that of the transistor (Figure 2). Yield is also at risk since just one bad contact can cause entire portions of the chip to fail. “Not only are there a lot of these contacts, they’re very challenging to make because they are so small and getting even smaller with each node,” said Jonathan Bakke, Global Product Manager, Transistor and Interconnect Group, Applied Materials.

Figure 2. At the 10nm node and beyond, contact and plug resistance is expected to rise exponentially and dominate.

Applied Materials recently launched two new products aimed at reducing contact resistance and improving yield in tungsten contacts. The Applied Endura® Volta™ CVD W product results in a new tungsten-based material that serves as both a barrier and a liner, enabling the lower resistance W fill to be three times wider than in traditional process flows. The end result is an increase of up to 90% in contact resistance. The Applied Centura® iSprint™ ALD/CVD SSW (seam-suppressed tungsten) product achieves bottom-up gap fill in tungsten contact CVD processes, reducing seams and voids, which increases yield.

The traditional process flow to from a contact has been to deposit a layer of titanium to form a silicide layer by reacting with the silicon, followed by a TiN barrier. This barrier film prevents the diffusion of fluorine into the silicon of the transistor from the tungsten hexafluoride (WF6) used to deposit the subsequent tungsten contact fill. Because tungsten doesn’t grow directly on TiN, a seed layer of W is typically deposited by ALD before the WF6 CVD bulk fill.

Two challenges associated with this approach is that the barrier and liner have not scaled – they have been made as thin as possible, but they’ve reached a limit. The TiN barrier is typically around 30-40Å and the liner film another 20Å. As a result, the volume of the overall plug made of the more desirable, lower resistance W is reduced. “The TiN and tungsten based liner are both high resistance layers. The more volume they occupy, the more they contribute to resistance,” Bakke said.

The second challenge is that, because the W CVD process results in a conformal fill, where all sides grow at the same rate, a seam is often formed in the middle of the contact. Or, even worse, the top closes before the W completely fills the contact hole, resulting in a void. Both seams and voids can be exposed or breached during the subsequent chemical mechanical planarization (CMP) step. “The contacts or local interconnects are becoming much smaller with each node and they’re getting more challenging to fill with low resistance material and without seams or voids,” Bakke said. Figure 3 shows common problems with resistance and yield.

Figure 3: Barriers and liners don't scale, leaving less room for low resistance W fill. Seams and voids can cause yield problems.

Seams and voids can lead to yield problems such as overly high contact resist or even open contacts. If even a few of the 6 billion contacts on a chip fail, there can a big impact on yield. One study (Figure 4), shows that even at the 20nm node, one defect in a billion can lead to a yield loss of 15% or more. “This tells you that you really have to have perfect gap fill. If one contact goes, it can knock out an entire portion of the device and make it inoperable,” Bakke said.

Figure 4. Source: Nvidia

Enter the Applied Endura® Volta™ CVD W and the Applied Centura® iSprint™ ALD/CVD SSW (seam-suppressed tungsten).

A process has been developed for the Endura – Applied’s platform for metal deposition, including PVD and CVD – to deposit a tungsten-based CVD film that serves as both the barrier layer and the liner layer. At around the 30Å thickness that would be typical of just the barrier, and it’s as effective a barrier as TiN. “We’re doing materials engineering to create the first new liner for tungsten plug in 10 years,” Bakke said. This means more of the volume of the contact consists of the lower resistivity W fill (Figure 5). “You can actually triple the tungsten fill width at the 15 nm node. You get a lot more low-resistance material in there. Beyond that, it’s a simpler process flow, by removing the one layer, the liner,” Bakke added.

Figure 5

Figure 6 shows how the new W-based barrier/liner compares to the standard flow. The tungsten-based film is 75% lower in resistitivity that the TiN (left). At thicknesses which are relevant for the 10nm node, an 80% reduction in total stack resistivity is seen (right).

Figure 6

Perhaps even more important is the contact resistance, as shown in Figure 7, which charts contact resistance vs critical dimension. “By the time you’re getting to the 10 and 7nm node thicknesses, you actually have a big drop in resistivity up to about 90% reduction in resistance at the 7nm node thicknesses,” Bakke explained.

Figure 7

One reason why plug resistance is becoming more important is indicated by the orange line in Fig. 7, which shows silicide contact resistance. “For a long time, the silicide was the big contributor to the transistor contact total resistance. Manufacturers spent a lot time trying to decrease that resistance as they scaled. There’s a cross-over point (blue line) where the plug starts become of higher resistance than the contact. We need to focus on bring the plug resistance back down so it’s not the major contributor to the total resistance,” Bakke said.

