Manufacturing alliances: An expanded role for equipment suppliers

By Phil LoPiccolo, Editor-in-Chief, Solid State Technology

In the new consumer-driven electronics industry, where beating your competition to market with innovative technology is the surest route to success, process control equipment suppliers have an expanded role in manufacturing alliances to help dramatically shorten product-development and production-ramp times, and thus significantly improve yield and profitability, according to Brian Trafas, chief marketing officer at KLA-Tencor, in his talk at the Confab in Las Vegas.

Speaking at The ConFab yesterday from the perspective of an equipment supplier managing customer alliances, Trafas explained that while developing high-performance devices at high yield is still a critical requirement for profitability, so is reducing time to market. If you get to market early, you can demand a higher average selling price (ASP), he stressed — but if you’re late, ASPs can plummet below profitable levels.

Trafas outlined the hurdles that hinder efforts to reduce time to market as chipmakers attempt to continue improving price-performance ratios at the speed of Moore’s Law. One obstacle is that the number of new materials used in semiconductor manufacturing will jump from just over 20 to nearly 40 during this decade, roughly triple the rate of increase over previous decades (see Fig.1) To fabricate leading-edge memory or logic devices will require the integration of a host of new materials, he said. And each may require process changes that have the potential to introduce new metrology and defect control challenges, not only during process development when these issues are identified and characterized, but also during volume production, when the process must be monitored closely for yield and reliability excursions.

Another challenge is that to achieve continuing performance improvements, chipmakers must increasingly focus on innovation versus device scaling. Whereas at the 130nm node the vast majority of performance increases were the result of scaling rather than performance increases, at the 90nm and 65nm nodes innovation accounted for ~58% and 64% of performance increases, respectively (see Fig. 1). Clear examples of the impact of innovation in the logic community, Trafas explained, include the impact that strain engineering and the move from 2D to 3D architectures have had in terms of improving system performance.

Going forward, we need to improve the ability to capture defects on new material types as well as to detect both random and systematic defects, Trafas said. But an overarching issue is to improve yield, particularly early in the cycle. It all comes back to the time-to-market issue, and how profitability is determined by how quickly a fab can develop a process with production-level yield, he said, adding that this is the biggest knob to turn to improve profitability.

As a process control equipment supplier, KLA-Tencor has worked in alliances encompassing both chipmakers and process tool suppliers, focusing on collaboration to help improve the fab’s die-yield in a shorter timeframe, Trafas said. In fact, KLA-Tencor has shifted its emphasis in the last four or five years to starting collaborations much earlier than before, he said.

In one such collaboration, KLA-Tencor worked with IBM, Chartered, and several process tool suppliers to help IBM transfer the chipset for the Xbox game console from its “mother fab” in Fishkill, NY, to Chartered’s Fab 7 foundry in Singapore, Trafas explained in an interview. “We identified yield issues at critical points in the line, helped the customers fix those issues, and put in monitoring steps that allowed the customers to quickly fix any yield excursions that might arise,” he said. Ensuring that an effective inspection and metrology strategy was in place, that recipes and tools were matched, and that best known methods were documented was essential in helping IBM and Chartered achieve a parallel-ramp transfer of the 90nm technology within a tight, inflexible time window, he claimed.

The economic benefits of early collaboration can be significant. Trafas showed that by collaborating in a recent alliance with another logic customer, the partners were able to reduce the development time required to achieve 20% yield from 12 months to nine months, which resulted in a savings of $150 million. They were then able to ramp to 20%-50% yield two months faster than expected, for a savings of $200 million. And they reached production at 50%-80% yield nine months sooner than planned, for an additional $120 million in savings, plus a 10% higher overall yield (see Fig. 2).

Clearly, the industry is moving forward through alliances, both in R&D and manufacturing, Trafas noted, and the best strategy for making successful supplier/manufacturer partnerships entails coming together early in the process to define the challenges the customer is trying to solve, getting high-level sponsorship from both sets of management, developing projects with measurable goals, and creating an environment that supports open, collaborative teams working together.

“In the end, we have to have a win-win outcome,” Trafas said. “By understanding what the customer is trying to achieve, we can commit to meeting a mutual goal. This goes beyond just delivering equipment and then moving on.” — P.L.


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