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