Interview: Chinese tool firm AMEC tips equipment, strategy

by Ed Korczynski, Senior Technical Editor, Solid State Technology

Gerald Yin, CEO and co-founder of Advanced Micro-Fabrication Equipment Inc. (AMEC), provided an exclusive interview to WaferNEWS to discuss the OEM’s first products and its business strategy. A global semiconductor OEM with headquarters in China, AMEC has designed and released its first thin-film deposition and etch tools for leading-edge IC manufacturing.

A brief backgrounder….Earlier this year AMEC finalized a $43M Series B round of financing with funding from Qualcomm and Samsung Venture Investment Corp; KLA-Tencor’s VC arm, KT Venture Group, participated in an earlier round. AMEC’s board “observers” include a host of VC and investor representatives, with histories at Applied Materials, TEL, Intel, Toshiba Semiconductor, and Novellus Systems.

AMEC currently has 250 employees, of which 85 are claimed to be experienced executives from the semiconductor equipment industry, and 32 director-level or higher from the US. Main operations are in Shanghai’s Zhang Jiang High Tech Industry Zone, with sales headquarters in Singapore and subsidiaries being set up in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Yin explained that the global nature of the IC fab industry made it challenging to consider where best to locate different company functions — e.g., “Do you want to have a US head of sales or an Asian head of sales?”

To support global customers, the company consciously decided to staff itself with a mix of nationalities. “At the beginning we decided to have eight different nationalities. Only one nationality can lead to an insular mindset,” explained Yin.

AMEC’s tools are all for 300mm wafers and based on a standard cluster-tool design, with two or four wafers/chamber and a maximum of three chambers/cluster. “Primo” is the trademarked brand name for the tools targeting 65nm and below manufacturing.

The two-wafers/chamber Primo dual-frequency reactive ion etch (RIE) system for dielectric etch uses proprietary hardware to couple two independent plasma frequencies into the chamber. Independent control of both 2MHz and 60MHz frequencies allows for separate control of plasma energy and density, providing for a much wider process window and allowing a single chamber to do cleaning, etching, and ashing of a wide variety of dielectrics. The company claims it has developed efficient processes for low-k dielectric strip, FSG trench and via etch, and HAR etching.

The four-wafers/chamber Primo sub-atmospheric chemical vapor deposition (SACVD) system for dielectrics uses individual showerheads, gas delivery, and heaters for each wafer. Shared pumping and exhaust design minimizes costs for a system design that looks a lot like the Novellus Vector, though without multi-station sequential processing (each wafer experiences all deposition in a single spot). Claimed innovation in the gas distribution system keeps gas precursors from pre-reacting above the wafer, which leads to better gap-fill capability at a higher rate with reduced particles for both shallow-trench isolation (STI) and boro-phospho-silicate-glass (BPSG) deposition applications. “Multi-channel” gas distribution is not a new concept — it was used in Watkins-Johnson’s dielectric APCVD systems sold in the 1990s — but its embodiment in a pseudo-single-wafer showerhead chamber is novel.

AMEC claims that alpha tools and first beta tools at customers demonstrate excellent repeatability, low particles, and high uptime as is expected in a tool for advanced IC fabs. Six beta tools are planned for installation by 1H08, going into advanced manufacturing lines for logic, flash, and DRAM. — E.K.


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