By Matt Wickenheiser
Ask what’s needed in the chip equipment industry and a cry is invariably raised for standards. International SEMATECH is looking to meet the needs of the IC makers and equipment suppliers with early work on a 300mm standards certification program.
Essentially, SEMATECH is looking to establish the requirements and criteria for the accreditation and management of third party entities that will certify conformance to semiconductor equipment standards requirements.
Under the plan, a tool or platform would be certified as conforming to certain standards before it’s shipped to a customer.
Initially, SEMATECH is focusing on 300mm software standards, according to Jackie Ferrell, manager of standards coordination at the international consortium.
Plans are to have a draft of the program available in July, a final draft review in October, and a fine-tuned plan in December.
Ferrell noted that software standards for 300mm “are relatively new and complex compared to older tools.
“I think it has been a burden on suppliers. We didn’t really anticipate the extent of that, or the time it takes to get all standards implemented on tools. As a result, we’ve been working with suppliers from the SEMATECH side to give guidance on how to interpret standards. To build on that, we would like suppliers to be able to show some level of assurance that they comply with requirements.”
While some chip companies have unique requirements that wouldn’t fall under the certification, there is a lot of consensus among SEMATECH members on what the general requirements are, said Ferrell.
Third-party assessments are used in many other domains, as are third-party quality audits, noted Ferrell. One example is a university with a lab that’s set up to certify sensor buses, she explained.
“On the whole, as far as standards for equipment, I don’t know of any focused accreditation or certification programs,” Ferrell said.
Currently, some chip companies go to supplier sites and do their own testing, and some suppliers do their own testing. Under the new system, one third-party could do the test, and reduce redundant testing/certification by numerous chip companies.
“I think one of the key values is rather than having to work supplier-to-customer, supplier-to-customer, supplier-to-customer, we come up with a common set of consensus requirements,” said Ferrell. “That should help the supplier not have to guess or do customized tests for each customer.”
Objectivity drives the need for a third-party, said Ferrell, however, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that a tool company could become certified under SEMATECH’s program, and could verify that its equipment meets the standards. At any rate, said Ferrell, “we really need the equipment suppliers to be participating in our activity in order to be valuable for everybody.”
Ferrell said they expect to match up with the ITRS roadmap, and to support Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International’s standards, as well. The plan, Ferrell noted, is a means of reducing the cost of meeting the requirements of the roadmap.
“I certainly hope we’re aligning with the ITRS roadmap, the standards are pretty much in line with what you’d find in the factory,” remarked Ferrell. “The ITRS is one of our checkpoints to see if we are working on things that will align with what we say we’ll need.”
A similar accreditation proposal was discussed at SEMI about a year ago, concerning environmental health and safety certification, but didn’t move forward. SEMI is communicating with SEMATECH on this latest proposal, according to Bruce Gehman, SEMI CTO and VP for standards.
“SEMI is working very closely with SEMATECH on this issue,” reported Gehman. “If requested, we will seriously consider being involved in the management of the program.”
Gehman noted, however, that SEMATECH’s plans seem to be in the very seminal stages, and remarked that SEMI would only become involved with the accreditation program if there were clear support from the membership. Gehman told WaferNews that while he did get a chance to present the issue to the standards committee’s board of directors at SEMICON Europa, they had little time for discussion.