Why does it take so long to produce more semiconductor chips? Explained!
Chip shortages are expected to last until 2023, according to US Secretary of State Gina Raimondo. Intel’s Pat Gelsinger predicted in April that shortages will continue into 2024. Many in the sector are aware that constructing new factories to increase output is a time-consuming process — it can take three to five years to construct a new fab.
Expanding the capability of current facilities is also not a “quick fix.” To comprehend why increasing chip manufacturing capacity is difficult without an immediate answer, it’s crucial to understand what’s involved in installing new equipment in a fabrication plant – from start to finish.
Semiconductor Chip Production Process:
The procedure of ordering semiconductor equipment to begin full production at the client plant might take a long time and be delayed. Semiconductor manufacturing machines, in addition to chips, can be one of our most difficult large-scale production manufacturing line equipment to produce. Years may pass between taking equipment from a custom setup order and fully operating it in a fab depending on the sort of gear you’re purchasing.
Methods to Manufacturing Test Equipment:
There are two ways to make and test equipment. One is the Integrated Final Test (IFT), and the other is the Module Final Test (MFT). IFT refers to when all of the various components, such as chambers and mainframes, are manufactured, integrated, and tested as a whole unit from back to front just like they would be in the factory.
The IFT is a more cost-effective approach to testing the unit, but many factories are choosing to do it in a modular manner (MFT). The factory interface is where chambers, the manufacturing process, and the core are constructed and tested separately before a more thorough IFT test is conducted in the customer fab after all of the components have been combined.
This strategy is cost-effective for OEMs, especially if they have separate components manufactured in various countries.
Tools Unpacking, Inspection & Installation:
Once the tool has been delivered to a client, it is unpacked, inspected, cleaned, and placed in the factory on a specially designed hovercraft that prevents any bumps or shocks to the delicate internal equipment.
The last stage of the process entails setting the tool or separate modules on a template with all of the floor cutouts, as well as shock absorption platforms if necessary. The process of connecting all of the chambers, factory interface, mainframes, cables, gas lines, and sub-fab support equipment to the tool begins after this.
Tool installation might take days, weeks, or even months to finish the full integration of a tool. However, once the tool is finally integrated and fully linked to all of the systems it will be ready for power-up and testing.
Although it may sound easy, in reality, it can be quite complex. For example, many consumers would believe that flipping a switch and turning on the gadget is all that’s necessary. Running virus checks, connecting the tool to the fab mainframe / AMHS, and ensuring it talks to all of the other systems are some of the first tests.
A key point to consider is that the process may have already passed by the time you notice the error. Other crucial system checks include leak checking, robot training, configuration verification, and other tool-related systems. The operations check of all of the different components and support equipment, as well as uploading recipes and running dummy wafers, are other testing activities. After weeks or months of testing and bringing the tool online, a new phase of executing the entire operation on test wafers begins.
What is a full process test?
The equipment and method used will determine this. Some of the equipment utilized in semiconductor manufacturing reaches temperatures as high as the surface of the sun or low pressures that can drive down to a vacuum of 1×10-9 Torr, which is relatively close to but not quite at the level of space vacuum with a range from 1×10-6 to 3×10-17 Torr.
The ultimate stage of integrating a tool into actual production is to finish fine-tuning, testing recipes, and ensuring that the equipment can perform the same way every time it executes the process.
The process of ordering a tool, which will be used to complete full production, is time-consuming. It’s easy to see how the procedure for increasing capacity might take months rather than months when you consider equipment shortages and delays, which result in lead times of up to 18 months from OEMs before a tool even reaches the fabrication facility. these are the major reason to manufacturing a semiconductor chip take a long time!