New Cost-Saving Method For Correcting Process Variation

Rein in "rouge tools" in microchip manufacturing.

Process engineers at the International SEMATECH Manufacturing Initiative (ISMI) have developed a cost-saving methodology that lets fab managers adjust errant pieces of equipment by matching it to the best-performing tool of its type.

ISMI's Equipment Chamber Matching (ECM) Method combines the shared best practices of the consortium's member companies into an 11-step process designed to rein in the "rogue tools" that often plague microchip manufacturing managers and drive down factory productivity. ECM engineers identify differences between a "golden tool" and errant processing chambers in a production line. After doing so, the rogue chambers can be calibrated according to the organization.

"The beauty of the ECM Method is that it requires no capital investment to implement, so our ISMI members can achieve a high return with minimal outlay," said Lorn Christal, project manager in ISMI's Equipment Productivity Program based in Austin, Texas.

ISMI engineers provided members with an initial version of the ECM Method in May 2006, then validated the method by utilizing test cases in members' fabs later in the year. The results, according to Christal, were "overwhelming" -- member companies identified savings from the validations of $500,000 to more than $5 million.

The ECM Method is modeled after Six Sigma practices. "This method provides a fundamental approach for chamber matching," said Masato Sadaoka of ISMI. "It helps engineers engaged in daily improvement activities to enhance device yield and equipment utilization, with the goal of reducing process variation."

ISMI is a global alliance of major semiconductor manufacturers, dedicated to reducing cost per wafer, and ultimately cost per die, through cooperative programs focused on manufacturing effectiveness.

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