At this year’s SEMI Strategic Materials Conference, leaders in the semiconductor industry across the supply chain came together to discuss the big challenges and opportunities that are likely to emerge over the next 5 years.
Authors: Michael Heiber, Application Engineer, Materials Science Solutions Group, Tim Diller, Director of Digital Transformation Services, Materials Science Solutions Group, Chris Farrow, Vice President, Materials Science Solutions Group
From materials suppliers to equipment manufacturers to chip designers and fabs, all segments of the industry agreed that major materials-based advancements will need to be made in order to continue device density scaling trends and satisfy the insatiable digital appetite of our modern day society. With critical device features already reduced to a few nanometers, obtaining increased device density by shrinking feature size is reaching its limit. Instead, increased device density is now being afforded by new, higher dimensional device architectures. These architectures are built using new materials and are processed using new methods and equipment. Creating these pattern features at scale to form full devices requires purity and defect control down to parts per trillion levels. As the industry continues to push the limits of what’s possible, the problems are becoming harder and more complex and solving them requires more and tighter coordination across the supply chain.
In addition to the technology roadmap, there were discussions at length about the current semiconductor supply chain shortages, how it’s affecting automakers and other sectors of the world economy, and how it’s leading to new opportunities behind the leading technological edge. There is a robust and growing market for older technology node chips produced on older fab lines which now has a major financial incentive to increase production by finding equipment improvement and process control solutions to increase yield and throughput.
In the last session of the conference, there was a new topic this year about digital transformation in the semiconductor industry, where leaders from Siemens, Globalfoundries, IBM Research, and JSR spoke about places where they are using data and digital technologies like machine learning, AI, and computational chemistry to solve challenging problems. While this new session drew significant interest, it was worth noting that digital transformation was almost never mentioned during the first five sessions as part of the solution space. It is clear that Digital Transformation is just beginning to spread across the semiconductor industry, and there is still a lot of untapped potential for innovation.
There is incredible opportunity for companies within this industry to gain a competitive advantage by leveraging digital technologies across their organizations to address many of their challenges. These large, traditional industrial companies are riding the wave of computing demand that machine learning and AI are creating but are slow to deploy these tools in their own businesses to develop next generation products and services. This is not just a technology barrier, but a cultural one as well. There are great opportunities for companies to develop a competitive edge in the years to come by investing in building a digital culture throughout their organizations and starting to become more data-driven across all parts of the value chain.
From our perspective as leaders in the digital transformation space, these are some high value areas where digital solutions are going to play a central role:
- Materials chemistry, processing, and chip design co-optimization to access new and improved device architectures
- Materials metrology and analytical fingerprinting for enhanced quality control and quality assurance
- Digital twins and data sharing between suppliers and purchasers to reduce friction and time to a working solution
- AI-assisted knowledge management systems for rapidly diagnosing complex process excursions with limited information
- Automated materials and device characterization and analysis to accelerate data generation and improve data quality for product development driven by materials informatics
- Increased instrumentation of fab equipment and data pipelines for ML-driven, real-time process control
- Flexible, automated wafer image analysis for quantifying dimensions of critical features and identifying defects across diverse device architectures
With several of our client partners in the semiconductor industry, we’ve already begun pursuing many of these concepts. At Enthought, we help science-driven companies accelerate digital innovation and extract business value throughout their digital transformation. We do this by driving digital culture change and working closely with our clients to solve some of their hardest technical challenges that stand in the way of business growth. The Enthought Approach develops digitally-capable scientists and engineers who can take advantage of the data and digital tools at their disposal to solve problems in new ways and create business value in unforeseen ways.
If you are interested in learning more about how we can help you tackle the challenges highlighted in this blog or implement digital solutions like the ones listed above, please reach out and schedule a chat with us. We look forward to putting our expertise and proprietary technologies to work for you!
About the Authors
Chris Farrow, VP Materials Science Solutions, holds a Ph.D. in physics from Michigan State University and degrees in physics and mathematics from the University of Nebraska.
Michael Heiber, Applications Engineer, holds a Ph.D. in polymer science from The University of Akron and a B.S. in materials science and engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with expertise in polymers for optoelectronic applications.
Tim Diller, Director of Digital Transformation Services, holds three degrees in mechanical engineering, including a Ph.D. and B.S. from The University of Texas at Austin and an M.S. from M.I.T.