Automotive Continue to Drive 200mm Fab Investment

Article By : Michelle Bourke

Chips for tomorrow's cars are among the drivers for a new generation of gear for 200mm wafer fabs, according to a director from Lam Research.

The industry has transformed from one that learned its trade making microprocessors and memory for PCs to one that now supplies chips for cloud computing, AI, machine learning, VR, robotics, medical, mobile, IoT, and automotive. Automotive, though currently dwarfed by PCs and mobile in market share, shows the highest potential for growth, with an estimated compound annual growth rate for the five years ending in 2021 of nearly 14%, according to IC Insights.

The end-game for automotive manufacturers is self-driving cars, though there is general agreement that wide-spread adoption of fully autonomous driving is still at least ten years away. That adoption will be paced by the wide variety of technologies and infrastructure that must be developed to support it. The diversity of these requirements will make collaboration between automotive manufacturers and new industry players, including semiconductor equipment manufacturers, an essential ingredient for success.

Automotive ICs span a range of device types with more than 75% of the total comprised of microprocessors/controllers, analog devices, and sensors. These same segments, plus memory, also show the highest potential for growth. This is driving demand for 200mm manufacturing, which is more accommodating of diversity than leading-edge manufacturing processes developed primarily for purely digital microprocessors and memory.

Car makers also are tightening their requirements for reliability. One analysis notes a failure rate of one in a million at the component level this translates to seven failures for every thousand cars. For a company making 4,000 cars per day that’s one failure every hour.

With the global forecast for light vehicle sales in 2018 at 95.9 million, according to IHS Markit, a 1% recall would involve nearly a million vehicles. Small wonder the industry is at the forefront of the drive for parts per billion failure rates.

Automotive ICs differ in many ways from planar CMOS and memory devices. They often incorporate multiple technologies and, in many cases, are most economically produced in 200mm fabs.

New sensing and actuating technologies for cars will make use of new materials like wide band-gap semiconductors and piezoelectrics. Novel shapes and deep features will need tightly controlled etch capability. Advanced packaging processes that connect systems in a package or stacked die will rely on TSVs to achieve smaller footprints.

To address such challenges, capital equipment makers are introducing a new generation of 200mm tools that incorporate lessons learned from leading-edge 300mm systems. For example, etch tools used to create the varying shapes and deep features often found in MEMS and power devices now incorporate higher power capability, improved software, additional control features, tunable gas delivery, advanced edge uniformity features, and enhanced wafer cooling options.

Automotive demand also is putting pressure on existing 200mm fabs to improve productivity, performance, automation, and lifetime. These needs can be addressed by upgrading installed systems with capabilities drawn from 300mm learnings. In addition to enhanced performance, upgrading installed systems extends their useful lifetimes and reduces obsolescence risk.

Equipment makers must leverage lessons learned from 300mm processes to solve the most difficult challenges ahead in MEMS and power devices for cars and other systems. They also must provide comprehensive solutions to address the diversity of technologies needed for both CMOS and mixed signal ICs. These improvements for both new and installed systems will allow component makers to extend 200mm fab lifetimes and optimize capital efficiency.

— Michelle Bourke is a strategic marketing director in the customer support group of Lam Research.

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