Figure 8 shows the end result, with a clean interface between both the tungsten and underlying tungsten layer. “The Volta W adheres very well to dielectric sidewalls. And the W fill is able to deposit on the Volta W and give good gap fill performance,” said Bakke. “It’s also able to survive all the post-processing steps, such as CMP and deposition of copper.”

Figure 8. Degas, clean and Volta W are integrated in the Endura platform.

The Applied Centura® iSprint™ ALD/CVD SSW process uses a “special treatment” after the liner (or barrier/liner in the case of Volta W) to suppress growth on the field and induce growth in a bottom-up fashion (Figure 9). This bottom-up growth eliminates seams and voids. “Because you have a more robust fill, you get an improved yield because you don’t breach the contact or local interconnect during the CMP step,” Bakke said. “This is the first bottom-up tungsten CVD in high volume manufacturing,” he added.

Figure 9. Bottom-up fill is shown in a diagram (top) and in an actual structure.

Bakke wouldn’t say what the special treatment was, but a patent search revealed a possible approach, involving activated nitrogen where the activated nitrogen is deposited preferentially on the surface regions.

Roll-to-Roll Coating Technology: It’s a Different Ball of Wax

Monday, April 18th, 2016

Compiled and edited by Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Manufacturing flexible electronics and coatings for a variety of products has some similarities to semiconductor manufacturing and some substantial differences, principally roll-to-roll fabrication, as opposed to making chips on silicon wafers and other rigid substrates. This interview is with Neil Morrison, senior manager, Roll-to-Roll Coating Products Division, Applied Materials.

1. What are the leading market trends in roll-to-roll coating systems?

Neil Morrison: Several market trends are driving innovations in roll-to-roll technology and barrier films.  One is the flexible electronics market where we see the increasing use of film-based components within displays for portable electronic devices such as smartwatches, smartphones, tablets and laptops.

The majority of these passive applications are for anti-reflection films, optical polarizers and hard coat protected cover glass films.

Examples of active device applications include touch sensors. Roll-to-roll vacuum processing dominates this segment through the use of low-temperature deposited, optically matched layer stacks based on indium tin oxide (ITO). Roll-to-roll deposition of barrier film is also increasing with the emergence of quantum dot-enhanced LCD displays and the utilization of barrier films in organic light-emitting diode (OLED) lighting.

In addition to the electronics industry, roll-to-roll technology is used for food packaging and industrial coatings. What’s new today for food packaging is consumers want to be able to view the freshness of the food inside the packaging. Given this, the use of both aluminum foil and traditional roll-to-roll evaporated aluminum layers is slowly being phased into vacuum-deposited aluminum oxide (AlOx) coated packaging.

Within the industrial coatings market segment, significant growth is being driven by the use of Fabry-Perot color shift systems for “holographic” security applications, such as those used to protect printed currency from counterfeiting. This requires the use of electron-beam evaporation tooling to deposit highly uniform, optical quality dielectric materials sandwiched between two metallic reflector layers.

2. What are the leading technology trends in roll-to-roll coating systems?

Neil Morrison: Roll-to-roll coating is being extended to the display industry through the use of higher optical performance substrates with enhanced transmission, optical clarity and color neutrality. These materials are typically more difficult to handle than traditional polyethylene terephthalate (PET) substrates due to inherent properties and the properties of the primer and/or hard coat layers used to treat or protect their surface.

The majority of displays used in mobile applications are moving to thinner substrates, to reduce the “real estate” within the display and enable thinner form factor products and more space for larger batteries.

At the technology level, roll-to-roll sputter tooling dominates the touch panel industry with continual improvements in substrate handling, pre-treatment and inline process monitoring and control. Roll-to-roll chemical vapor deposition (CVD) equipment has also entered the marketplace to address high barrier requirements and to reduce cost compared with traditional sputter-based solutions. Roll-to-roll CVD technology is still in its infancy but is expected to become more prevalent in the near future within the barrier and hard coat market segments.

In the display industry, defect requirements are becoming more and more stringent and are moving towards metrics previously unseen in the roll-to-roll industry.

3. How would you best and briefly describe the Applied SmartWeb, Applied TopBeam, and Applied TopMet systems?

Neil Morrison: The Applied SmartWeb roll-to-roll modular sputtering or physical vapor deposition tool is used to deposit metals, dielectrics and transparent conductive oxides on polymeric substrates for the touch panel and optical coating industry. Its high-precision substrate conveyance system permits winding of polymeric substrates down to thickness levels of ~23 microns at speeds of up to 20 meters/minute depending upon the application. Up to six process compartments with separate gas flow control and pumping allow the deposition of complex layer stacks within a single pass.

