No need for masks to produce chips, another company is trying

Multibeam Corporation earlier confirmed that it has embarked on an ambitious project to use its innovative Multicolumn Electron Beam Lithography (MEBL) technology to pattern entire wafers at 45nm and advanced nodes without the use of any masks, for backend production (BEOL) processing.

The contract, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and administered by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) program at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, totals $38 million and includes the U.S. government There is an option to purchase a contract for another MEBL production system from Multibeam…

Dr. David K. Lam, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Multibeam, said, “This contract award and our development of a full-chip ID application under a previous DoD contract underscores the versatility of our innovative MEBL platform.” Both applications Programs are all designed to run on our MEBL production systems. “

‘Low Volume, High Mix’ Chips Need Help

Assured and trusted foundries typically produce “low-volume, high-mix” chips for the Department of Defense. But leaders in optical lithography have little interest in such a small number of such a wide variety of chips because their business is geared toward high-volume production. Also, early chips with “mature” nodes are still needed. Although the price of masks for such nodes is lower, the costs associated with masks do increase. Masks that are less in demand often have long lead times, which can negatively impact fab productivity in production and the learning cycle in new chip development.

IoT chip production faces similar challenges

IoT chips are usually small, simple SoCs that perform specific tasks and are ubiquitous on the Internet. Such chips are recognized due to the dramatic increase in IC content in most government, commercial, industrial and consumer products. Overall, IoT chip makers are high-volume producers. But their batches are relatively small because IoT applications are diverse and the IoT market is fragmented. Competing in this cost-sensitive market is a real challenge. However, low-volume, mature-node IoT chip makers rarely have the support of leaders in optical lithography equipment that focus on high-volume production at cutting-edge nodes. As a result, there has been little progress in DUV (193nm ArF dry or immersion) lithography systems since 2007, when optical resolution reached its limit.

“As ICs proliferate, legendary ‘killer applications’ such as PCs and cell phones are being replaced by numerous IoT applications (digital and analog),” said Dr. Lam. “While lithography equipment leaders ignore ‘low-volume’ , but Multibeam sees this area as a huge opportunity. We support these underserved but rapidly growing markets with our innovative and versatile MEBL platform. The company’s announced full-wafer, all-mask-free patterning program and the already underway to secure chip ID embedding will lead the way. “

Japan is also carrying out related plans

In addition to this company, Japan is also carrying out related plans.

According to reports, Yokogawa has put Japan’s earliest AIST Mini Fab project into production. It uses 0.5-inch wafers and does not require a cleanroom to operate.

As we all know, TSMC’s latest super-large fab (GIGAFAB) can produce more than 100,000 12-inch wafers per month, and the cost of each is as high as 300 billion yuan. However, the “Minimal Fab” launched in Japan is aimed at the needs of small and diverse sensors in the Internet of Things era, but the starting price is only 500 million yen (170 million Taiwan dollars). “Nikkei Business Week” called it: “The manufacturing system that subverts the global semiconductor industry.”

This new-generation manufacturing system, led by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and jointly developed by 140 Japanese companies and groups, aims to enable automobile and home appliance manufacturers to produce the semiconductors and sensors they need by significantly reducing costs and technical barriers. It is like overthrowing the foundry model created by TSMC Chairman Zhang Zhongmou 30 years ago, returning to the vertical integration era in the early years when major manufacturers such as Philips and Sony produced their own semiconductors.

This production system is sold by Yokogawa Solutions, a subsidiary of Japan’s Yokogawa Electric Group. Each streamlined and beautiful manufacturing machine is about the same size as a beverage vending machine, but each has functions such as washing, heating, and exposure. Each machine is equivalent to a production line for semiconductor manufacturing. The minimum area required for a “mini-fab” line is about the size of two tennis courts. It is also only one percent of the area of ​​a 12-inch fab.

The ability of “mini-fabs” to be so cheap and small is first and foremost an innovative approach that challenges the industry’s common sense – no clean room is required.

A semiconductor chip with dust of more than 0.1 microns on it is considered a defective product. Therefore, the manufacturing room must maintain ultra-high cleanliness. Maintaining a clean room requires a lot of electricity, so not only is the investment high, but the maintenance costs are also staggering. So if semiconductors are not mass-produced, it is difficult to make a profit.

Hara Shiro of the Institute of Industrial Technology challenged this common sense in the industry. “Do semiconductor factories really need a clean room? Obviously, only wafers need to be isolated from dust.” With this question in mind, Hara Shilang began to conceive of a “mini fab” in the 1990s.

A few years later, Hara Shiro finally developed the key technology of partial dust-free, and made this result into a special transportation system “Minimal Shuttle”. Using the electromagnet to control the switch, almost no dust will enter.

Another feature of the “mini-fab” is that there is no need to use a mask, which can greatly reduce costs. The concept of Minimal Fab is a variety of low-volume production systems that are sorely needed in those times. The wafers to be processed are about 0.5 inches in diameter, smaller than a 1-yen coin. Because the wafers are so small, the production facilities are also getting smaller.

The chip is cut from the wafer and is about 1 cm2 in size. The annual output of the “mini-fab” is about 500,000, and the average 12-inch wafer fab is 200 million. If only 10,000 units are produced, each chip on the market will charge 10,000 yen, but a “mini fab” will only charge 1,200 yen.

This “mini-fab” research and development plan originated in 2010. In the three years from 2012, the budget was obtained from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the plan was approved accordingly. A total of 140 corporate groups are now participating, including many major manufacturers. Although it is sold by Yokogawa Solutions, there are about 30 small and medium-sized Japanese companies involved in the development and manufacturing, which is also one of the major features of this device.

According to the plan, the equipment required for the semiconductor front-end process of the “mini fab” has been roughly completed in 2016 and officially sold. Before 2018, the back-end process equipment for cutting chip functions and packaging will also be developed. This time Yokogawa put its mini fab into production, which is also an important step for the industry.

  

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