Tooling up the CHIPS Act: How to fast-track your new fab equipment ramp

Installing a semiconductor manufacturing tool takes time, people and money. How do you simultaneously procure, receive, install, and qualify hundreds of tools when ramping a new fab?

Author: Dan Hamling

With the longstanding semiconductor supply crunch, semiconductor companies across the globe have been seeking ways to unlock capacity quickly. Given the long lead times of both new clean-room facilities and the manufacturing equipment that populates them, many have pursued capacity expansion opportunities that largely assume a relatively fixed plant and asset base. With the passage of the CHIPS Act and publication of the associated implementation strategy, many of the larger integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) and foundries are now planning to go big: building entirely new wafer fabs. Such leading-edge wafer fabs can require an investment of $10 billion to $12 billion (figure 1), which is why the $52 billion of CHIPS Act support was so anxiously anticipated.  While the effort and investment to build one fab is daunting enough, many leading IDMs and foundries are considering building mega-fabs, which are clusters of multiple fabs on one campus.

To produce those wafers, the fab needs to be filled with hundreds of some of the most high-tech and capital-intensive manufacturing equipment.  About half of the $10 billion to $12 billion fab budget is spent on the equipment to fill it (figure 1). This equipment performs functions categorized as deposition, etch, implant, photolithography, and metrology over blank or partially processed wafers. Photolithography tools, for example, use advanced lighting and optics techniques to create tiny geometric features on wafers, with dimensions in nanometers, that allow tens of billions of transistors to be placed on today’s CPUs. Multiple instances of these tools need to be installed in the fab in specific positions in the line and interconnected by automated material handling to produce a completed wafer.

What makes this complex equipment so hard to install? Well, it’s the complexity! The latest extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography machines from ASML have more than 100,000 components, weigh 180 tons, fill 150 shipping crates, and require 40 freight containers (or four jumbo jets) to transport to customers.1 While all fab tools are not this big, most still require tens of crates, specialized OEM teams, several weeks, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to install, on top of the tool cost itself. But the challenges start well before the crates arrive. Specifications, quotes, and manufacturing bills of materials for these tools can be 30 or more pages with hundreds of line items, making translation of requirements to quotes, invoices, purchase orders, and build instructions difficult. As the equipment is shipped from the factory to the fab, components can be delayed, damaged, and sometimes completely lost. Similar challenges arise when managing the de-install and transfer of equipment from an existing fab to the new fab. Organizing the team and materials to install a tool or cluster of tools in proper sequence requires a complicated, interdependent project plan—particularly when installations are performed in a clean-room environment not intended for humans. Multiply all of this by the many hundreds of tools needed for a new fab, and you have an overwhelming equipment ramp problem.

Deloitte’s holistic equipment lifecycle management (ELM) approach can help fast track your new fab equipment ramp. Some core capabilities from this approach include the following:

  • Equipment specification management: A scalable and flexible specification data model records all critical equipment configuration details to facilitate translation to quotes, invoices, purchase orders, equipment build instructions, shipping manifests, and change management. This capability streamlines the entire front-end sales and procurement activities, and minimizes or eliminates translation errors.
  • Equipment tracking and traceability: Physical tool components are tagged with RFID sensor devices that are mapped to detailed component and shipping data. These devices facilitate tracking, in near real-time, the movement of the components from the supplier or another site to the new fab, in near real time, to minimize asset location discovery time and asset loss.
  • Cloud-based control tower: View on one screen the status and location of several thousand equipment components as they converge on the new fab. Identify and address delays in shipments, labor or resource availability, and/or task completions that impact the overall installation schedule.

With these capabilities as well as others, and best practices of a modernized ELM approach, semiconductor companies are expected to expand capacity and reach first wafers more efficiently while mitigating risk. Deloitte’s ongoing work with IDMs, foundries, and equipment suppliers in the semiconductor ecosystem, and relationships with leading product management, supply chain management, and cloud-based systems providers, enable us to build an ELM solution that is tailored to your specific needs. Reach out to Deloitte today to prepare to fast track your next equipment ramp.

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