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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.
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.The same company estimations suggest that their future fab might cost $20 billion.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 is an electronic (solid-state) non-volatile computer storage medium that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed.
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. As of March 2014, Intel expects 450 mm deployment by 2020. 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.
An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit is a set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece of semiconductor material that is normally silicon. The integration of large numbers of tiny transistors into a small chip results in circuits that are orders of magnitude smaller, cheaper, and faster than those constructed of discrete electronic components. The IC's mass production capability, reliability and building-block approach to circuit design has ensured the rapid adoption of standardized ICs in place of designs using discrete transistors. ICs are now used in virtually all electronic equipment and have revolutionized the world of electronics. Computers, mobile phones, and other digital home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the small size and low cost of ICs.
Semiconductor device fabrication is the process used to create the integrated circuits that are present in everyday electrical and electronic devices. It is a multiple-step sequence of photolithographic and chemical processing steps during which electronic circuits are gradually created on a wafer made of pure semiconducting material. Silicon is almost always used, but various compound semiconductors are used for specialized applications.
STMicroelectronics is a French-Italian multinational electronics and semiconductor manufacturer headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. It is commonly called ST, and it is Europe's largest semiconductor chip maker based on revenue. While STMicroelectronics corporate headquarters and the headquarters for EMEA region are based in Geneva, the holding company, STMicroelectronics N.V. is registered in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
In microelectronics, the foundry model refers to the separation of a semiconductor fabrication plant operation (foundry) from an integrated circuit design operation, into separate companies or business units.
Fabless manufacturing is the design and sale of hardware devices and semiconductor chips while outsourcing the fabrication of the devices to a specialized manufacturer called a semiconductor foundry. Foundries are typically, but not exclusively, located in mainland China and Taiwan because of the generally low cost of labor. Thus, fabless companies can benefit from lower capital costs while concentrating their research and development resources on the end market.
Wafer fabrication is a procedure composed of many repeated sequential processes to produce complete electrical or photonic circuits. Examples include production of radio frequency (RF) amplifiers, LEDs, optical computer components, and CPUs for computers. Wafer fabrication is used to build components with the necessary electrical structures.
Chartered Semiconductor was created in 1987, as a venture that included Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd. Yet, it was not until 2000, that ST Engineering, a wholly owned subsidiary of Temasek Holdings wholly acquired Chartered.
Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) is a semiconductor foundry company headquartered in Shanghai, China. It provides integrated circuit (IC) manufacturing services on 350 nm to 14 nm process technologies. SMIC has wafer fabrication sites throughout mainland China, offices in the United States, Italy, Japan, and Taiwan, and a representative office in Hong Kong. Notable customers include Qualcomm, Broadcom, and Texas Instruments.
SEMATECH is a not-for-profit consortium that performs research and development to advance chip manufacturing. SEMATECH has broad engagement with various sectors of the R&D community, including chipmakers, equipment and material suppliers, universities, research institutes, and government partners. The group is funded by member dues.
United Microelectronics Corporation is a Taiwanese company which is based in Hsinchu, Taiwan. It was founded as Taiwan's first semiconductor company in 1980 as a spin-off of the government-sponsored Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI).
Advanced Technology Development Facility (ATDF) is a research and development foundry for the semiconductor industry. It began operations as a research plant for SEMATECH in 1988, but was reorganized as a for-profit subsidiary in July 2004.
The term die shrink refers to a simple semiconductor scaling of semiconductor devices, mainly transistors. The act of shrinking a die is to create a somewhat identical circuit using a more advanced fabrication process, usually involving an advance of lithographic node. This reduces overall costs for a chip company, as the absence of major architectural changes to the processor lowers research and development costs, while at the same time allowing more processor dies to be manufactured on the same piece of silicon wafer, resulting in less cost per product sold.
Systems on Silicon Manufacturing Co. Pte. Ltd. is a Singaporean semiconductor fabrication company located in Pasir Ris Wafer Fab Park. It was incorporated in 1999 and is a joint venture between NXP Semiconductors and TSMC. Founded by NXP Semiconductors and EDB Investments, the plant was completed in 2000.
GlobalFoundries is an American semiconductor foundry headquartered in Santa Clara, California, United States. GlobalFoundries was created by the divestiture of the manufacturing arm of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) on March 2, 2009, expanded through the acquisition of Chartered Semiconductor on January 23, 2010, and further expanded through the acquisition of IBM Microelectronics on July 1, 2015. The Emirate of Abu Dhabi is the owner of the company through its subsidiary Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC). On March 4, 2012, AMD announced they divested their final 14% stake in the company, which concluded AMD's multi-year plan to divest its manufacturing arm.
Semiconductor consolidation is the trend of semiconductor companies collaborating in order to come to a practical synergy with the goal of being able to operate in a business model that can sustain profitability.
SVTC Technologies was a technology services company that provided development and commercialization services for semiconductor process-based technologies and products. SVTC operated from 2004 to October 2012.
Tower Semiconductor Ltd. (TowerJazz) and its fully owned U.S. subsidiaries Jazz Semiconductor , and TowerJazz Texas operate collectively under the brand name TowerJazz. TowerJazz manufactures integrated circuits offering a range of customizable analog specialty process technologies, including SiGe, BiCMOS, SOI , mixed-signal and RFCMOS, CMOS image sensors , power management (BCD), and non-volatile memory (NVM) as well as MEMS capabilities. TowerJazz also owns 51% of TowerJazz Panasonic Semiconductor Co. (TPSCo) , an enterprise with Panasonic Corporation.