The semiconductor industry is big – estimated to top $339 billion in annual sales in 2017. What’s more, many of the players that dominate semiconductor design and fabrication are also large. That is because building a state-of-the-art wafer fab today is an expensive proposition. Pure-play foundry TSMC, for instance, is spending $3 billion for a wafer fab in Nanjing, China that will make chips using a 16-nanometer technology starting in the second half of 2018, according to the analysts at IC Insights. To take on projects of that size, a company typically must be large and have economies of scale.
While these giants routinely compete amongst themselves for customers and market share, there are times when they must work together. One of those times is in the development of mutually beneficial equipment standards that help drive industry progress. And when equipment standards are involved, so too are the innovative smaller companies on which the fabs rely to create the equipment that completes critical manufacturing steps.
Facilitating this cooperation is done through trade associations like the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) and Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI). Trade associations provide a means to cooperatively define standards and specifications that solve problems that confront the industry such as how to address safety and environmental impact while also improving yield and controlling costs. Participation in the technical committees and task forces set up by associations is an essential activity to help both the cooperating companies and the industry meet the challenges they face today and tomorrow.
For example, there is the SEMI F47 standard, a specification for semiconductor processing equipment voltage sag immunity. Created by and for equipment manufacturers, it addresses the capacity of semiconductor processing tools to withstand voltage sags. That happens when, say, a heavy-duty load like a grinder or furnace switches on and causes a temporary voltage dip or sag. A power quality issue may also arise from the utility side, due to a lightning strike or a fault on the lines.
No matter the source, a voltage drop may cause problems for microprocessor controlled equipment – in other words, just about every other piece of gear in a semiconductor manufacturing line. Having equipment stop operating when something else switches on is expensive and disruptive, two performance knocks that no company wants.
So, SEMI F47 specifies that process equipment must be insensitive to brief voltage sags. Achieving that might require the use of an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), with the UPS integrated into the equipment. Doing so enables the UPS to supply power and condition voltage when a sag occurs. But, Semi F47 doesn’t specify that a UPS be used, allowing companies to come up with other solutions if they can.
As SEMI F47 shows, by participating in trade associations, companies of any size can have an input on solutions to problems confronting the industry. These include the basic needs of:
- Improving yield and cutting costs
- While lessening environmental impact and
- Without compromising on safety and product quality
Meeting these requirements creates a constant need to innovate by going to smaller process features, manufacturing chips on bigger wafers, incorporating new materials and developing new designs. This can seem overwhelming, but the process can be made easier by working through trade associations, technical committees and task forces.
When evaluating products, look for a manufacturer that is a member of SEMI with products that ensure compliance with SEMI F47. For instance, Schneider Electric is doing its part as a member of SEMI. They offer motor controls and protection as contactors, safety relays, power supplies and a full range of other products that meet SEMI F47 requirements. They also have UPS solutions that exceed SEMI F47 and provide secure and continuous power. Access this business continuity resource site to learn more about UPS solutions and how to address downtime risk.
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