by Dirk Ortloff, Process Relations
The modern semiconductor process development cycle often involves diverse teams of engineers spread across the globe and working within many different companies. Working together means there is a need for communication to share plans and experimental results. While email is still the main way to achieve this communication, it has proven to be inadequate in many cases. It is too cluttered and represents informal knowledge that is unstructured and difficult to retrieve. Normally, the knowledge gained becomes inaccessible as soon as the project has ended and a new email folder is created. There are also cultural aspects to consider, both between companies and countries. Many different ways of documenting and storing development data are used and there are also differences in the ways of communicating. The recent trend for outsourcing can make this process even more difficult.
Product development challenges
The main challenges in product engineering for micro- and nanodevices emerge from the structure of the industry. The relatively young age of the MNT-sector can be the reason for its unique structure, which differs from more traditional industries. Besides the relatively few large micro- and nano electronics enterprises, the MNT-sector consists of an increasing number of small- and medium-scale enterprises (SME). The many SMEs cannot and do not offer the complete development of an MNT-product like the larger companies. Rather, they offer products, services and knowledge for a specific area, such as special fabrication techniques or design services. A customer can contract the companies for the development of a specific part of the product. This scenario is particular widespread in the development and fabrication of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), but becomes increasingly widespread when more-than-Moore technologies are applied in the semiconductor industry.
Often the development of a product is undertaken by different companies with different areas of expertise in the supply-chain. This collaboration is littered with pitfalls due to the distribution of tasks, data, information and knowledge. In such a development scenario, communication becomes a key to success. The demand for a short time-to-market requires intense interaction between the customer, supplier(s), and the development partners. For the companies in such a development scenario, cooperation is necessary to create and produce a competitive product in a short time.
|Figure 1. Multidisciplinary teamwork is essential for successful process development. This image illustrates the various stages of the development cycle.|
As a consequence of the distributed, multi-site/company development of the product, no central control instance exists. Multidisciplinary teamwork is essential to the integrated and concurrent development of a product and its manufacturing processes (Figure 1). The right people at the right place at the right time are required to make timely decisions. Team decisions should be based on the combined input of the entire team (e.g., engineering, manufacturing, test, logistics, financial management, contracting personnel) and include customers and suppliers. Each team member needs to understand his/her role and support the role of the other members, as well as understand the constraints under which other team members operate. Channels of communication within teams and between teams should be open, and team success should be rewarded to encourage further interaction.
For this reason, it is essential for a smooth development that each team adheres to the same processes when it comes to centralizing development data results and gaining information and knowledge. A common platform provides every development team and its members with a better chance to unify these communications. In many cases, this is something that currently does not happen because tools to enable this often address just one area of the development cycle. A classic best-of-breed approach for selecting development support tools is difficult to achieve because the integration of the tools, especially in this multi-partner scenario, can be rather challenging. There is a need for a complete solution to help organizations leverage their existing knowledge, optimize their R&D workflow and develop their manufacturing processes to achieve profitability faster and at lower cost.
The advantages to development teams of such a solution are clear. Different teams, especially those from different organizations, can share the information so that the output of one team becomes the input of another. With the collaboration platform positioned in the middle of the development team structure, teams do not need to wait for the final results of experiments from another team. With the visibility of the results achieved so far, information and conclusions for their own work can be obtained earlier which will minimize time to market. Additionally, it enables knowledge to remain in-house by auto-documenting the development cycle and experiments, to allow teams to revisit knowledge even if engineers leave the company. It will also enable new engineers to be brought up to speed more quickly, with a clear structure and a historical repository of knowledge accessible from diverse perspectives. More junior members of the team will be able to access this system to retrieve the information they need rather than having to interrupt more senior engineers with questions.
In addition, tools such as a consistency checker or simulators for new process flows can be integrated into such a framework. The tools profit from the gained knowledge and become better with each development cycle. Senior engineers capture their knowledge in a formalized manner and share it with other team members — even if they are on vacation or retired. As a result, fewer mistakes will be made due to a virtual pre-assessment of the manufacturability of the process under development.
|Figure 2. A device being logged using the XperiDesk software program enabling knowledge transfer between dispersed teams. SOURCE: Process Relations.|
In the world of development collaboration, the transfer of data and knowledge are critical, interdependent factors that can either accelerate or decelerate a development process. Technology development becomes more of an interactive and multi-organization effort. XperiDesk, a solution from Process Relations, overcomes this as it becomes the central hub for all information and communication (Figure 2). It takes into account IP protection, as well as the issues discussed previously in this article. The XperiShare module of XperiDesk has functionality that focuses on achieving acceleration of the development process. XperiShare is the data-sharing component of the XperiDesk software suite that provides for the mechanized exchange of development data between different partners. Selective export and import features enable the bundling of discrete and related data, e.g., IP packages, process recipes with simulation and experimental verification results, and any other combinations of data to enhance the focus and efficiency of collaboration.
To overcome the difficulties of process development using a number of dispersed teams, a centralized information hub is essential. Overwhelmingly, the benefit to this is faster and more cost-effective development, the importance of which in the current economic climate cannot be underestimated.
Dirk Ortloff received his degree in computer science from the U. of Dortmund and a PhD from the U. of Siegen and is chief technology officer at Process Relations, Emil-Figge Strasse, 76-80 44227 Dortmund, Germany; ph.: +49-231-9742-5970; email: [email protected].