Peering into an industry subculture: SEMI’s standards activities

By Debra Vogler, Senior Editor

Furtive glances across a stuffy room, strident objections, consensus-building conducted in a corner, and plastic forks stabbing at salad in box lunches — these could be scenes from a union negotiation meeting, or perhaps midlevel managers debating the merits of a new product. It also might describe business as usual in a SEMI standards meeting.

In a former life as a reliability engineer, this author was involved in the world of consensus-building ad infinitum. Seeing my fellow comrades at a SEMI Standards reception at SEMICON West a few weeks ago was a reminder of the challenging work undertaken day in and day out by those who represent equipment and materials suppliers on SEMI standards committees. So I asked those still active in SEMI Standards, whether developing and negotiating standards had gotten any easier — or, perhaps, whether the process of creating standards has changed significantly, now that just about everything in the industry is played out against the backdrop of myriad partnerships, alliances, and consortia.

Those involved in updating and maintaining standards are “A slowly diminishing, small core group of interested parties,” observed Jim Irwin, principal at I/C Irwin Consulting. “Few leaders ‘out there’ seem to care very much about using the standards — still.” He noted that there is no driving force behind those using the equipment performance and productivity standards — the safety standard (S-2) has the horsepower of ESH law behind it, for example, but equipment performance and productivity standards do not. Irwin added that “what gets measured, gets done or improved,” underscoring the belief that if standards are to be effective, a driver needs to be found to measure their value. “SEMI marketing activities around standards, especially to users at the highest management levels, have been ineffective in the past.”

SEMI has heard the rallying cry for measuring standards efforts. According to Bettina Weiss, director of international standards at SEMI, the organization has been collecting data for several years — looking at everything from demographics per committee per region, to balloting, approval, and publication times, as well as sales and marketing. “With the exception of budget-related issues, this data has been shared with regional standards committees, technical committees, and special project groups within the program on a regular basis,” noted Weiss. “Internally, we have used this data to develop targeted marketing/messaging approaches for specific program aspects such as, recruitment/outreach, standards usage and acceptance, staff prioritization, and so on.”

Aside from its efforts to measure effectiveness, SEMI acknowledges that the process is open to abuses. “We have been trying to curb what a committee/task force deems to be not constructive behavior by strengthening communication channels among the [standards] author/task force leader/voting members who object to a document,” explained Weiss. For example, SEMI is actively addressing the use of what have been characterized as “philosophical negative votes” (i.e., “because I don’t like it”), and standards leaders are encouraged to resolve such conflicts before a standard is brought to a vote in the committee.

Among other changes SEMI is trying to enable within its standards program is deeper integration between SEMI committees — and the changes are being noticed. “A good example is that the E116 (Equipment Performance Tracking — EPT) committee, which was developed in the ICC [Information and Control Committee], is working closely with the Metrics Committee to ensure that E116 is aligned with E10 (RAM), E58 (ARAMS), and E79 (OEE),” noted Tom Pomorski, principal consulting engineer for Brooks Automation. “In fact, a joint E10/E79/E116 working group was formed to ensure that these standards ‘play nice together.'” The Metrics Committee Education and Adoption subcommittee also shares leadership with the ICC.

Pomorski also sees progress with respect to integrating the metrics standards with production systems, citing two ways in which this is occurring. “Performance and productivity monitoring provides near real-time feedback on production system variation allowing rapid response and control/correction,” he explained. “Historical performance/productivity data provides a foundation for factory continuous improvement programs such as TPM, Lean, and Six-Sigma.”

Irwin told WaferNews that he was surprised to see a beehive of activity about productivity at SEMICON West this year, as well as seeing The Goal [by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox] on the bookshelves of some fab managers he has visited in past years. “That suggests there is a certain place for productivity thinking,” he said. “Everyone understands the possibility when times are ‘rocking’ [in the industry]…but I’ve always gotten that deer-in-the-headlights look when I ask, ‘What’s the possibility for productivity thinking during flat or down times?'” He is hopeful that as people go from thinking about productivity to doing something organized about it, they will be begin to appreciate what the book and other resources have to say and offer in the way of services.

To facilitate discussions between device manufacturers and suppliers, and foster what Weiss characterizes as a better, data-driven and consensus-based assessment of what standards will be needed and when, SEMI established a Manufacturing Technology Forum (MTF) in May of this year. “The MTF seeks to start the dialog much earlier, with device makers and suppliers in lockstep and with a much clearer understanding of what will be needed to stay on target,” observed Weiss.

A harbinger of what standards experts have been seeking may be on the horizon. “From my perspective, we are witnessing a trend away from technical specifications and test methods for the industry, toward a more business-inspired approach where economic impact, cost assumptions, and productivity considerations now play a significant role when identifying an area where standards can help reduce cost,” she said. — D.V.


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