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Fabs Seeking Higher Quality Electronic Materials to Meet Technology Demands

Manufacturers are striving to overcome limits to stay on track with Moore’s Law. Typically as the technology node gets smaller, the number of processes goes up and yield potentially goes down with each added process step.

Critical process steps in high-volume semiconductor device manufacturing at aggressive feature sizes require stringent control of variability. For a silicon wafer with 100 or more advanced logic chips, each with up to 4 billion transistors and billions of connections, it is critical to remember:

  • Essentially all the transistors and connections have to work as intended on each chip and
  • The process has to be repeatable from wafer to wafer while chip production proceeds at rates of up to 80,000 wafer starts or more per month through a fab.

A modern high-volume semiconductor fab hugely amplifies value and cannot afford any process excursions. There must be stringent focus on controlling variation in all inputs to the chip fabrication process.

Variation among transistors on a chip lead to poorer overall chip performance and must be minimized. Even trace contaminants – including those that are not specified on a standard Certificate of Analysis – can cause measurable shifts in semiconductor processes and affect chip performance in advanced devices. Given that process materials are a critical input in wafer processing, it is easy to see how the quality of electronic materials (EM) products becomes increasingly important for chip manufacturers at leading technology nodes.

Another important consideration is the challenge of the unknown: engineers don’t know how a specific impurity might impact performance. This can lead to needing additional processes and controls, which can mean higher operational costs and more risk from higher investments. Any misstep along the way – an impurity in a gas, for example—might interact in the process in unknown ways. Such a misstep can cost thousands or even millions of dollars per month.

Ensuring consistent product requires a holistic approach to quality. Instead of limiting responsibility to a quality department, it must be a priority that runs through the entire organization. As is seen in this wheel, a comprehensive quality strategy cuts across all functions that touch a product.

To meet the demands for rigorous quality control, organizations may need to hire materials scientists, chemists, and process engineers and change the culture of their organization so that every department has a strategy and plan that contributes to the overall quality vision.

Process stability across the supply chain is made possible through SPC (Statistical Process Control), SQC (Statistical Quality Control), MSA (Measurement System Analysis), and BCP (Business Continuity Planning) systems. Fingerprinting and metrology furnish the means for rigorous measurement, reducing variability, and tightening controls. Gas purity, consistency, and reliability are then delivered as an integral part of the final product.

IC technology step changes are driving electronic materials purity and analytical requirements. The bottom line? Materials suppliers must reduce variability and tighten control limits to help fabs meet market demands for more complex devices.


This blog post was contributed by Dr. Anish Tolia, Head of Global Marketing, Linde Electronics. For more information, contact Francesca Brava at

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