Semilab adds materials analysis to metrology scheme

by James Montgomery, news editor, Solid State Technology

June 30, 2009 – In its third acquisition in as many months, Budapest, Hungary-based Semilab is extending its reach into materials analysis capabilities to complement what it can bring to fabs for their in-line metrology processes.

Semiconductor Diagnostics Inc. (SDI), which offers noncontact measurement for materials — e.g. wafers for IC and solar manufacturing — will be folded into a new unit, Semilab USA, which will encompass all the company’s domestic operations, including recently acquired AMS (née Philips AMS) and SSM (in which it bought a majority share in March 2008). AMS’ Chris Moore will head the unit, which will be headquartered in a new 23,000 sq. ft facility in Billerica, MA, though all three will operate as separate entities.

SDI, founded in 1988, has 380 systems installed in fabs across the US, Europe and Asia, ranging from fully automated systems for 300mm product wafer measurements to smaller manual loading systems, according to the company. Its sweetspot is basically analysis for things that “tells about the wafer surface, concentrating on the starting materials side” — like diffusion lengths and contamination (e.g. copper and iron) in wafers and dielectrics, with capabilities including a patented noncontact method to measure stress-induced leakage current (SILC), Moore told SST. “[It’s] looking at materials coming in, solar material or silicon in a fab: How good is that material? What’s the contamination? There are a number of measurements of that material that determine what you can do with it.” And restrictions on starting materials are getting tougher with continued scaling and materials evaluation, so these types of analyses are becoming more important, he noted. (Two words: 450mm wafers.)

Semilab has been assembling technologies via M&A (QC Solutions and AMS in March 2009; SOPRA SA, the SSM stake, and AMAT’s Boxer Cross technology in 2008) that could be conceivably be combined in cluster-type configurations. While SDI’s tools are “more at-line technology, not inline,” Moore did project possible integration onto common platforms to improve service & spares, and possibly combinations with other Semilab technologies to broaden metrology capabilities for certain applications — e.g. adding more measurement capabilities to Semilab’s WT-2000 tabletop system, he said.

Asked whether Semilab has witnessed in-the-trenches evidence to support recent industry data suggesting the market has reached bottom and is poised to swing up, Moore acknowledged that customers have changed their tune a bit, and are once again showing signs of optimism. “That’s a huge change…people were so pessimistic and depressed, they weren’t even forward planning” just a few months ago, he said. “Now they’re starting to look where they’re going and [will] have to spend money.” This fragile optimism is couched with a new wrinkle, though — requests to defer payment a year out, which Moore speculates could reintroduce the discussion of equipment leasing as a business model. “It’s never been viable in the past, but now it makes some sense,” he said. “There’s good resale value on the market.” And with 450mm manufacturing solidly set on the horizon for well into the next decade and possibly beyond, that window could convince both suppliers and customers that a 300mm leasing model could be sustainable for years, he noted. — J.M.


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