They’re popping up everywhere

by Mark A. DeSorbo

Whether it's a fab or food processing facility, cleanrooms are a given

Pick a corner of the globe, any corner. Moscow? OK, there you'll find a complete mini-wafer fab that was brought to Russia by Systems Integration Technology AG (SIT; Montlingen, Switzerland) and consists of 15 transportable cleanroom modules.

Seoul, Korea, you say? Easy! Samsung Electronic Co. Ltd. is building a 10.7-million-square-foot semiconductor production facility to compliment its 14-million-square-foot facility in Kiheung.

It's happening in Missouri. Dallas, too. No matter where you look on this good earth, there's bound to be a project in some stage of development that has cleanrooms. And for the semiconductor market, the boon in fabs is expected to continue in not only Europe and Asia, but North America, too.

xDownturn yields to upswing

According to Semiconductor Equipment Materials International (SEMI; Mountain View, CA), equipment manufacturers reported record sales for the first two months of the year. In January, for example, SEMI estimated that for every $100 worth of products shipped, another $134 was received in orders.

The three-month average of worldwide shipments in January was $1.6 billion, two percent more than December and 82 percent higher than January 1999 shipments that totaled $890 million. In February, SEMI also reported that worldwide the semiconductor industry is projected to grow by 25 percent this year. That's up from last year's 18 percent increase. Moreover, industry experts at the European International Strategy Symposium, held in Marseilles, France, in February, went as far to say they expect a 40 percent growth in the overseas semiconductor market for 2001.

In addition, Semico Research of Arizona, estimates that wafer demand will increase from 6.5 million wafers a year in 1998 to an estimated 21.9 million wafers in 2003. That's 27 percent per year.

The personal computer isn't the only factor driving the market, says Jean-Philippe Dauvin, group vice president and chief economist for STMicroelectronics. “The industry is now propelled by new devices-the result of the merging worlds of computing, telecommunications, data communications,” he adds, noting Internet-accessing mobile telephones.

Some even have wheels

Perhaps the most interesting project involves cleanrooms on wheels. SIT shipped a complete mini-wafer fab to Moscow in pre-assembled modules that make up 15 transportable cleanroom modules. According to the Swiss company, the project includes equipment for 0.25-micron process. The equipment includes an implanter, chemical vapor delivery, physical vapor delivery, EPI/poly, dielectrical etch, metal etch, CMP, cleaning, photolithography, and photoresist processing.

The ISO Class 6 (Class 1000) cleanrooms are made from self-supporting steel frames that are equipped with crane hooks and lifting tie bars needed for transporting as well as site positioning. Thermal insulation as well as moisture vapor barrier maintain internal temperature and humidity. Air supply is introduced through a suspended ceiling that contains either filters or ceiling diffusers. Circulation is maintained either through suspended perforated floors or sidewall return grilles.

SIT says the mobile cleanrooms can be produced in various sizes. Typical floor sizes range from about 25 by 8 feet to 40 by 10 feet. Because of its modularity, the unit can also be used to make one large cleanroom.

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St. Joseph's Foods is a 250,000-square-foot meat-processing plant. About 200,000 square feet of the facility is designated as the processing area, where the temperature is maintained at 35° F.

Speaking of large fabs, Samsung is expected to complete the first phase of the $1.8 billion facility by the third quarter of 2000. Samsung expects to be able to crank out 32,000 eight-inch wafers per month by early 2001. The Samsung facility will be capable of 0.15-micron processing, while one line of the facility will be dedicated to the production of 128, 256 and Rambus DRAM devices.

Another significant fab ground-breaking in Asia was celebrated in February by Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing at Woodland Industrial Park in Singapore. The $2.1 billion, 775,000 square-foot facility, which is called Fab 7, will house about 170,000 square feet of cleanroom space. Like Samsung, Chartered will produce eight-inch wafers. The company will also have the capability to put in 300mm equipment to meet customer needs or market trends.

Indeed the downturn in the semiconductor industry is now a full-fledged upswing. Other industries close to contamination control are also experiencing some good times. A study conducted by the International Association of Food Industry Suppliers (IAFIS: McLean, VA) indicates that consolidations in the food processing industry were up more than 20 percent last year.

As a result of consolidations, more than 50 percent of the food processing companies responding to the survey indicated that product offerings increased, and about 66 percent boosted product output. The booming economy has allowed food processors to beef up budgets as well. New equipment purchases have increased. In fact, 75 percent of the equipment bought last year was purchased new.

One food-processing company, Hillshire Farm and Kahn's, a division of Sara Lee Corp. in St. Joseph, MO, began work on a 250,000-square-foot meat-processing plant last December. Once complete, the $75 million plant made of structural steel will have a single story with a basement level. The exterior of the facility comprises four-inch-thick, insulated metal panels, which help maintain a temperature of 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

St. Louis-based McCarthy builders are handling the project, which has dealt with two major challenges, the size of the facility and the accelerated schedule. “Thirty percent of the mechanical design is still underway. In order to maintain our quick schedule, we are releasing bid packages as design progresses. Then an estimator on site evaluates bids as they come in and awards contracts as quickly as possible,” says Tom Felton, McCarthy's project director.

About 200,000 square feet of the facility will be dedicated to the processing area, while 35,000 square feet will be deemed employee space for locker, break and team meeting rooms. Another 15,000 square feet will be dedicated to administrative space. Officials at Sara Lee declined to give details of the processing plant's cleanrooms and contamination control efforts.

Cleanliness not just for cleanrooms

Controlling contamination is even important to industries that do not necessarily need cleanrooms.

Take Ultrapure Technology Inc. (Suwanee, GA) as an example. Ultrapure installed cleanroom flooring in its new facility. An expensive endeavor, perhaps, but Jeff Smith, president, says it's money well spent.

Construction began in November 1998, and was completed a little over a year later. The project was anything but conventional. About 8,750 square feet of the 14,000-square-foot building is warehouse space, which has the cleanroom flooring.

“We really sunk a lot of money into the floor, and people think we're nuts, but when you're running pallet jacks and forklifts on concrete floors, you're abrading the surface and producing contamination. At our last facility, we wore away an eighth of an inch from the cement floor,” Smith says. “By using cleanroom flooring, we've set a foundation. If we ever wanted to make it a controlled environment, we could.”

Last December, Ultrapure moved just a mile away from a 4,500-square-foot facility it occupied to the new facility.

The project, he explains, was not completed on time, and most of the roadblocks were due to the inability to obtain permits. Suwanee is located in Georgia' Gwinnett County, which has been noted as one of the nation's fastest growing areas for the last 10 years. “[County officials] would say they'd be there on Tuesday, but they wouldn't say what Tuesday, and the more you complained the slower the process went,” Smith says.

As far as cleanrooms go, Smith says a 150-square-foot ISO Class 5 (Class 100) space is slated for completion in June. “It's not going to be very big, and the reasons behind building it are to provide a showroom for potential customers to do hands-on product evaluation and to show people unfamiliar with the technology what a cleanroom is,” Smith adds.

The cleanroom will also be used to train employees of Ultrapure's parent company Environmental Cleaning Services Inc. Smith says he, along with company vice president Dennis Lane, will serve as general contractors for the cleanroom project and hire necessary subcontractors. “There's a lot of fat that can be cut without the hiring a general contractor. If you have a little bit of time and the know-how, a lot of money can be saved,” Smith says. (See “Owners explore contractor options,” December 1999, p.1).


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