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080613: Process integration drives the IC industry
Ed’s Threads 080613
The last musings in this blog on Friday the 13th of June, 2008

Process integration drives the IC industry
The next 10 years will witness more changes in mainstream manufacturing technology for ICs than in the last 40 years combined. An industry based on “what have you done for me lately” can never rest on its laurels, and so innovation must continue, despite limits in 2D scaling. With rapidly escalating costs projected for 32nm node and smaller digital CMOS manufacturing, it is inevitable that IC companies look to analog, packaging, and heterogeneous integration to add relatively greater value for lower cost and risk. Unique process integration challenges at each fab will drive everything for the next ten years, as shown recently by presentations at the recent International Interconnect Technology Conference IITC., some of which I've already discussed in this blog.

What are the ramifications of all of these subtle changes? With basic “unit-process” building blocks fairly well established, it is likely that the only fundamentally new tools to be developed will be for metrology. The current generation of thin-film, lithography, and thermal processing tools are extremely productive and should continue to be used with modest evolutionary upgrades over the next 10 years. The only exception to this is probably EUV lithography, which is still under development but shows promise.

New integration of old processes can be seen in the evolution of barrier layers for Cu metal in dual-damascene structures. At IITC, Novellus showed that PVD Ti/TiN is the newest Cu barrier to replace Ta -- though Ti is the standard barrier for Al metal lines it was replaced by Ta when the industry first began using Cu lines. Though less expensive than Ta, Ti can react with both fluorine (in FSG dielectric) and Cu and so was not considered to be an acceptable barrier. However, now that FSG has been replaced with SiOC in many fabs, a 5nm thin TiN layer (formed with 50 at% N) capping on Ti stops Cu diffusion. An ultra-thin PVD Ti wetting layer on top of the TiN provides a good surface for ECD fill of Cu.

NEC has targeted high-reliability automobile MCUs, and examined PVD Ti/Ru barrier metal for these applications. After 7 hours at 350°C, Ti diffuses into the Ru, but no Cu diffuses through the Ti. PVD-Ru with (001) orientation can be removed by CMP using conventional slurry for Ta/TaN removal. The Ru barrier achieved 12% lower resistance than the conventional Ta type barrier for 70nm wide Cu lines, while time-dependent dielectric breakdown (TDDB) was unchanged. The Ru/Ti barrier shows 35× longer lifetime (T50) than Ta/TaN. Whatever process is finally developed will run for over 10 years with essentially no changes, as per the supply contracts to the auto industry. I toured NEC Roseville recently and saw old 200mm tools being installed with plans to run for >10 years using ≥150nm node processes.

Low-k air-gaps are also great examples of using old unit-processes in new ways, since CVD oxides (SiOx and SiOC) and spin-on polymers already well developed will be used, while established lithography and etching technologies will complete the integration. EDN's Ron Wilson covered many of the latest air-gap integration details from IITC in his fine blog, but the most important consideration is that no new manufacturing tools are needed to make them happen. Designs may need to be tweaked, and the process integration will be challenging, but this approach is relatively low-risk and may be integrated into older fab lines.

Further proving that “there is no more noise (…there is only signal),” IMEC’s Michele Stucchi at IITC examined the effects of inherent line-edge roughness (LER) and via misalignments on the Efield and electrical breakdown between wires. An enhanced electrical field between adjacent lines is induced by LER-induced reduction in spacing. Compared to a nominal electrical field between lines with zero LER, a probabilistic analysis results in enhancement to the field, which can be a factor >2 in 30nm spaced lines. For wires with 30nm spacing, Efield may be high enough to guarantee at least one bridge in 20μm of line length. For via misalignment of 10nm in standard dual-damascene structures with 30nm spacing, the field enhancement can be a factor >3.

