JAN. 26 Fayetteville, Arkansas–Research currently underway at the University of Arkansas (UA) may soon have a billion-dollar impact on the semiconductor industry. Scott Mason, assistant professor of industrial engineering, has received a $225,000 grant from the Semiconductor Research Corp. (SRC) for work that may revolutionize the fabrication of semiconductor wafers.
The SRC grant funds research to improve the scheduling and efficiency in the IC manufacturing process. Since IC manufacturers often deliver products late, manufacturers that can deliver on time will have a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
“This program expands the University’s expertise to the front-end of wafer fabrication,” explains Mason. “We already have a well-known program on the back-end–assembly, testing, and packaging–with our microelectronics and materials researchers, but industry is hungry for industrial engineers with a background in semiconductors. If we can improve efficiency and throughput by only one wafer per day, it will have significant effect. A typical wafer fab represents a $2 billion investment. Each wafer can be worth $50,000 to $100,000, and they are produced in lots of 25. At any given time, the inventory in a plant could exceed $0.5 billion.”
UA, working with Arizona State University and the University of Wuerzberg in Germany, is developing scheduling methodologies for wafer fabrication that will incorporate methods to recognize and overcome problems that distort schedules such as bottlenecks, breakdowns, and other factors.
“Our goal is to make something that is actually used in industry, not to solve an academic problem,” says Mason. “Our results should make scheduling a wafer fab on a shift-by-shift basis–or even more frequently–a real possibility.”