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Sematech installs tools in 450mm prototype fab

Posted: 27 Oct 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:450mm? fab? IC equipment? fab tool?

Who will fund the tools?
"Obviously, 450mm is not ready now," said G. Dan Hutcheson, president of VLSI Research Inc., but "it's coming."

Hutcheson said Sematech has made significant progress in 450mm. For example, "they have nailed down the mechanical handler issues and standards," he said.

The subject of 450mm technology remains a hot button in the industry. Several years ago, Sematech unveiled two next-generation fab programs: 300mmPrime and the International Sematech Manufacturing Initiative's ISMI 450mm effort.

There is widespread support among the fab-tool community for 300mmPrime, which looks to boost the efficiency of existing 300mm fabs, thereby pushing out the need for 450mm plants.

The newer, more controversial ISMI 450mm program, calls for some chipmakers to make a more direct transition from 300mm to the larger 450mm wafer size.

In some cases, Sematech's unveiling of the controversial plan to hasten the industry's move to 450mm wafers has driven a wedge between the semiconductor equipment community and some chipmakers, rekindling the debate over who will fund the development of next-generation fab toolsor whether the shift should in fact proceed at all.

In 2007, Sematech announced plans to install a "factory integration test bed" facility for the development of 450mm fab tools. The facility, located in Austin, could help propel the 450mm era. The "test bed" is located within an R&D fab once owned by Sematech. That facility was recently acquired by SVTC Technologies Inc., an R&D foundry.

Now, Sematech claims to have a prototype 450mm clean room. When (or if) a 450mm fab will appear, Sematech has already outlined some preliminary specifications for such a plant.

A 450mm fab must "re-use" much of the technology and overall structure of a 300mm plant, Jefferson said. According to Sematech, a 450mm fab would have similar specifications as a 300mm plant.

Such a fab would be about (or greater) 12 foot in height and have a sub fab ratio of greater than 0.75. Like 300mm fabs, the GEM and SEMI automation standards would remain the same.

The tools themselves would have the same footprint of current 300mm machines. A 450mm tool could have a footprint larger than a 300mm tool, as long as it has a faster throughput, according to Sematech.

Sematech's 450mm clean room is equipped with wafer handlers and FOUPs. So far, Sematech has installed two tools: a combination defect metrology and film-thickness metrology machines. These metrology tools were supplied by NanoPhonics.

Sematech is set to install a 450mm wet-clean tool from Solid State Equipment Corp. (SSEC). The next tool on the list is a film-deposition system, but Jefferson declined to indentify the vendor.

This year or next, Sematech hopes to install 450mm prototype PECVD, PVD and silicon nitride tools. Perhaps the most controversial tool on the list is the so-called "platform" concept, which would handle CVD, etch and PVD.

Intel, one of the most influential Sematech members, once attempted to bring a "standard platform" or architecture into the ATE world. In 2007, the chip giant hoped to push a similar and controversial concept for front-end fab tools, such as CVD, etch, PVD and other gear. At the time, Intel was interested in having a common platform, with standard "vacuum processing chambers."

Intel may be still interested in the idea, but Sematech is moving away from the concept at least to some degree. Tool vendors would be unhappy to devise a common platform; it would impact their margins, given they prefer to devise proprietary systems.

Jefferson said Sematech's new platform concept is completely different than Intel's idea, saying the consortium would not push a standard mechanical interface. "It's not cloning tools," he said.

The industry is expected to devise some guidelines for a platform tool by year's end. Unnamed tool vendors have already proposed some ideas, according to Jefferson.

In any case, this platform concept is not unique. Applied Materials Inc. and others have been selling so-called chamber tools for years. In Sematech's case, the platform concept could speed up development times and accelerate the 450mm era, said Hutcheson.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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