An amazing example of tricky process integration to eliminate variability in lithography was shown by Matthew Breitwisch of IBM, in describing work with Macronyx on phase-change memory (PCM) technology. Ge2Sb2Te5 (GST) was the first material investigated which changes from a high-resistance amorphous structure to a low-resistance crystal at ~170°C. A PCM cell is made up of a variable resistor in series with an access device (which may be a diode, BJT, or FET), and current flux near one million A/cm2 is needed for a few nanoseconds to create the change. To concentrate the current in programming, uniform small pores are achieved using a key-hole (a.k.a., “pinch-off CVD”) process:

- blanket oxide, hardmask and nitride depositions,
- lithography,
- anisotropic etching through the dielectric stack,
- an isotropic oxide etch to create an undercut below the hardmask, and
- conformal polysilicon CVD to form consistent 43nm wide keyholes.

The keyhole widths are controlled by the oxide etch and the poly CVD, and not by the lithography, such that equally sized pores form in the middle of line spaces of varying width…all without any new unit-processes.

With razor-thin process windows and systematic process-design interactions, each fab may have to optimize its own integrated process flow. If each fab runs a unique flow, then a mask-set run on one line will yield very differently on a second line, and this reality may create problems for companies trying dual-sourcing with foundries.

New materials and evolutionary upgrades to old materials will continue to support new integration schemes in fabs, while most of the tools will remain the same. However, OEM applications labs will run non-stop as fabs try new designs-of-experiments (DOE) for new integration schemes. It will be increasingly difficult to get process information out of fabs, since each line will have to be set up with unique tricks and integration schemes. Designers will have to really start innovating, as digital CMOS shrinks no longer guarantee lower cost and higher performance.

There will be many IC types that will probably never be designed at the 32nm node. A friend working on a graphics processing chip explained to me that they needed to go to 65nm to get a speed improvement for their target application, but their modeling shows that additional speed will now provide no user benefit. Going to 45nm adds huge design costs and manufacturing yield risk, and so they now plan to stick to 65nm but work on cost and power optimization in re-design. Their next 65nm chip may use 3D interconnects or integrated passives for improved performance, however, so innovation will continue… just in new directions. Such is the blessing/curse of “living in interesting times.”

Henceforth, my challenges will be elsewhere. This is my last blog post on my last day as a Technical Editor for Solid State Technology magazine; I am resigning to pursue other interests, first of which will be an immediate 8-week sabbatical. When I return, I will probably work for the semiconductor manufacturing industry, in an as-yet undetermined capacity that doubtlessly will be "interesting." I thank PennWell Publishing for years of rewarding employment, and wish the company well. Special thanks to James Montgomery, who diligently and masterfully copy edited most of these 76 postings.


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080429: SAFC Hitech opens modular scalable plant
Ed’s Threads 080429
Musings by Ed Korczynski on April 29, 2008

SAFC Hitech opens modular scalable plant
A trusted supplier of specialty materials for semiconductor manufacturing must have great safety, control, and smarts. These specialty chemicals include precursors for growth and deposition, photoresist and slurry additives, as well as CMP, ECD, encapsulation, packaging and assembly, fuel cell, PV, and energy storage materials. Custom molecules must be specially design, assembled, refined, and packaged, and each step requires expert knowledge.

Part of Sigma-Aldrich, SAFC Hitech raked in >$70M of sales in 2007, ~$40M of which came from the Epichem business it acquired in February 2007. Epichem had established a unique business proposition as a total supply chain partner to compound semiconductor manufacturers, yet lacked the resources and expertise to scale up to silicon manufacturing scales.

SAFC has plenty of manufacturing scale, and now even more so with the $9M investment into a new production plant in beautiful Sheboygan, WI. Each plant is multipurpose and reconfigurable by design, with room for expansion depending upon demand. As a result, SAFC Hitech is uniquely positioned to be able to supply specialty materials on annual scales of hundreds of kilos to a few tons.

