The semiconductor industry is a lynchpin that fuels our information-driven economy. By producing millions of high quality microchips every year, near instantaneous information processing, lightning fast communications, and mobile device intelligence is enabled. Yet this $400 billion industry is heavily reliant on access to stable and clean supplies of power to operate and maintain a high quality of product. The industry is also impacted by new levels of uncertainty as the traditional raw materials that help produce standard microchips are reaching technological limits, making it more difficult to meet the “faster, cheaper, better” set of consumer expectations.
A new guide entitled “Innovative Power Solutions for Semiconductor Fabrication Efficiency” walks the reader through major industry trends impacting the semiconductor industry and highlights evolving best practices for maintaining wafer fab facility uptime and business continuity.
Shifting business challenges tax existing physical infrastructure
The semiconductor industry today faces some unique challenges that are unlike any they have confronted in the past. Three megatrends are impacting future semiconductor industry growth trajectories:
- The Internet of Things (IoT), a rapidly growing network of physical devices embedded with electronics, software, and sensors, is enabling formerly “dumb” objects to connect and exchange data. Semiconductor chips will play a key role in enabling the expansion of IoT.
- New self-driving vehicles will soon require a new generation of processing chips.
- The growing emphasis on increased sustainability efforts in manufacturing will alter chip manufacturing processes.
In addition, throughout its history, the industry has always seen increased throughput with each new generation of its chips which, in turn, led to an ever-widening circle of applications. This virtuous cycle, however, may be coming to an end. The ongoing reduction in chip size and increase in chip power is becoming more difficult to attain, and this is driving-up the cost of semiconductor processing equipment and wafer fabrication plants.
A capital-intensive business needs to safeguard equipment
To address these challenges, a flexible and stable plant floor infrastructure is required to ensure business continuity. Any downtime to plant operations can generate costs that run into the millions of dollars per hour. As a result, semiconductor manufacturing companies spend significant dollars each year to keep their existing facilities up-to-date and protected from interruption. Roughly 75 percent of their total expense is in equipment. The machines and physical infrastructure that support the cleanrooms required for the delicate manufacturing of semiconductor chips help process ultrapure gases, dry air and nitrogen, ultrapure water and exhaust.
In a semiconductor manufacturing operation, any piece of equipment that experiences unplanned downtime can have a ripple effect. The fabrication process is a repeated series of steps. Therefore, a tool ceasing to function means that subsequent processing steps will eventually come to a halt as the flow of wafers and chips stops. The exact cost of this will depend on how much product is impacted and for how long.
Advanced electrical power distribution technology, provided by firms like Schneider Electric, in the form of automatic transfer switches (ATSs), energy efficient uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs), optimized electrical distribution architectures, as well as other physical infrastructure can be combined with cloud analytics to help address uptime issues. Today, these solutions are designed to link within a comprehensive architecture called EcoStruxureTM, which maximizes the availability, security, efficiency and asset management of semiconductor operations. As both the upstream main incoming utility power and the downstream microprocessor dependent systems are protected, the resiliency of semiconductor manufacturing is enhanced.
Improved chip fabrication energy efficiency can cut costs
In addition to improved uptime, power systems can also be leveraged to reduce energy consumption. Electricity can account for up to 30 percent of a wafer fab’s operating costs in some markets. Savings through improved energy efficiency, therefore, can help cut the cost of making a chip while improving sustainability. For example, the new generation of Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) can attain efficiencies of up to 99%, which can dramatically reduce electrical bills.
Access Semiconductor Fabrication Efficiency eGuide
To learn more about how semiconductor manufacturing operations can both improve uptime and electrical efficiency, download our new “Innovative Power Solutions for Semiconductor Fabrication Efficiency” guide.
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