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Semiconductor manufacturing equipment - Why traceability matters

Manufacturers of semiconductors and the equipment needed to manufacture them are faced with complicated and often detailed processes. Processes that enable the digital devices in our modern world to run as they should.

For those who produce the semiconductor manufacturing equipment, the ability to track their products throughout the assembly line and supply chain is critical for manufacturing process success. So, in this cutting-edge industry, why is traceability so important?

Operator mistakes - Inevitable or Preventable?

How many times have you heard the expression “We will make mistakes, we're only human”? While this is an accurate statement, making mistakes while producing semiconductors is not only extremely expensive but could also have a huge impact on the production rate. Especially considering that some of semiconductors take months to produce. The manufacturing process to transform silicon wafers into semiconductors is almost 100% automated, but the assembly of the production equipment used to manufacture these are typically not. 

In many plants, the manufacturing of semiconductor production equipment currently requires thousands of screws that are manually placed by an operator. Disregarding the purpose of the equip-ment (polishing, etching, deposition, inspection etcetera), the expectation is that each and every screw must be fastened properly to ensure the correct performance of the production equipment.

Equipment used for sensitive processes, such as CMP machines (Chemical-Mechanical Planarization machines), could easily require more than 100 fasteners per polishing head. For quality control purposes or in case of any future quality claim, the following questions need to be asked:

  • How to check if every one of these screws were properly fastened
  • How to ensure that the operator is not missing or skipping any assembly positions?

It’s quite obvious to see how these types of processes could greatly benefit from the implementation of a system or assembly solution that provides complete traceability. Quality issues such as floating or missing screws, crossed threads and bit cam-outs can be avoided using Smart Integrated Tools. Tools that not only assure the quality of the tightening but also provide data analysis and full traceability.

battery tool with traceability

Using Atlas Copco’s Tensor IxB cordless tool as an example, the assembly process could start with the operator scanning the serial number of the unit which automatically will select an assembly sequence. The assembly sequence will allow the operator not only to count the screws but to only switch between different programs if it’s required. The operator can feel confident that every single screw is properly assembled thanks to the visual feedback provided through the tool display. Finally, all tightening information will be reported and recorded for quality purposes.

Getting it right from production to maintenance

Complexity is not only a challenge during the production of semiconductor equipment, but also when these machines are due for preventive maintenance. For the production of the wafers that eventually become semiconductors, the semiconductor industry relies on a series of processes. These extremely complex and interwoven processes require numerous checkpoints and validation steps.

The first part of the equation is to ensure that these machines were properly assembled from the start so the performance during production meets the expectations. The second part is related to ensuring the reliability of the equipment, something that requires preventive maintenance according to the specifications stated in the manual.

Unexpected downtime or failure of production equipment for any manufacturer in any industry can be catastrophic, but it can be especially damaging for those in the semiconductor industry. And when it comes to maintenance there are some key questions that need to be addressed:

  • How to perform preventive maintenance making sure that the operator follows each and every step of this process?
  • How to record that the operator performed these tasks?
  • And most importantly, how to verify that each screw was removed and re-assembled according to the specifications? 

 

This is where the implementation of Atlas Copco software solutions, such as the ToolsNet 8 (Data Management Solution), and Scalable Quality Solution (SQS), can make a difference both in terms of traceability and successful preventative maintenance.

 

Let’s take the previously mentioned CMP polishing process as an example. In order to perform preventive maintenance (PM) on this equipment, the operator is required to conduct multiple steps:

  • Removing 100+ screws in a specific sequence
  • Removing and replacing components
  • Re-assembling the 100+ screws in a specific pattern
  • Calibrating
  • Testing
traceability with SQS from Atlas Copco

When this PM process is performed manually, is not uncommon that technicians encounter injuries and muscular pain as a result of manual torque wrenches. This process is also quite extensive so it can take more than two hours due to the number of fasteners that need to be removed and reassembled. This reduces process productivity which also causes extensive production line down-time.

Imagine that instead of performing a manual PM, an Atlas Copco mobile tool cart is set up in the line with all the equipment and accessories required to perform this in a qualitative and productive manner. This type of station is common in the semiconductor industry and usually includes tools and solutions such as:

  • Wireless tools
  • Industrial PC for operator guidance and data collection purposes
  • Other accessories for operator feedback purposes

Thanks to the use of smart battery tools, operators can avoid injuries. But in addition, the Atlas Copco ToolsNet 8 enables users to record and store the values of every single tightening thereby allowing them to run reports for quality purposes whenever required. In combination with the Atlas Copco Scalable Quality Solution the correct execution of the maintenance process is guaranteed. 

To learn more about how Atlas Copco can help the Semiconductors industry please click here.