SAFC distillation columns in one safety-isolated “cell” in the new Sheboygan, WI specialty materials manufacturing plant. (Source: SAFC)

The facility has been designed with deep experience in the best practices of specialty chemicals production. Each “cell” in the facility (see Figure) is designed and constructed to ensure safety in setting up flexible capacity to purify highly toxic and reactive chemistries. A concrete cell is roughly the footprint of a standard trade-show booth (~10m2) with >5m ceilings to allow for tall columns. All potential spark sources are removed from each cell. Production manager James Bilitz noted that a bucket of alcohol could be thrown on the floor and it would not ignite.

The filling, packaging, and analysis facility was custom-designed from the ground up to ensure purity in packaging of ampules and tanks. Several innovative techniques eliminate as many sources of metallic contamination as possible: walls and ceilings formed from welded PVC, a custom vacuum oven to dry containers, and sophisticated purge/fill systems inside of custom UHPA hoods. A state-of-the-art mass-spectrometer is used to confirm that individual metal contamination levels are kept in the sub-parts-per-trillion range.

SAFC expects the construction and operational experiences learned with the new Sheboygan facility will provide a blueprint for future expansion in overseas markets, particularly in China and South Korea.

Geoff Irvine, SAFC Hitech's commercial development and marketing director, explained that chemical innovation will be needed more and more to allow the industry to move forward. “We have people in the CMP space and ARC space coming to us asking us to make specialty materials,’ he said, adding that the company also does “a lot of private label manufacturing.” Services offered range from molecular design to process development optimization/scale up and commercial manufacturing; analysis; raw material sourcing and characterization; and even things like vendor audits, hazard evaluation, packaging design, and regulatory filings.

Complex molecules can be toxic, explosive, unstable, and generally very tricky to work with when breaking them down in use, and it’s all more difficult when building them up through chemical synthesis pathways. Also, a molecule that breaks down in shipping or storage tends to form particles. ALD processes use highly reactive chemistries that instantly degrade if exposed to oxygen or water vapor, for example, so extremes of environmental control are needed in the chemical engineering of ALD precursors. “We go to great lengths to create wonderfully complex molecules which our customers destroy as soon as they get them,” quipped Peter Heys, SAFC Hitech R&D director and former head of Epichem.

The company is central to the semiconductor manufacturing industry with customers in precursor R&D as well as large-scale production, but if pressed to name just one core competency, “it’s our ability to handle difficult materials,” proclaimed SAFC president Frank Wicks. “For example, our high-potency materials have to be manufactured in glove boxes. People generally don’t like to work with these materials and that’s good for us.” It’s good for the whole industry that SAFC likes to do this ever more essential work.


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080211: IITC process units and integration
Ed’s Threads 080211
Musings by Ed Korczynski on February 11, 2008

IITC process units and integration
The International Interconnect Technology Conference (IITC) has issued its 11th call for papers, and for a change it will explicitly focus on unit processes (and new materials) while continuing to cover the leading edge of integration. The main deadline for paper submissions has now passed, but a limited number of late papers will be accepted until April 11th. The shift in emphasis toward covering unit processes is due to the divergence of integration options moving forward.

Manufacturing ICs on silicon wafers is very complex; hundreds of “unit process” steps (e.g., clean, inspection, etch, deposition, etc) are combined into dozens of “integrated process modules” to form functional structures. One integrated process module may form high-performance transistors, another module forms contacts to transistors, and yet another module forms interconnects between contacts. Many of the unit process steps are copied between modules, and thus has it been since the 1960s.

During the last twenty years, the digital CMOS shrink has been the one process integration direction uniting all the different unit processes under development. The set of requirements for the next node/generation of digital CMOS was always the most challenging for equipment manufacturers working on unit processes. However, starting with the 45nm node, the integration of unit processes has become so complex that there is no one obvious solution for all fabs.

