Wafers need to be inspected at many stages throughout the manufacturing process. Particles and defects need to be detected and classified. Features need to be measured in both the x, y and z direction (critical dimensions and film thickness, for example). Film stoichiometry needs to be measured. Wafer warpage and bow must be evaluated and compensated for. Film stress (either tensile or compressive) is another important measurand as is dopant concentration, adhesion, and dozens if not hundred of other parameters. Variations across the wafer, within each die and die-to-die are also important.
Wafer inspection — also called metrology — is mostly used for process control, to make sure processes are not drifting out of control, As such, measurements are made after each process step — or more infrequently if at all possible since there is a cost associated with every inspection step in terms of capital equipment required, reduced throughput and added particles from increased handling.
Of course, more advanced characterization techniques are also needed for process development and failure analysis.
New inspection challenges include the need to measure more complex device structures such as those found in FinFETs and 3D NAND. The industry is also pushing a wide array of new materials into production, which brings a new set of challenges since each type of material has unique properties when it comes to reflection, refraction, adhesion, stress, etc.
The push to smaller dimensions and thinner films means smaller defects and variations become more important, which often pushes the accuracy, resolution and repeatability limits of today’s measurement tools.
The most common type of wafer inspection tool is the optical microscope. Although still used today for macro inspection, the very small dimension on today’s wafers can only be measured by more advanced means, most notably the scanning electron microscope and the transmission electron microscope. Other commonly used tools include ellipsometers to measure film thickness.