Remote E-Diagnostics: The Future of Semiconductor Manufacturing, Part 1

The semiconductor industry creates many of the critical components that make up the world's Information Technology (IT) infrastructure but has harnessed little of the power of today's IT solutions and their potential benefits for its own manufacturing and supply chain management processes. The intellectual power of the industry has been focused on creating and improving high-technology products and individual tool process technology rather than efficiency of the manufacturing process.

The goal of remote e-diagnostics is to leverage never-before-accessible tool state and performance information, authorized for remote transmission to the supplier, in order to enable the supplier to create models of tool performance and behavior and through analyzing this data suggest means to run the tool more efficiently. This will enable equipment suppliers to "sign up and deliver" an improved level of productivity from their tools. Transparency of tool operations is the key to improving performance.

The Problem
The unscheduled breakdown of an individual piece of manufacturing equipment is a great cost burden, as it results in downtime for dependent/related equipment in the manufacturing chain. Inefficiencies of a single piece of critical "bottleneck" process equipment can have a negative economic impact for an entire production line. Since numerous competitive equipment manufacturers supply the various discrete tools needed in a single fab, service, tool monitoring, and data collection for the tools are inefficient and cumbersome processes.

Industry Statistics
Semiconductor industry statistics show that most semiconductor capital equipment suffers at least 8% unscheduled downtime and loses another 7% to scheduled maintenance. At the January 2000 ISS, Michael Splinter, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Intel's technology and manufacturing group, estimated that each hour of downtime for a critical unit of process equipment can translate into $100,000 of lost revenue in today's chip-hungry market. In a typical fab, just reducing downtime by 1% on the 50 most critical tools can provide revenue opportunities and cost savings nearing one hundred million dollars annually.

80% of MTTRepair is due to two diagnosis issues: complex equipment and low support expertise in the factory. (Source: ITRS Factory Integration TWG Presentation May 2000.)

One way to reduce unscheduled downtime is to improve response time and repair time, and, eventually, to predict when problems will occur before they occur.

Figure 1: On Average, semiconductor process tools spend about half their time doing something productive.

A next-generation e-diagnostic system is required that brings tool-status information together with tool-diagnostic experts thus speeding up the process of helping distressed process equipment back on their feet. Moving from preventative maintenance to predictive maintenance will be enabled when the industry develops tool-failure algorithms based on long-term historical data analysis. Through e-diagnostics, suppliers working closely with fabs will monitor real-time tool status and performance data via secure networks, and thereby automate traditionally failure-prone and time-consuming problem reporting and repair procedures.

The tools are more complicated today
The semiconductor capital equipment in use today is much more complicated than the tools of five or ten years ago. The best expertise for diagnosing problems with these highly sophisticated tools resides in the companies that made them. Supplier experts, however, are not readily accessible to a semiconductor equipment engineer when tools go down.

Modern networking technology, which allows rapid communication with high bandwidth anywhere in the world, can address this problem by providing a very cost-effective means of doing virtual service and support. If you combine the need for experts, the need for improved utilization, and the connection between the vendor and customer, you end up with e-diagnostics.

Figure 2: When each vendor tries to set up their own e-diagnostic links to their customers? process tools, chaos ensues.

The Point-to-Point model
The idea of networking process tools in a semiconductor fab with experts in the tool vendor's customer service department is not unique. As with most good ideas made possible by technology, many tool vendors have developed remote e-diagnostic solutions.

The popularity of this idea is, in fact, its Achilles heel as well. A semiconductor fab contains many different pieces of process equipment provided by many different vendor companies. So many links from so many process tools to so many different vendors—each with their own protocols, link topologies and access rules—makes a nightmare for process managers who just want to make chips. When a tool goes down, the equipment engineer doesn't want to fight their way through a tangled web to reach help. They want a direct path to get help now!
The situation is difficult for vendors trying to provide that help as well. While each vendor has its own system for remote diagnostics, that system doesn't always play well with the customer's internal fab network. Thus, to run a real remote-diagnostic system for customer-service, the vendor has to modify its system to accommodate nuances of the customer's internal network. In the end, each vendor has to deal with different protocols, link topologies and access rules for each of its customers.

Each customer having a separate link with each vendor creates a maze of links as shown in Figure 2. When trouble happens, the vendor and the fab have to find each other in this maze to solve the problem.

The Central Clearinghouse model
The Central Celaringhouse strategy eliminates many of the inefficiencies in semiconductor manufacturing by facilitating real-time information exchange between device manufacturers and their equipment and materials suppliers through the use of Internet technology. This model provides many benefits over the point-to-point model, such as: single point of entry/exit to the manufacturing facility, simplified management of network for both security and user management, easier and faster implementation, consistent interface of hardware and software and substantially lower cost than multiple point-to-point connections. The central clearinghouse model also provides for the ability to store data on a secure central hub for access by authorized parties or it provides for the routing of data to the authorized parties without central storage and access. The following diagram illustrates this point:

Figure 3: The Central Clearinghouse model brings order out of chaos by mediating the flow of e-diagnostic information between tool suppliers and semiconductor manufacturers.

Figure 3 details the Central Clearinghouse system. The system manages routing of messages sent from the fab to the appropriate vendor destination. This ensures that data meant for supplier #1 only goes to supplier #1 and not to supplier #2.

These messages all travel over the Internet through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) ensuring secure connections and data transmission. The equipment vendor similarly has just one link to maintain.

Look for a continuation of this article in the near future.


Chris Saso

Tel: 510-403-2106
E-mail: Saso, Chris

Chris Saso has worked in the semiconductor industry since 1991. He has extensive background in semiconductor manufacturing factory automation, applying equipment control technologies and SECS/GEM communications standards to three product lines during his work at Watkins-Johnson. Prior to joining AvantCom Network Saso spent over four years at GW Associates, Inc. the leading provider of SECS/GEM software solutions. Saso provided technical sales and marketing expertise as well training and product requirements generation in his job as Technical Sales Manager. At AvantCom Network Saso is facilitating the paradigm shift that is taking place in the industry about how semiconductor manufacturing will be reshaped through the use of e-diagnostics and information exchanges between equipment suppliers and their customers.