Dr. Thomas Caulfield, EVP of sales, marketing, and customer service for Novellus Systems and former technology executive with IBM, talked with WaferNEWS about the changes in the development of unit-processes in the industry. “As an industry becomes commoditized, how to you differentiate? You either have more efficient design, or more efficient unit processes that allow you to get more productivity or functionality out of the manufacturing. So the last thing you want is the same integrated process,” explained Caulfield. With the leading-edge of IC manufacturing ever increasing in complexity, the productivity of tools used in the fab must increase just to keep costs the same.

Consider the process module to form contacts as an example of integration. Today, the formation of advanced contacts requires something like the following sequence of unit processes:

1) CVD of a blanket dielectric layer,
2) Thermal treatment to stabilize/planarize,
3) Metrology to inspect the layer,
4) Photoresist mask spin-on and bake,
5) Lithography to form initial openings,
6) Treatment to shrink the opening,
7) Metrology to inspect the photoresist,
8) Etch of the dielectric through the mask,
9) Strip/Ash the remaining photoresist,
10) Clean/Treat the dielectric openings,
11) Metrology to inspect openings,
12) Deposit metal barrier layer,
13) Deposit metal for contact,
14) CMP of metal layers, and
15) Metrology to inspect contacts.

Each of these steps has sub-steps too.

In the past, major developments could be described and documented at the integrated process module level, allowing much of the unit process details to be IP secrets. The amazing innovation that enabled digital CMOS shrinks is now pushing against limits of atoms and wavelengths of light, and it now seems clear that further pushes will be ever more expensive. Fabs will also work to integrate analog, RF circuitry, integrated passives, and 3D packages using essentially the same unit processes. “It’s no longer Moore’s Law one-size-fits-all with all the focus on the next generation technology,” explained Caulfield.

Since the integrated process details are now quite sensitive, technologists are relatively more able to talk about developments in unit processes. From an equipment supplier perspective, of course, unit process development does not occur in isolation. “You develop a process capability because you have an application and market in mind,” explains Caulfield. “It’s not that we don’t keep doing that, but today we find customers using the same unit processes in novel ways.”

EDN’s Ron Wilson recently blogged about the IITC call-for-papers and the ramifications of unit process development for IC designers. He considers that porting a physical design from one fab to another may soon require significant inputs from equipment manufacturers, but it is highly unlikely that designers will ever have to talk to OEMs about GDSII files. Using the example of the contact module, the variations in the geometry of the metal contact plug are due to the interdependencies between the different unit processes. Sometimes the source of a structural variation can be easily identified as one unit process, but more often it is impossible to separate out which of the unit processes were to blame. If the diameter of the contact is too large, was the resist overexposed, or was the dielectric overetched?

In addition to the complexity that can be seen in final device structures on the atomic-scale, there are many sacrificial thin-film layers and other “hidden” unit processes within the integrated flow. “It’s funny to watch people debate how something was done based on the data from reverse engineering a final chip,” commented Caulfield. “There’s just no way to conclusively determine the process sequence afterwards with so many sacrificial steps in the integration scheme.”

For example, Novellus sells a pseudo-ALD dielectric tool that forms what they call a pulsed-deposition layer (PDL). Some DRAM fabs use a sacrificial dielectric which they remove with a wet etch, and for this integration scheme the PDL provides no advantage. However, other DRAM fabs use CMP to remove the equivalent sacrificial dielectric, and for them the PDL provides an advantage. The reasons for choosing one integration approach over another are very complex. “People are leveraging unit processes in different ways to try to get the best results while going to higher density,” explained Caulfield. “Productivity or manufacturability differentiation through proprietary integration schemes is the goal—and there are many ways to skin the cat—that provides competitive advantage.”

OEMs have always sold tools that perform basic unit processes, and fabs have always fine-tuned unit processes for integration into modules. The only fundamental change now is that fabs must manage extreme complexity at the same time that most chips have become commodities. “It’s a big problem that the industry is adding manufacturing complexity at the same time that chips are becoming commoditized,” expressed Caulfield. “If you’re not on a curve to take cost out of running a manufacturing tool, then you’ll become the problem that gets worked out of the equation next.”


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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.