Our Applied TopBeam system is a roll-to-roll e-beam evaporation tool used to deposit dielectrics on substrate thicknesses as low as 12 micron and at speeds up to approximately 10 meters/second.  Key to the tool is Applied’s unique electron-beam steering and control system, which provides excellent layer deposition and uniformity at exceptionally high processing speeds by permitting uniform and stable heating of the evaporant material  over the entire width of the substrate.

The Applied TopMet is a high-productivity roll-to-roll thermal evaporation platform available for depositing Al and AlOx layers on substrates down to 12 microns in thickness and is used primarily for food and industrial packaging.

Applied SmartWeb (Source: Applied Materials)

4. Who are Applied’s leading competitors in this market?

Neil Morrison: Other companies in the roll-to-roll market include Von Ardenne, Leybold Optics (Buehler), Schmid, Ulvac and Kobelco.

5. How big is the worldwide market on annual basis?

Neil Morrison: It is difficult to accurately size the entire roll-to-roll market because of the wide variety of applications across multiple industries from flexible electronics to food packaging. Just estimating the size of the market within the flexible electronics category alone is tough because there are three areas that combine to make up the current flexible electronics market – OLEDs for flexible displays, flexible printed circuit boards, and flexible touch panels for phones and tablets. And with applications continuing to grow, it is difficult to provide a specific market size.

Controlling Variabilities When Integrating IC Fab Materials

Friday, April 15th, 2016

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By Ed Korczynski, Senior Technical Editor, SemiMD/Solid State Technology

Semiconductor integrated circuit (IC) manufacturing has always relied upon the supply of critical materials from a global supply chain. Now that shrinks of IC feature sizes have begun to reach economic limits, future functionality improvements in ICs are increasingly derived from the use of new materials. The Critical Materials Conference 2016—to be held May 5-6 in Hillsboro, Oregon (cmcfabs.org)—will explore best practices in the integration of novel materials into manufacturing. Dr. David Thompson, Senior Director, Center of Excellence in Chemistry, Applied Materials will present on “Agony in New Material Introductions – minimizing and correlating variabilities,” which he was willing to discuss in advance with SemiMD.

Korczynski: With more and more materials being considered for use in high-volume manufacturing (HVM) of advanced ICs, how do you begin to selectively screen out materials that will not work for one reason or another to be able to reach the best new material for a target application?

Thompson: While there’s ‘no one size fits all’ solution to this, it typically starts with a review of what’s available and known about the current offerings. With respect to the talk at the CMC, we’ll review the challenges we run into after the materials system and chemistries are set and have been proven generally viable, but still require significant optimization in order to get acceptable yields for manufacturing. It’s a very long road from device proof of concept on a new materials system to a viable manufacturing process.

Korczynski: Since new materials are being considered for use on the atomic-scale in advanced devices, doesn’t all of this have to be done with control at the atomic scale?

Thompson: For the material on the chip, many mainstream analytical techniques are used to achieve atomic level control including TEMs and AFMs with atomic resolution during film development for many applications. Unfortunately, this resolution is not available for the chemicals we’re relying on to deposit these materials. For a typical precursor that weighs in the 200 Dalton range, a gram of precursor may have 5 × 1020 molecules. That’s a lot of molecules. Even with ppb (109) resolutions on analytical, you’re still dealing with invisible populations of >1010 molecules. It gets worse. While trace metals analysis can hit ppb levels, molecular analysis techniques are typically limited in the 0.1 to 0.01 percent resolutions for most semiconductor precursors and there may be impurities which are invisible to routine analytical techniques.

Ultimately, we rely on analytical techniques to control the gross parameters and disciplined process controls to verify suppliers produce the same compositions the same way, and to manage impurities. On the process and hardware side, it’s like threading the needle trying to get the right film at the right throughput, in a process space that’s as tolerant as possible to the inevitable variability in these chemistries.

Korczynski: With all of this investment in developing one specialty material supplier for advanced IC manufacturing, what is the cost to develop and qualify a second source?

Thompson: Generally, it’s not sustainable to release a product with dual specialty material sources. The problem with dual-sourcing is chemical suppliers protect their knowledge—not simple IP—but also their sub-supply-chains and proprietary methods of production, transport and delivery. However, given how trace elements in the formulation can change depending on conditions the molecules experience over time, the customer in many cases needs to develop two separate sub-recipes based on the specific vendor’s chemistry they are using. So, redundancy in the supply chain is prudent as is making sure the vendor can produce the material in different locations.

There are countless examples over the last 20 years of what I like to call ‘the agony of the supply-chain’ when a process got locked into using a material when the only supply was from a Ph.D. chemist making it in small batches in a lab. In most cases the initial batch of any new molecule is made at a scale that would fit in a coffee mug. Sometimes though scaling up the first industrial-scale batch can alter impurity factors that change yields on the wafer even with improved purification. So while a customer would like to keep using a small batch production, it’s not sustainable but trying to qualify a second vendor in this environment presents significant challenges.

