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070817: FEI Phenom - SEM for the people
Ed’s Threads 070817
Musings by Ed Korczynski on August 17, 2007

FEI Phenom - SEM for the people

FEI has been supplying Scanning electron microscopes (SEM) to the semiconductor industry to help inspect ever smaller circuit-elements during the decades of the shrink. Now the miniaturization in electronics enabled by SEMs has been paired with miniaturized hardware to create a small revolution in microscopy. The company's new Phenom electron microscope, the size of a large coffee maker (Fig. 1) plus a small below-table vacuum pump, requires no external vibration isolation, can load a sample in <30 seconds, and costs <$80K.

Information is power, but it’s got to be “productive information” to be useful in production. Knowing what you’ve got is critical, so cost-effective metrology and inspection tools are essential for the operation of labs as well as fabs. SEMs provide essential information from R&D; to manufacturing quality control, but they are generally slow and sensitive instruments. It takes a skilled technician many minutes to load and focus samples in expensive tools, such that “SEM time” is a common bottleneck in R&D.;
The first SEM was developed in 1961 (Fig. 2). The electronics have shunk over the decades, and analysis capabilities such as energy-dispersive X-ray microanalysis have evolved, but the basic layout and size of the electron column and vacuum chamber have remained somewhat constant. Now FEI has shown that throwing out the old playbook and starting from scratch can produce a revolution in inspection tools.

Developed for broad ubiquitous applications in science and engineering after an “ah-ha” flash of insight a few years ago, the Phenom is the first commercial tool from FEI to take advantage of a real hardware miniaturization revolution.

By shrinking the electron column down so that it actually fits in the palm of your hand (Fig. 3),

and mating it to a miniscule vacuum-chamber and sample-holder cup (Fig. 4),

the combined small mass can be so rigidly coupled that it floats free from external vibrations.

At SEMICON West this year, the company showed a working unit on top of a cheap display table. I knocked on the sides of the unit and could see the tool’s outer skin vibrating while the image from the sample inside remained rock solid (Fig. 5).
The adjacent image was taken by me as the SEM operator after just three minutes of training. (Admittedly, I did learn to run traditional SEMs as an undergrad at MIT, but such prior training is really not needed with this tool.) FEI did a great job of developing a very easy to use GUI with touch-screen control for focus, magnification to 20,000x, contrast, etc.

Beyond picking up where optical microscopes are losing resolution power, the Phenom’s potential market will also include organizations that need SEM technology but cannot afford the typical >$200,000 investment for a traditional SEM system, plus the costs of additional personnel and facilities. At approximately one-third the price of a traditional SEM, this new tool should find broad acceptance in academia as well as industry. The Phenom is now available for purchase in Europe and North America, and sales to the rest of the world will be rolled out in 2008.

Finally, I've found the perfect tool to inspect my Shure VST-III stylus tip for wear. If only I could find someone who still knew what the stylus for a vinyl turntable was supposed to look like…


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070817: FEI Phenom - SEM for the people

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Blogger Becky said...

You should also look at Hitachi's TM-1000 tabletop SEM. The two are comparable; pros and cons abound for each, just as they do for the regular SEMs. The TM-1000, with a 10kV accelerating voltage, has the option for EDX and they way it is integrated is very neat. I recently spent time 'playing' with both of these tools at the recent Microscopy & Microanalysis conference in Ft. Lauderdale and wish I had one of each on my desk. I say 'playing' because I've been an SEM user/trainer for over 20 years and these SEMs are both fun and easy to use. They definitely fill the gap between optical microscopy and the higher-end SEMs.

Tue Aug 21, 03:40:00 PM PDT  
Blogger SST's Ed's Threads said...

Beth Moseley, who works on Marketing for Hitachi High Technologies America, wrote to correct the previous comment about the TM-1000. The accelerating voltage is set at 15kV on the TM-1000. Hitachi's developers felt that this was the best all around condition for most sample imaging. I haven't had a chance to see the TM-1000 in person since it's release in the US last year, but it seems like another fine tool from Hitachi.

Tue Aug 28, 11:25:00 AM PDT  

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Ed's Threads is the weekly web-log of SST Sr. Technical Editor Ed Korczynski's musings on the topics of semiconductor manufacturing technology and business. Ed received a degree in materials science and engineering from MIT in 1984, and after process development and integration work in fabs, he held applications, marketing, and business development roles at OEMs. Ed won editorial awards from ASBPE, including interviews with Gordon Moore and Jim Morgan, and is not lacking for opinions.