Lenson Wong, Director of Marketing, Berkeley Process Control
What are the challenges facing design engineers in building machinery for semiconductor applications? Semiconductor tools require great precision and repeatable control of complex processes. The stakes are very high as even minor damage to a single wafer can cause the entire wafer to be scrapped, and a single processed wafer can contain end products worth more than $50,000. Tool manufacturers must be agile to meet customer-specific tool configurations and deliver them rapidly. These challenges are forcing tool manufacturers to re-examine how tools are built. Many tool designs utilize legacy custom in-house designed printed circuit boards requiring extensive custom software. Costs are increasing to procure the old technology and even more in engineering effort to support. Tool manufacturers must meet changing and demanding requirements of semiconductor device manufacturers rapidly and with lower development and support costs.
What trends are shaping semiconductor manufacturing machinery development? Moore's Law drives every area of the semiconductor industry including tool manufacturing. End users are requiring greater utility in tools with smaller footprints and lower costs to build and maintain. The future of control is a single control design for all tool configurations and the end of point-to-point terminations. For example, I/O control is currently performed through custom control hardware or I/O products that require numerous module types for each I/O type. The future is a single I/O module that is configurable for control of any standard I/O device without point-to-point terminations. Regardless of tool configuration, a manufacturer can use the exact same I/O control hardware design. No control design change is required for adding new features, devices, or even processes.
What motion and automation control technologies are making an impact in semiconductor manufacturing? Manual operator interaction with semiconductor tools is costly because it introduces variables into a well controlled process. Any manual intervention cannot be performed with a high level of repeatability, and intervention can disturb the precisely controlled process and introduce foreign particles into the process. One example is calibration of wafer handling robots. Fully automated calibration of wafer handling robotics eliminates this variable and makes it possible to fully calibrate a wafer handling system in an atmospheric or vacuum environment with no manual operator intervention.
What changes/goals are influencing control system design in semiconductor applications? Semiconductor tool manufacturers are realizing that their development effort must be reduced significantly to maintain profitability. Semiconductor manufacturers are focusing their R&D effort where their intellectual property is—in the tool process and not in the low-level development of the control platform.
What important software issues are facing design engineers as they develop motion solutions for semiconductor manufacturing? Design engineers are realizing they should not be developing software for motion control applications. Motion control applications can be developed by using built-in configuration utilities.
Reach Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org.