By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor
Timed in coordination with SEMICON Taiwan 2016 happening in early September, The Linde Group launched a new electronics R&D Center in Taichung, Taiwan. “We had a fabulous opening, with 35 to 40 customers and 20 people from the Taiwanese government such as ITRI,” said Carl Jackson (Fig. 1), Head of Electronics, Technology and Innovation at The Linde Group, in an exclusive interview with SemiMD. This new R&D center represents an investment of approximately EUR 5m to support local customers and development partners throughout the Asia Pacific region with its state-of-the-art analytical and product development laboratory.
Linde has dozens of labs around the world supporting different industries, all of which work in coordination with three main centers termed ‘hubs’ located in New Jersey, Munich, and Shanghai. This new electronics lab in Taichung will support customers in China, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and of course Taiwan. Working closely with local research partners and customers, the new center will also support development of local supply chains and local special gases manufacturing capabilities. “Customers do prefer a local supply-chain. There are examples in China where they’re even specifying a geographical limit around their fab, and if you’re outside that limit you can’t supply the materials,” said Jackson.
As a major step in collaborating with key regional partners in Taiwan, Linde is also entering into a collaboration agreement with the Industry Technology Research Institute (ITRI) of Taiwan. Jia-Ruey Duann, the vice president of ITRI, stated, “ ITRI values the cooperation on Electronic Specialty Gases (ESG) Production & Analysis with The Linde Group, and we look forward to working together to develop new products and services that benefit Taiwan’s electronics industry.”
Supporting Asia Pacific region
The R&D Center is part of an ongoing expansion and investment in the Asia Pacific region for Linde Electronics. Last year Linde commissioned the world’s largest on-site fluorine plant to supply SK Hynix, in addition to bringing multiple new electronics project on-stream in Asia. This year Linde announced that they have been awarded multiple gas and chemical supply wins for a number of world-leading photovoltaic cell manufacturers in Southeast Asia. “We’re talking about customer-specific applications in specific market segments,” explained Jackson. “They come to us with specific problems and the purpose of this lab is to find solutions.”
While this new lab supports manufacturing customers in LED, FPD, and PV industries, most of the demand for new materials comes from IC fabs. “Semiconductors always drive the materials focus, because it’s rare to find unique demands in the other markets,” said Jackson. “However, the scale can be much larger in the other segments, and that can drive improvements in gases used in semiconductor fabs. An example is ammonia which is used in huge volumes by LED fabs, and similarly when thin-film solar was happening there was huge demand for germane.”
Linde assists customers in realizing continuous technology progress through improvements in the ability to reduce chemical variability in existing products and in the development of new materials that are critical to support customers’ technology roadmaps. “We feel as thought we need to be better positioned to be able to support customers when they require it,” said Jackson. “Quite frankly, some materials don’t travel well. I’m not suggesting that suddenly we’ll start supplying everything locally, but this facility will help us start supplying customers throughout Asia.”
The Linde Electronics R&D Center (Fig. 2) will be used for improvement of product quality through advanced synthesis, purification, packaging and new applications development. These improvements are enabled by Linde’s advanced analytical processes and quality control systems that verify compositions and manage impurities.
Analysis and Synthesis
“The way that we have it configured it has two distinct features that work together, but the main focus is on analysis and that’s where the main investment has been made,” explained Jackson. “We think that we probably have the most advanced lab in Asia and perhaps in the world. At least for the materials portfolio that we have we can do ‘finger-printing’ analysis, including all the trace-elements and all the metals, which is to say all the things that can potentially affect process.”
The second feature of this lab is the ability to create experimental quantities of completely new chemical and blends to meet the needs of customers working in advanced device R&D and in pilot-line production. The lab features new purification and new synthesis technologies that work on small quantities of materials. “One capability we have is to do binary- or mixed-component blends,” elaborated Jackson. “In terms of purification, we have a bench-scale set-up with absorbance and distillation, but generally that would be done somewhere else. That’s the advantage of being connected to the global network of labs.”
“There are unique requirements for every fab in every industry,” reminded Jackson. “For example, nitrous-oxide is a key critical-material for OLED manufacturing and you must maintain repeatability in every cylinder, in every truck, and down every pipe. How do you reduce the variability in the molecule regardless of the supply mode? Having the ability to do in-depth analysis certainly gives us a leg up.”
Since sustainability of the supply-chain is always essential, one trend is HVM fabs today is the consideration of recover methods for critical gases such as argon, helium, and neon. “In some cases it works, and particularly as the scale continues to grow. Being able to use the expertise from our Linde Engineering colleagues and scaling it to the right size for semiconductor manufacturing is really important for us.”