Korczynski: Can you share an example with us of how your team brought a source of subtle variation under control?

Thompson: We had a process using a new metal film, and in the early development everything looked great. Eventually we observed a drift of process results that was more pronounced with some ampoules and less so with others. The root cause initially eluded us. Then, a bright Ph.D. on our team said it’s interesting that the supplier did not report a particular contaminant that would tend to be present as a byproduct of the reaction. The supplier confirmed it was present and variable at concentrations in the 100-300 ppm concentration in the blend. This contaminant was relatively more volatile than the main component due to vapor pressure differences and much more reactive with the substrate/wafer. It was found this variability in the chemistry induced the process variation on the wafer (as shown in Figure 1).

FIGURE 1. RESOLUTION OF SEQUENTIAL WAFER DRIFT VIA IMPURITY MANAGEMENT

Chasing impurities and understanding their impact requires rigor and a lot of data collection. There’s no Star Trek analyzer we can use to give us knowledge of all impurities present and the role of those impurities on the process. Many impurities are invisible to routine analytical techniques, so we work very closely with vendors to establish a chemistry analytical protocol for each precursor that may consist of 5-10 different techniques. For the impurities we can’t detect we rely on excellent manufacturing process control and sub-supply sourcing management.

Korczynski: Is the supply-chain for advanced precursors for deposition and etch supplying everything we need in early R&D?

Thompson: New precursor ideation—the science that leads to new classes of compounds with new reactivity that Roy Gordon, or more recently Chuck Winter, have  been doing in academia is critically important and while there are a few academics doing excellent work in this space, in general there’s not enough focus on this topic.While we see many IP protected molecules, too often they are obvious simple modifications to one skilled in the art, consisting of merely adding a functional group off of a ring, or mixing and matching known ligand systems. We don’t see a lot of disruptive chemistries. The industry is hunting for differentiated reactivity, and evolutionary precursor development approaches generally aren’t sufficiently disruptive. While this research is useful in terms of tuning a vapor pressure or thermal stability it only very rarely produces a differentiated reactivity.

Korczynski: Do we need new methodologies to more efficiently manage all of this?

Thompson: Applied has made significant investments over the last 5 years to help accelerate the readiness of new materials across the board. One of the best things about working at Applied is the rate at which we can learn and build an ecosystem around a new material. With our strength in chemistry, deposition, CMP, etch, metrology and a host of other technologies, we get a fast, strong feedback loop going to accelerate issue discovery, resolution and general learning around new materials.

On the chemical supply-chain front, the need is making sure that chemical vendors accelerate their analytical chemistry development on new materials. Correlating the variability of chemistry to process results and ultimately yield is the real battle. The more knowledge we have of a chemistry moving into development, the faster learning can occur. I explain to my team that we can’t be proactive and respond to things we didn’t anticipate. Situations where trying to develop the analytical technique to see the impurity responsible for causing (or resolving) a variability is to start out at a significant disadvantage. However, we’ve seen a good response from suppliers on new materials and significant improvement on the early learnings necessary to minimize the agony of new material introductions.

3D Chips, New Packaging Challenge Metrology and Inspection Gear

Monday, March 21st, 2016

Compiled and edited by Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Metrology and inspection technology is growing more complicated as device dimensions continue to shrink. Discussing crucial trends in the field are Lior Engel, vice president of the Imaging and Process Control Group at Applied Materials, and Elvino da Silveira, vice president of marketing, Rudolph Technologies.

1. What are the latest market trends in metrology and inspection?

Lior Engel, Applied Materials: The market trends we are witnessing today are influenced by the memory mix growth in wafer fab equipment and emergence of technology inflections as the industry progresses to advanced nodes and 3D device architectures. The optical inspection market is growing along with wafer fab equipment. We have seen the memory mix of wafer fab equipment grow from 23 percent in 2012 to almost 50 percent in 2015. The memory growth trend along with the transition from planar to 3D NAND changes the dynamics, as 3D NAND in general requires more metrology solutions while the foundries are maintaining high demand for optical wafer inspection. Demand for electron-beam products is increasing for all device types.

Shrinking design rules and shrinking process windows translate to systematic defects becoming a critical issue. These can hinder time to yield and affect production yields. The interaction between the design and process can fail under certain process conditions, and the resulting small defects are extremely difficult to find. Challenges such as these are fueling the need for both optical and e-beam inspection solutions in the fab. These different solutions complement each other and help the fab throughout the entire chip lifecycle. From a market perspective, the e-beam inspection market continues to grow and outperform WFE. E-beam inspection is currently focused at the R&D stage but is beginning to shift to high-volume manufacturing.

The metrology market is also growing due to multi-patterning requirements, the need for increased measurement points and tighter process window control. The advent of e-beam massive metrology tools provides a solution for process monitoring and uniformity control. Also driving the market are the ever increasing high aspect ratio (HAR) 3D NAND devices in memory and the increasing complexity in 3D FinFET metrology in foundry.

The workhorse metrology solutions include CD-SEM for multi-patterning controls and HAR memory, and optical critical-dimension (OCD) addressing spacer profile reconstruction in multi-patterning and full device characterization in FinFET.

Elvino da Silveira, Rudolph Technologies: In our experience, fan-out wafer level packaging (FOWLP) is a big trend for our customers. FOWLP does not require a substrate, so the lower cost makes it an attractive packaging technique over 2.5D or embedded interposers. There is a wide range of low- to high-end FOWLP applications, such as MCP/SiP, PoP, and 2.5D FOWLP, each requiring specific inspection/metrology techniques.

Further, we see submicron inspection as a big trend fueled by shrink. More than Moore is driving creative packaging that requires inspection of shrinking redistribution (RDL) lines. Miniaturization and multiple functions packaging, driven by the wearables and Internet of Things market, creates more emphasis on microelectromechanical system (MEMS) devices and sensors. Also, shrinking nodes in the front-end have shifted macro inspection needs to the submicron level.

With regards to front-end metrology trends, 3D is the driver. Second- and third-generation FinFET and 3D memory (both DRAM and NAND) are the key market drivers for front-end logic and memory.  We are also seeing radio-frequency (RF), MEMS, and CMOS image sensors (CIS) move to adopt the latest generation of metrology as they compete to improve their processes and gain market share.

2. What are the latest technology trends in metrology/inspection?

Lior Engel, Applied Materials: Inflection challenges that are affecting M&I technology trends include:

 Design rules shrinking causing denser feature imaging and the advent of smaller killer defects

 3D transistors having more complex geometries, trenches and sidewalls. There is no line of sight to the killer defects and new materials are being introduced

  •  HAR structures introducing buried defects and new metrology challenges
  •  Process marginality resulting in critical systematic defects that require metrology coverage

In optical inspection, the technology trends addressing growing challenges include sensitivity improvement by enhancing the signal from key defects of interest. This can be achieved by enhancing imaging techniques and nuisance separation capabilities. In addition, leveraging design information (CAD) and optical information to optimize nuisance filtering.

For e-beam applications, which include SEM review, CD-SEM metrology and e-beam inspection, trends include:

 Adding on-tool automatic classification and analysis capabilities, which result in more meaningful statistical process control (SPC) and yield control. Automation produces faster enhanced results, reducing human error and speeding up the process

 Achieving 1-nanometer e-beam resolution and the availability of new imaging techniques are being utilized for finding the smaller defects in complex structures

  •  e-beam massive critical dimension (CD) measurements are being used for uniformity control
  •  e-beam voltage contrast inspection is increasingly required for embedded defects in 3D structures
  •  In-die on-device 3D and overlay measurements are challenging current optical metrology techniques, and trending towards new in-line solutions such as e-beam.

Elvino da Silveira, Rudolph Technologies: Increasingly complex front-end processes paired with “More than Moore” advanced packaging techniques are resulting in die-level stress. Product loss at assembly is extremely expensive since it’s one of the last steps in the process. Singulation excursions can manifest as a yield problem, but most often result as a reliability problem making them harder to detect and control. Traditional automated optical inspection (AOI) has been focused on active die areas rather than total chip area and is somewhat difficult and prone to overkill. Rudolph has developed a method to detect and monitor wafer chipping without extra investment or tool process time.

We solve the AOI inspection challenges by specifically monitoring the die seal ring while simultaneously inspecting both the active area and remaining kerf area, avoiding any throughput penalty. With our high-sensitivity/low-noise pattern-based inspection, customers can decide how close chips can occur relative to the seal ring. Judgements can be made about die quality based on certain characteristics (distance between die, die rotation, etc.). Lastly, customers can review image capture in both visible and infrared (IR).

Another inspection technology trend we see is the need for detection of non-visible/low-contrast killer defects in 3DIC flows. A 3D stacked IC flow may require a combination of through-silicon via (TSV) formation followed by die-stacking and molding. TSV interconnect formation flow will require processes such as via etch, via fill, nail reveal, copper pillar, wafer bonding, and debonding. A comprehensive process control strategy for such a complex flow requires multiple inspection and metrology approaches. Bright-field and dark-field detection is the baseline inspection technology for random and systematic defects. As the processes for TSV take on a more fab-like look, and are implemented in what is now being called the middle end, attention is turning to defects that are normally not visible. Examples of non-visible defects range from voids in TSVs to faint organic residues and incomplete etch on the bump pad. Voids can be detected using laser acoustic metrology. Laser acoustics also offer a unique solution for measuring the individual layers in a pillar bump stack to ensure tight process control and device yield. Organic residue-based defects have been tedious to detect using manual fluorescent microscopes. Now a more reliable approach to detecting organic defects is possible using automated high-speed fluorescent imaging based inspection. The strategy of combining bright-field, dark-field inspection with automated fluorescent imaging inspection, laser acoustics and software to analyze defect and metrology data has proved to be a cost effective approach to managing visible and non-visible defects in advanced assembly flows.

Advanced patterning of three-dimensional gate structures and memory cells is driving the need for advanced metrology techniques. Some of which have not been developed yet! Optical CD, X-ray, and acoustic metrologies are all at the leading edge. Optical wavelength ranges are now upwards of 20 microns to deal with thick multilayer memory stacks. Missing layer detection and the ability to measure ultrathin metal stacks with complicated interface characteristics are also challenges faced by our customers.

3. How are equipment vendors helping find defects in the nanoscale era?

Lior Engel, Applied Materials: Vendors must combine enhanced resolution, advanced imaging, and smarter applications into their offerings to meet the increasingly complex requirements from chipmakers as they transition to advanced nodes and 3D devices. E-beam and optical inspection solutions must become faster and more sensitive.

Metrology solutions are being used beyond traditional systematic process control, generating massive high-sensitivity data that is leveraged for predictive analysis.

In addition, as challenges grow, advanced applications leveraging design data and machine learning capabilities improve the overall results that the tools can deliver.

Elvino da Silveira, Rudolph Technologies: Those suppliers that can not only provide the required technology, but also provide the ability to take multiple points of data from across the fab, analyze that data, and make it actionable. True end-to-end process control that reduces time-to-ramp and improves ramp to yield—this is the value proposition that Rudolph offers its customers.

4. How is the 2016 market shaping up?

Lior Engel, Applied Materials: As was stated in Applied’s latest earnings call, our market outlook, taking into account the global economic climate, is that wafer fab equipment spending levels in 2016 will be similar to 2015. Driving industry investment are the technology inflections around 10-nanometer and the shift to 3D NAND, as well as increased spending in China.

Elvino da Silveira, Rudolph Technologies: Although Gartner is forecasting a flat 2016, Rudolph is uniquely positioned in both the front-end and true back-end semiconductor processes in a number of growth markets. Additionally, our new product pipeline is strong.

We see an opportunity to outperform our peers in 2016.

5. Is business improving, declining, or staying flat this year?

Lior Engel, Applied Materials: While the overall spending trend for WFE this year is flat, we are maintaining a positive outlook for Applied in 2016 because our customers are making strategic inflection-driven investments that play to our strengths. Our position is optimistic on wafer inspection for 2016. Our latest UVision Brightfield tool has a good position in foundry and logic. We’re the leader in e-beam review and are now taking that technology into inspection where we have significant pull from customers. So I think overall in 2016, we’re pretty optimistic about that business.

The Future Is Flexible and Printed

Friday, March 4th, 2016

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Automotive electronics, the Internet of Things, wearable gadgets, and other emerging chip markets are also expected to provide growth for flexible electronics, which often share manufacturing processes and materials with semiconductors.

Such applications were the talk of this week’s 2016FLEX Conference & Exhibition in Monterey, Calif. Printed and hybrid electronics were also on offer in the technical presentations and the compact exhibition area on the mezzanine level of the Monterey Marriott, where the conference was held while the Monterey Conference Center across Del Monte Avenue undergoes a year-long reconstruction project.

The Monterey Marriott and the Monterey Conference Center. (Credit: Jeff Dorsch)

Autonomous vehicles, connected cars, and the IoT are driving demand and innovation in flexible, hybrid, and printed electronics, according to Harry Zervos, principal analyst and business development manager for North America at IDTechEx, the market research, business intelligence, consulting, and events firm.

These new forms provide the capability to “add electronics to more and more mundane things,” he noted.

IDTechEx estimates the printed, flexible, and organic electronics market was worth a total of $24.5 billion in 2015. Organic light-emitting diode displays accounted for the lion’s share, at $15.3 billion. While OLEDs typically are not printed electronics, they stand to lead to flexible displays in the future, according to IDTechEx.

Sensors, mostly glucose test strips, represented $6.6 billion in revenue last year, while conductive inks provided $2.3 billion during 2015.

The market research firm forecasts printed electronics will increase from $8.8 billion in 2015 to $14.9 billion in 2025. Products made on flexible substrates are projected to grow from $6.4 billion last year to $23.5 billion in the next decade.

Market researchers have predicted “billions of sensors” will be sold in the next few years, including sensors for smartphones, Zervos said.  Smartphones will be “becoming flexible, more robust, foldable,” he added.

He is looking ahead to a time of flexible sensors and perhaps flexible microelectromechanical system devices to enable those flexible phones.

Flexible, hybrid, and printed electronics will provide “innovation in form factors, allowing designers to come up with new ideas on what devices could look like,” Zervos said in an interview. Such innovation will lead to “more excitement, higher profit margins,” he added.

This will depend on “an interoperable ecosystem” between the mature semiconductor industry and the nascent flexible electronics industry, Zervos said.

Molex was among the exhibitors at this week’s conference. The company was acquired in late 2013 for $7.2 billion by Koch Industries. Nearly a year ago, Molex acquired certain assets of Silogie, a supplier of flexible and printed electronics for consumer goods, industrial, lighting, medical, and military applications.

During the technical program on Wednesday afternoon, John Heitzinger — Molex’s general manager of printed electronics — described products the company has developed for the structural health monitoring of advanced ammunition, building monitoring systems, and physiological monitoring, the last on behalf of the U.S. Air Force. In working on functionalized carbon nanotubes for detecting and sensing lactate, Molex collaborated with American Semiconductor, Brewer Science, and Northeastern University, he said.

Neil Morrison of Applied Materials WEB Coating presented Wednesday morning on “’Packaging’ of Moisture Sensitive Materials Used in New Form Factor Display Products.” He is manager of research and development in Energy & Environmental Solutions for the Applied Materials unit, based in Alzenau, Germany.

Applied has a 40-year history is supplying chemical vapor deposition equipment for semiconductor manufacturing, he noted, and now offers plasma-enhanced CVD for displays and roll-to-roll CVD for advanced flexible electronics.

For quantum dots and wearables, “you need a barrier solution,” especially multilayer barrier stacks, Morrison said.

He recommended PECVD for manufacturing with silicon nitride, and critical roll-to-roll CVD requirements for high-performance barrier films.

For high-volume manufacturing of roll-to-roll barriers, “process monitoring and control is key,” Morrison said.

Flexible, hybrid, and printed electronics are clearly becoming a big and growing market. How companies take advantage of this market opportunity may be critical to their future.

Slowdown in Equipment Business Hits Applied’s Quarterly Results

Friday, February 19th, 2016

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Applied Materials reported net income of $286 million on revenue of $2.257 billion for the fiscal first quarter ended January 31, compared with net income of $348 million on revenue of $2.359 billion in the same quarter of a year ago.  Orders in Q1 were $2.275 billion, flat with $2.273 billion a year earlier.

Applied said foundry customers accounted for 38 percent of orders in the first quarter of fiscal 2016, while DRAM manufacturers represented 29 percent, flash memory suppliers 22 percent, and logic/others 11 percent. One year ago, orders were evenly split between foundry and DRAM customers, at 34 percent for each segment.

The 4 percent reduction in Q1 revenue, year over year, reflects the current softness in the semiconductor equipment business. SEMI’s book-to-bill ratio for North American equipment suppliers has been below parity for the last three months, with a preliminary figure of 0.99 in January, subject to revision.

“As the market moves into the sweet spot for Applied’s materials engineering technology, we see strong demand for our semiconductor, display and service businesses,” Gary Dickerson, Applied’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We are maintaining a positive outlook for 2016 as our customers make strategic, inflection-driven investments that play to our strengths.”

Dickerson told analysts Wednesday, “We are growing beyond semiconductor.” Applied’s display business is being driven by the industry’s move to organic light-emitting diode displays, he said.

An OLED fabrication facility represents three times the potential spending on equipment for an amorphous silicon liquid crystal display plant, according to Dickerson. “I am confident about our growth,” he said. The company’s etch and chemical vapor deposition businesses are “making significant gains,” the CEO added.

While there are “global economic risks” in 2016, similar to those in 2015, 10-nanometer chips and 3D NAND flash memory devices are creating demand for production equipment, along with “increased spending in China” by domestic and foreign companies, Dickerson said. “There is a fierce battle for leadership in these new device categories,” he commented.

Capital spending at the silicon foundries in 2016 will be at “levels more or less the same as last year,” Dickerson added. Their capital expenditures for 10nm ICs is expected to pick up in the second half of calendar 2016, he predicted.

