If semiconductor manufacturers had any question about the complexity of their industry ecosystem, COVID-19 eliminated that doubt.
Riding a wave of growing demand for semiconductors, buoyed in part by a 5.4% increase in 2020 sales attributed to stay-in-place home electronics orders and surprised by a boom in early 2021 automotive sales, the semiconductor industry found itself in the midst of production shortage.
While chipmaking capacity has kept pace with sales for the most part, consolidation of advanced manufacturing players has created scarcity in the market. The scarcity was enough for automotive manufacturers to halt production.
Things only worsened when the industry discovered a growing shortage of raw materials essential to component manufacturing. That shortage has spread to multiple sectors, leaving original equipment manufacturers to deal with pricing volatility, extended lead times and stock-outs in the near future.
Many semiconductor and semiconductor tool companies lessen supply chain disruption with a dual-sourcing plan, a strategy that paid off during the pandemic.
But the semiconductor industry is hardly the only industry to deal with disruption. Nearly 94% of Fortune 1000 companies are dealing with supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic, according to a recent Accenture research study.
Supply chain disruption can extend delivery times and build product backlogs that can turn into customer concerns. Demand, disruption and innovation trickles down, as well. And nowhere is that clearer than in the ultrapure water industry.
Ultrapure water consumption in the semiconductor industry is higher than any other industry, and technological advances in clean room and wafer manufacturing have created the need for even higher-grade ultrapure water.
While this is a boon for the ultrapure water industry – projections call for an $11 billion overall industry appraisal by 2026 – it is a bit of conundrum for manufacturers.
First, ultrapure water has become more expensive. Some estimates suggest that for every dollar’s worth of water purchased, it costs $20 to make it ultrapure and another $10 to properly manage wastewater disposal. Increased water usage can impact local communities and farms, and when water levels dip too low, there’s an environmental cost to wildlife habitats, as well.
There are other environmental concerns, as well. Most notably, the impact global fabs have on local watersheds and consumption. For example, the work of one Stanford University student shows that industry fab feedwater use was comparable to overall regional water use in China. That, along with long-term arid climate forecasts, could prolong – or excerabate – an already growing industry water shortage.
To mitigate both challenges, semiconductor manufacturing plants are exploring ways to reduce, reuse and recycle the ultrapure water they use during the high technology manufacturing process. But those efforts are just as challenging.
As chip technology advances, it becomes critical that the silicon wafer surface be as clean and clear of debris as possible to prevent damage and maximize yield.
This gets tricky on the nanometer level since there are more and more chances for contaminants to strike the wafer surface. Semiconductor innovation relies heavily on advanced materials research now to maintain the trend of achieving more computing power in smaller footprints. With an increase in chip yield per wafer, any defect could create a level of chip scrapping larger than years past, when fewer chips were housed on smaller wafers.
To eliminate the possibility, manufacturers must further reduce the level of contaminants in the water to avoid defects as small as 2 nm. In some instances, eliminating contamination associated with liquids has become more important than that from gases and cleanroom air.
A big challenge for semiconductor manufacturers is what to do with spent ultrapure water. Contaminated rinse water usually winds up in a manufacturer’s industrial waste treatment system and cannot be reused because of added contamination.
Overall, reclaiming spent ultrapure water for semiconductor fabrication is almost unheard of, though some methods to reclaim and deionize contaminated ultrapure water for semiconductor use are being tested. That hasn’t stopped some industries from recycling water for other purposes, including chemical aspirators, cooling towers and point-of-use abatement systems.
But the cost of acquiring ultrapure water combined with wastewater systems management is becoming a financial burden for many manufacturers and may encourage further study into effective reclamation and recycling technology.
In the meantime, an effective water management solution that handles the quality and quantity of supply water, treats wastewater discharge properly and secures industrial water for effective recycling is paramount for semiconductor companies, according to SK hynix.
Supply chain disruptions also are impacting the rather straightforward creation of ultrapure water. How so?
During the purification process, or pretreatment, water is carried through a water filter, clearing it of most contaminants, and then deionized through either ion exchange or electrodeionization.
But polymer raw material shortages – especially polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), and monoethylene (MEG) – are causing factory shutdowns, price increases and production delays across multiple industries, according to Harvard Business Review. Almost universally, the filters critical to the purification of ultrapure water are built with these polymers, which means extended lead times both in component and semiconductor manufacturing.
This is where a dual-sourcing strategy like the one employed by Parker can pay dividends. Dual-sourcing, or multi-sourcing, is a risk-management strategy in which an organization uses two or more suppliers to acquire certain components, raw material, products and services.
For example, when a major diversified chip manufacturer’s original filter supplier unexpectedly extended lead times and couldn’t deliver those critical components within the promised time frame, Parker was able to supply those filters in less than half the lead time.
Semiconductor manufacturers also are combating wafer defects caused by process and fluid impurities. Often, filter leaching is the culprit – or what the defects are attributed to. The right vendor can help deduce the issue through expert technical assistance.
That was the case when one major chip manufacturer discovered a correlation between its wafer yield and the improved resolution of metals extractables measurement in their process water. The fluid transfer components, including Parker’s Clariflow filter line, could also be a source of added contamination that was not previously detected. To identify root cause, the manufacturer reached out to Parker, who then recommended a technical team further investigate to ensure the problem had been properly identified. Parker’s Technical Counsel provides field and lab service for customer application troubleshooting. They conduct fluid and filter analysis into the parts per trillion range.
After a thorough investigation, including a best-practices review with some of the customer’s peer manufacturers, the Parker team concluded the very nature of the filter’s construction materials, polypropylene and polyethersulfone membrane, tend to leach trace metals over time regardless of how the final filter product is manufactured or flushed.
Recognizing the material, rather than the construction, was the root cause, Parker encouraged the customer to consider its all-fluoropolymer filter product, Fluoroflow. Testing confirmed improved fluid purity and extended on-stream life. This, in turn, increased wafer yield through decreased defects, reduced equipment downtime, and more than $100,000 in annual filter spend.
Regardless of supply chain disruption and wastewater reclaimation efforts, the demand for ultrapure water in the semiconductor fabrication process will only grow. Through strategic dual-sourcing and unparalled industry expertise, Parker helps manufacturers meet demand with high-purity filtration solutions that enhance processes and meet ultrapure water needs.
Polypropylene filters, like the Parker Clariflow and Polyflow, are designed for general-purpose use in the filtration of high-purity liquids and aqueous chemicals. Our fluoropolymer product, Flouroflow, is designed for general-purpose use in the filtration of high-purity liquids and aqueous chemicals.
To learn more, download our white paper on semiconductor trends.
Article contributed by the Parker Filtration Team with our Bioscience Filtration Division.
Related and helpful content: