Fabs look to suppliers for on-site expertise
Semiconductor fab managers are increasingly asking suppliers to provide on-site technical expertise, according to three companies that have announced new services. The services are chemical and gas management capability and a virtual engineering capability using off-site expertise.
For years, chemical supplier Olin Microelectronic Materials (Norwalk, CT) and gas supplier Matheson Semi-Gas (San Jose, CA) have independently provided on-site chemical and gas management services to semiconductor fabs. In late May, the companies announced plans to jointly supply combined teams of chemical and gas experts, which the companies say will result in significant economies of scale and cost savings for semiconductor fabs, as well as an improvement in contamination control.
“This collaboration will merge those two services into one program and give the customer the opportunity to work with a team of experts versus separate companies,” says Hayes Anderson, Olin`s business director for chemical management services. “It gives fabs more technical expertise to tap into. Now you truly have two members on the contamination control team who can deal with the intricacies of gas and chemicals.”
Both companies were receiving requests from fabs for a joint service, says Mike Pfarr, vice president of marketing at Matheson Semi-Gas. “There is value, cost savings and quality improvements as a result of consolidating management of chemical and gas,” he says.
Purity levels will improve because the experts can provide continuous management of the chemicals and gases — from manufacture to arrival at the fab to point-of-use, Pfarr says.
The teams will be responsible for gas and chemical inventory management, analytical monitoring and sampling, just-in-time delivery, ensuring the purity of gases and chemicals to the point-of-use, and collecting and preparing for disposal of all chemical waste from the manufacturing site.
They will be permanent, on-site personnel at fab locations. “Customers are looking for technical expertise. That`s why they go outside and choose not to do gas and chemical management themselves,” Anderson says. “When experts become a part of the team, they have the capability to tap into additional resources from either side of the fence, and get an immediate response when a problem arises.”
A new service technology developed by semiconductor equipment supplier Varian Associates Inc. (Palo Alto, CA) brings experts into a fab via a virtual connection. Called Remote Assist, it allows on-site engineers to troubleshoot equipment problems with off-site Varian experts.
Scheduled to ship this fall, the service uses videoconferencing software running on a computer, and a helmet outfitted with a video camera, eyepiece display, earphone and microphone. The helmet is worn by a customer engineer or Varian field service engineer, and both the computer, located on a cart, and the helmet can be used in fab cleanroom and chase areas.
Remote Assist provides the on-site engineer with hands-free equipment inspection while it sends audio and video of the problem area to the off-site experts. It will allow the company to provide real-time emergency or preventive maintenance support, and at less cost to its customers and Varian, according to Lori Cox, business development manager. It also decreases downtime, saves on travel time and can be used as a hands-on training tool, she says.
Many fabs have Varian engineers on-site, but for the ones that don`t, Remote Assist allows them to “bring engineering expertise into their own cleanrooms,” says Cox. And because the videoconferencing software transmits electronic documentation, the engineer does not have to leave the cleanroom during a troubleshooting session to find drawings or other schematics.
“The product was developed in collaboration with our customers and also our field organizations. It was tested by our customers, and we went through several different prototypes before getting the right product,” Cox says. Although Varian developed the technology for use with its ion implantation equipment, it can also be used to support equipment from other vendors.