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Intel pushes for common platform in fabs

Posted: 05 Nov 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:common platform? fab tools? Intel fabs? IC equipment?

Intel Corp. once attempted to bring a "standard platform" or architecture into the automatic test equipment (ATE) world. Now, the chip giant quietly hopes to push a similarand controversialconcept for front-end fab tools, such as CVD, etch, PVD and other gear.

The concept is expected to raise some eyebrows in the industry and could change the dynamics in the fab-tool business. It could also upset various fab-tool vendorsif the technology flies.

Today, semiconductor-equipment vendors develop a tool, which includes the platform, process modules and associated software. In what could rock the boat, Intel is interested in having a common and standard "vacuum processing platform" throughout its fabs. Then, vendors would simply devise and supply the various plug-and-play processing modules for the common platform.

Cloning fab tools
In other words, Intel wants to clone fab tools. The chip giant is looking for a "reference design" to build a "vacuum processing platform," said Frank Robertson, who manages the external programs department in Intel Corp.'s Technology and Manufacturing Group (TMG).

A common platform, equipped with interchangeable modules, could reduce maintenance and spare parts costs, Robertson said in an interview. The "vacuum processing platform" is not only being endorsed by Intel, but the technology is on Sematech's 450mm roadmap.

The common platform is not a new approach at Intel. Several years ago, Intel, Advantest and others formed the Semiconductor Test Consortium (STC).

The STC's goal was to develop a common and standard ATE platform. In effect, ATE vendors were supposed to develop "clones." In other words, ATE vendors built a common platform. Each platform was supposed to support interchangeable ATE modules.

The STC fell short of those goals. Only one vendor built a tester based on the group's specifications: Advantest Corp. Other ATE vendors refused to follow suit.

On the other hand, Intel benefited from the program. Advantest rolled out a new tester, dubbed the T2000. Intel procured a slew of those systems, which, in turn, are said to have lowered its overall test costs.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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