Semiconductor fabrication plant

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In the microelectronics industry a semiconductor fabrication plant (commonly called a fab; sometimes foundry) is a factory where devices such as integrated circuits are manufactured.

Microelectronics is a subfield of electronics. As the name suggests, microelectronics relates to the study and manufacture of very small electronic designs and components. Usually, but not always, this means micrometre-scale or smaller. These devices are typically made from semiconductor materials. Many components of normal electronic design are available in a microelectronic equivalent. These include transistors, capacitors, inductors, resistors, diodes and (naturally) insulators and conductors can all be found in microelectronic devices. Unique wiring techniques such as wire bonding are also often used in microelectronics because of the unusually small size of the components, leads and pads. This technique requires specialized equipment and is expensive.

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A business that operates a semiconductor fab for the purpose of fabricating the designs of other companies, such as fabless semiconductor companies, is known as a foundry. If a foundry does not also produce its own designs, it is known as a pure-play semiconductor foundry.

Fabs require many expensive devices to function. Estimates put the cost of building a new fab over one billion U.S. dollars with values as high as $3–4 billion not being uncommon. TSMC invested $9.3 billion in its Fab15 300 mm wafer manufacturing facility in Taiwan. [1] The same company estimations suggest that their future fab might cost $20 billion. [2]

TSMC Dedicated independent (pure-play) semiconductor foundry

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, Limited, also known as Taiwan Semiconductor, is the world's largest dedicated independent (pure-play) semiconductor foundry, with its headquarters and main operations located in the Hsinchu Science and Industrial Park in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

Wafer (electronics) thin slice of semiconductor material used in the fabrication of integrated circuits

A wafer, also called a slice or substrate, is a thin slice of semiconductor material, such as a crystalline silicon, used in electronics for the fabrication of integrated circuits and in photovoltaics for conventional, wafer-based solar cells. The wafer serves as the substrate for microelectronic devices built in and over the wafer and undergoes many microfabrication process steps such as doping or ion implantation, etching, deposition of various materials, and photolithographic patterning. Finally, the individual microcircuits are separated (dicing) and packaged.

The central part of a fab is the clean room, an area where the environment is controlled to eliminate all dust, since even a single speck can ruin a microcircuit, which has nanoscale features much smaller than dust. The clean room must also be damped against vibration, to enable nanometer-scale alignment of machines, and must be kept within narrow bands of temperature and humidity. Controlling temperature and humidity is critical for minimizing static electricity.

The clean room contains the steppers for photolithography, etching, cleaning, doping and dicing machines. All these devices are extremely precise and thus extremely expensive. Prices for most common pieces of equipment for the processing of 300 mm wafers range from $700,000 to upwards of $4,000,000 each with a few pieces of equipment reaching as high as $130,000,000 each (e.g. steppers). A typical fab will have several hundred equipment items.

Stepper

A stepper is a device used in the manufacture of integrated circuits (ICs) that is similar in operation to a slide projector or a photographic enlarger. The term "stepper" is short for step-and-repeat camera. Steppers are an essential part of the complex process, called photolithography, that creates millions of microscopic circuit elements on the surface of tiny chips of silicon. These chips form the heart of ICs such as computer processors, memory chips, and many other devices.

Photolithography, also termed optical lithography or UV lithography, is a process used in microfabrication to pattern parts of a thin film or the bulk of a substrate. It uses light to transfer a geometric pattern from a photomask to a light-sensitive chemical "photoresist", or simply "resist," on the substrate. A series of chemical treatments then either engraves the exposure pattern into the material or enables deposition of a new material in the desired pattern upon the material underneath the photo resist. For example, in complex integrated circuits, a modern CMOS wafer will go through the photolithographic cycle up to 50 times.

Etching (microfabrication) technique in microfabrication

Etching is used in microfabrication to chemically remove layers from the surface of a wafer during manufacturing. Etching is a critically important process module, and every wafer undergoes many etching steps before it is complete.

History

Typically an advance in chip-making technology requires a completely new fab to be built. In the past, the equipment to outfit a fab was not very expensive and there were a huge number of smaller fabs producing chips in small quantities. However, the cost of the most up-to-date equipment has since grown to the point where a new fab can cost several billion dollars.

Another side effect of the cost has been the challenge to make use of older fabs. For many companies these older fabs are useful for producing designs for unique markets, such as embedded processors, flash memory, and microcontrollers. However, for companies with more limited product lines, it's often best to either rent out the fab, or close it entirely. This is due to the tendency of the cost of upgrading an existing fab to produce devices requiring newer technology to exceed the cost of a completely new fab.

Flash memory electronic non-volatile computer storage device

Flash memory is an electronic (solid-state) non-volatile computer storage medium that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed.

Microcontroller small computer on a single integrated circuit

A microcontroller is a small computer on a single integrated circuit. In modern terminology, it is similar to, but less sophisticated than, a system on a chip (SoC); an SoC may include a microcontroller as one of its components. A microcontroller contains one or more CPUs along with memory and programmable input/output peripherals. Program memory in the form of ferroelectric RAM, NOR flash or OTP ROM is also often included on chip, as well as a small amount of RAM. Microcontrollers are designed for embedded applications, in contrast to the microprocessors used in personal computers or other general purpose applications consisting of various discrete chips.

There has been a trend to produce ever larger wafers, so each process step is being performed on more and more chips at once. The goal is to spread production costs (chemicals, fab time) over a larger number of saleable chips. It is impossible (or at least impracticable) to retrofit machinery to handle larger wafers. This is not to say that foundries using smaller wafers are necessarily obsolete; older foundries can be cheaper to operate, have higher yields for simple chips and still be productive.

The current, as of 2014, state-of-the-art for wafer size is 300 mm (12 in). The industry is aiming to move to the 450 mm wafer size by 2018. [3] As of March 2014, Intel expects 450 mm deployment by 2020. [4] Additionally, there is a large push to completely automate the production of semiconductor chips from beginning to end. This is often referred to as the "lights-out fab" concept.

The International Sematech Manufacturing Initiative (ISMI), an extension of the US consortium SEMATECH, is sponsoring the "300 mm Prime" initiative. An important goal of this initiative is to enable fabs to produce greater quantities of smaller chips as a response to shorter lifecycles seen in consumer electronics. The logic is that such a fab can produce smaller lots more easily and can efficiently switch its production to supply chips for a variety of new electronic devices. Another important goal is to reduce the waiting time between processing steps. [5] [6]

See also

Notes

  1. Begins Construction on Gigafab In Central Taiwan Archived 2012-01-29 at the Wayback Machine , issued by TSMC, 16 July 2010
  2. "TSMC says 3nm plant could cost it more than $20bn - TheINQUIRER". theinquirer.net. Archived from the original on 12 October 2017. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  3. 2011 Report Archived 2012-07-10 at the Wayback Machine - International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors
  4. "Intel says 450 mm will deploy later in decade". 2014-03-18. Archived from the original on 2014-05-13. Retrieved 2014-05-31.
  5. Chip Makers Watch Their Waste
  6. ISMI Press Release

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