Automating 200mm semiconductor fabs to meet growing demand

By Serena Brischetto

SEMI met with Heinz Martin Esser, managing director at Fabmatics GmbH, to discuss how existing 200mm semiconductor fabs can master the challenges of a 24×7 production under highest cost and quality pressure by implementing intralogistics automation solutions. The two spoke ahead to his presentation at the Fab Management Forum at SEMICON Europa 2018, 13-16, November 2018, in Munich, Germany. To register for the event, click here.

SEMI: Looking at the latest production capacity data for 2018 – it is a 200mm fab boom. Growing demand for analog, MEMS and RF chips continues to cause acute shortages for both 200mm fab capacity and equipment. Do you think this trend will continue the next years or is it only a short term run on 200mm fabs?

Esser: We at Fabmatics believe in a long-term trend. The emergence of the Internet of Things and growing digitalization in all areas of life will continue to increase demand for integrated circuits (ASICs), analog ICs, high-performance components and micro-mechanical sensors (MEMS) in the coming years. Many of these semiconductor elements should be produced in 200 mm fabs.

SEMI: How does Fab automation contribute to increase capacity of existing, mature 200mm fabs?

Esser:  We are convinced that fab automation is one of the greatest potentials for older 200mm factories to effectively master increased demand, increasing efficiency, quality assurance and flexibility at the same time. In particular, material flow automation, which is often the missing link between existing equipment in different production areas, can help increase productivity in an elementary way.

If you analyze how long valuable tools typically wait for loading and unloading, you can see a direct effect of the intralogistics automation system, which leads to a significantly higher utilization of process equipment by making the material flow independent from human performance. Additional side effects such as reduced cycle time, stable fab flow factor or flattened WIP shafts further increase the contribution of material flow automation to get the most out of existing mature factories. Older does not mean obsolete.

SEMI: What are the biggest challenges for a successful implementation?

Esser: There is no single challenge when you automate an existing mature fab. Instead, you face a whole variety of challenges you have to tackle, ranging from historically grown non-aligned fab layouts over non-linear material flows and older non-standardized equipment to “automation unfriendly” fab environment. Also you should not underestimate the efforts to overcome the practice manual fab operation people in the cleanroom are so familiar with for many years. Before doing automation you have to think automation, i.e. you have to question all processes to make them ready for automation.

SEMI: What are the key drivers to automate a mature fab today: costs, process stability, quality or a combination of them?

Esser: This question should be better asked to our customers, but we believe it is a mix of many impacts. Most likely everybody sees the cost reduction at first, but we get more aware of process and performance stability as well as quality requirements – and here our customers’ play the most important role – become more and more focused.

SEMI: What do you expect from SEMICON Europa 2018 and why do you recommend attending the Fab Management Forum?

Esser: This year SEMICON Europa will co-locate with electronica. So it`s going to be the greatest trade fair for electronics manufacturing in Europe. We will meet innovators and decision-makers across the whole electronics supply chain.

The Fab Management Forum addresses a highly topical question that concerns all semiconductor manufacturers not only in Europe – how to handle complexity and enable the necessary flexibility to cope with customers’ needs. High-ranking speakers will give an insight into the latest technologies and best practices. I am looking forward to the lively exchange with the participants and taking away new impulses for our business.

Heinz Martin Esser is managing director at Fabmatics GmbH, responsible for sales and marketing, customer service and administration. He studied supply engineering at the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne and later earned a university degree in business administration.

Originally published on the SEMI blog.


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