NAND flash investment will be up 25 percent from 2015, particularly for 3D NAND, Dickerson said. The “heavy DRAM investment” of 2015 will cool off this year, falling about 20 percent in 2016, he added.  Logic spending will be “relatively flat, year over year,” he said.

Bob Halliday, the company’s senior vice president and chief financial officer, forecast net income in the fiscal second quarter would be in the range of 30 to 34 cents per share, compared with 25 cents per share in Q1 and 28 cents per share in the first quarter of fiscal 2015. Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S said analysts were expecting an average of 26 cents per share for Q2.

Worldwide spending on wafer fabrication equipment will be flat in 2016, compared with 2015, Halliday said. “We expect our share to increase,” he added.

The Applied Global Services business is in its third year of growth and display is in its fourth year of growth, the CFO noted.

China Bolsters its IC Gear Business with Mattson Acquisition

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Mattson Technology agreed this month to be acquired by Beijing E-Town Dragon Semiconductor Industry Investment Center, a limited partnership in China, for about $300 million in cash. The deal marks one of the first signs that the “Made in China 2025” policy will include targeting semiconductor production equipment as an element in bolstering the domestic chip business in the People’s Republic of China.

Brad Mattson, CEO

Mattson supplies dry strip, etch, millisecond anneal, and rapid thermal processing equipment for semiconductor manufacturing. The company was founded in 1988 by Brad Mattson, who earlier established Novellus Systems, acquired by Lam Research in 2012.

Mattson served as the company’s chief executive officer until 2001, and was its vice chairman until 2002. He later became a partner at VantagePoint Capital Partners and now serves as the CEO of Siva Power, a solar startup originally known as Solexant.

In 2014, Mattson Technology posted net income of $9.88 million on revenue of $178.4 million, after being unprofitable for the previous four years. Samsung Electronics accounted for about 61 percent of net revenue last year; Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing were its leading customers in 2013.

China represented nearly 10 percent of Mattson’s revenue in 2014, a percentage that may rise once the acquisition transaction is completed in early 2016, pending shareholder and regulatory approval.

Mattson Technology has remained profitable this year, reporting net income of more than $2 million on revenue of $38.9 million for the third quarter ending September 27, compared with net income of $2.6 million on revenue of $43.3 million for the same quarter of 2014.

For the first nine months of 2015, the company posted net income of $10.9 million on revenue of $140.5 million, compared with net income of $4.9 million on revenue of $123.7 million in the like period of 2014.

In the dry strip market, Mattson competes with Lam Research and PSK. Its principal competitors in thermal annealing are Applied Materials, Dainippon Screen Manufacturing, and Ultratech. Etch rivals are Applied, Lam, and Tokyo Electron, according to Mattson’s 10-K annual report for 2014.

G. Dan Hutcheson, VLSI Research Inc.

“The Chinese are trying to develop their own semiconductor equipment business,” said G. Dan Hutcheson, chairman and CEO of VLSIresearch. Buying a company like Mattson is “a great way to start,” he added.

Recalling the 1980s, Hutcheson commented, “Mattson was one of the really go-go companies at the time.” There were 10 to 20 vendors in every segment, he recalled. With industry consolidation of equipment suppliers, “it’s become harder for companies like that,” he said. “You almost have to be a billion-dollar company” to stand out in the market these days, Hutcheson added.

Fusen Chen, Mattson’s president and CEO, “has been a shot in the arm, turning it around,” Hutcheson said about the company. “It’s hard to have differentiation from Applied and Lam.”

Noting the dominance of Samsung and TSMC among Mattson’s customer base, Hutcheson said, “There’s only three customers” – those two chipmakers and Intel. “Those guys can develop their own technology,” he added.

Having Mattson as an equipment supplier helps “keep the competition honest,” Hutcheson noted.

The veteran industry observer said such a deal is “good for the Chinese.” The country aspires to become a world leader in computers, networks and telecommunications, without having to import most of the semiconductors it needs. “You can’t do that without semiconductors,” Hutcheson added.

The fabless semiconductor business in China has grown tremendously in this decade. “No one’s graduating designers like China is,” Hutcheson said. “They get their PhDs in the U.S., their visas expire, and we tell them, ‘go back home.’”

China is following the example of South Korea and Taiwan in building up an electronics industry with a comprehensive supply chain, although not all Asian countries have done well in fostering semiconductor equipment vendors, according to Hutcheson.

“It’s a real classical error” to assume that semiconductor production equipment is merely hardware that is easy to design and manufacture, Hutcheson commented. “It’s not just stuff made in a machine shop,” he added, noting the need for extensive software in IC gear.

At its size, “Mattson is one of the last companies you can buy,” Hutcheson concluded.

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