Integrating Digital Twins In Semiconductor Operations

The industry must collaborate to develop a common understanding of digital twin technology across various hierarchical levels.


By Mark da Silva, Nishita Rao and Karim Somani

Chipmakers must adopt transformative technologies including Digital Twins (DT) to keep pace with unprecedented global semiconductor industry growth that is expected to drive its total market value to $1 trillion[1] as soon as 2030. Leveraging predictive modeling and other efficiency-enhancing innovations, DTs promise to optimize semiconductor design, manufacturing processes and equipment maintenance while improving overall operational efficiency.

With DTs rising in prominence as a critical enabler of industry growth, key players from across the semiconductor ecosystem – including OEMs, platforms and end users – gathered at the Semiconductor Digital Twin Workshop last December at SEMI headquarters in Milpitas, Calif. to discuss the latest DT developments and explore the path to advancing the technology.

Following are highlights from the sold-out event hosted by the SEMI Smart Manufacturing Initiative.

Key takeaways

  • Industry Alignment on DT Definition and Taxonomy
    • The semiconductor industry needs to align on the definition and taxonomy of DTs in semiconductor operations.
    • With collaboration crucial to advances in DTs, the industry must come together to develop a common understanding of the technology.
  • Data Sharing for Sustainability Improvements
    • Sharing data among various chip ecosystem players will be vital to driving sustainability improvements.
    • Focusing on equipment and operational DTs with sustainability in mind will help foster collaboration among industry stakeholders.
  • Advocacy for Standardized DT Architecture and Framework
    • A standardized DT framework architecture must be established to enhance interoperability, reliability, synchronization, and security.
    • The adoption of digital twin technical standards is in its early stages but increasing in importance as DT technology evolves.
    • Collaboration will be essential to accelerate the availability and adoption of several digital twin technical standards under development by SEMI and other Standards Development Organizations (SDOs).

Key challenges

  • Robust DT Framework and Overcoming Development Silos
    • Establishing a robust DT framework and overcoming isolated development silos in microelectronics are challenges the industry must overcome.
  • Managing Unclean Factory Data
    • Challenges include managing unclean factory data, varying data granularity, and addressing the lifecycle of data models.
  • Sharing Data Between Tools and Process Steps
    • Data sharing between various semiconductor tools and process steps must be seamless. Data provenance is critical for DT accuracy and validation.
  • Legacy Factories & Small/Medium Firms
    • Factories with older generation tools and processes have a unique challenge in developing process level DTs for existing products.

Workshop sessions

The workshop consisted of four sessions focused on DT efforts by equipment makers, solution providers, device makers, and factory integration providers.

Equipment-level digital twins session

The session focused on OEM efforts to develop tool-level DTs and highlighted the potential to improve efficiency, performance, and sustainability. The session also featured discussions on equipment-level data sharing, standards, and interoperability challenges that need to be addressed. Speakers included IRDS Co-Chair Supika Mashiro of TEL, Ala Moradian of Applied Materials, Joseph Ervin of LAM Research, Sean Glazier of Onto Innovation, Basil Milton and Chan-Pin Chong of Kulicke & Soffa, and Mark Huntington of McKinsey & Company.

Session speakers: (L) Supika Mashiro, TEL, and (R) Ala Moradien, AMAT. 

Speakers discussed existing DTs deployed in manufacturing such as Run-to-Run (R2R) control, virtual metrology, and predictive maintenance (PdM) and the need for standardized DTs that can communicate with each other. Tool-level DT solutions such as Applied Materials EcoTwin within the AppliedTwin platform provide a virtualized replica of chipmaking equipment for development and improvement of chip-level processes. The platform has also demonstrated extensibility to sustainability analysis, a significant development.

Other focus areas were the connectivity of DTs across different levels (tools to factories) and the use of AI to make them self-adjusting for manufacturing processes. The importance of DT infrastructure and associated challenges such as ensuring clean and accessible data, data flow, and communication to keeping DTs synchronized were raised as significant challenges. In the back-end, OEMs are making steady progress to virtualize various tools such as wire bonding. The session also highlighted DTs as a major investment across industries, with huge potential in chipmaking. Building a strong data sharing foundation is key to success.

Chamber process, operations and planning level digital twin session

The session was led by solution providers from across the semiconductor ecosystem that develop tools to facilitate DTs at various hierarchical levels. The providers offer a variety of products and services across areas such as process physics-based models, chamber processes, operations, as well as planning modelling approaches to help companies implement and manage DTs. The session included technical details of DT models and their potential impact on the entire manufacturing process.

While the session made clear that DTs promise to revolutionize the semiconductor industry, it must overcome significant technical development challenges of integrating DTs into day-to-day operations. Speakers included Sarbajit Ghosal of SC Solutions, Norman Chang of Ansys, Holland Smith of INFICON, Chandra Reddy of IBM Research, Jon Herlocker of TIGNIS, Ken Smerz of ZELUS and John Behnke of INFICON.

Speakers emphasized the need for fast, multi-physics-based (and data-assisted) accurate DTs for real-time control and monitoring and that react instantly to changes, just like physical equipment. Think of it as having a virtual process line that can predict how different processes will interact. Sitting on top of the DTs are AI-powered (physics and/or data-driven) models that can then be harnessed to optimize manufacturing processes and predict yield.

Speakers also discussed operational-level DTs and the need for a central hub for all factory operational data to boost efficiency, maximize productivity, and reduce waste – all critical as the number of fabs grows in the years ahead. Construction DTs for pre-construction planning in the building of new chip fabs or expanding brown-field sites provide a preconstruction virtual blueprint that can help identify potential problems early on and minimize time to wafer starts. Lastly, how these various levels of DTs are integrated vertically within a factory play a key role in making decisions about autonomous fabs.

Digital twin adoption and implementation session

The session was led by device makers and owners of fabs, where DTs are critical for improving productivity by predicting yield, quality, and efficiency. A process-level DT enables a virtual representation of a product’s process flow in the fab, and it can be used to speed integration efforts (MRL 5-7), simulate specific outcomes, and optimize operations. Imagine a future where chip fabs are run by AI agents, with virtual models predicting problems before they happen and optimizing processes on the fly. That’s the vision shared by the session’s expert speakers. Their insights painted a fascinating picture of what’s next for the semiconductor industry. Speakers included Professor. H.-S Philip Wong of Stanford University, Steven J Meyer of Intel, Jae Yong Park of Samsung, Rosa Javadi of JABIL, Professor Amit Lal and Peter Doerschuk of Cornell University, Ben Davaji of Northeastern University, Pushkar Apte of SEMI and Bobby Mitra of Deloitte.

Session speakers: (L) Steven J Meyer, Intel, and (R) Jae Yong Park, Samsung.

The key development target is advanced AI-assisted manufacturing with three layers of virtual models – processes, tools, and the entire fab itself – all working together seamlessly is critical. This ambitious vision aligns with the National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC) DT Grand Challenge, which focuses on generating, sharing, and using data effectively. Intel’s AFS Software Suite, which includes high-speed simulators and graphical models to enable better planning and decision-making across multiple sites, is a real-world example of DTs used in today’s fabs.

Use cases of deploying AI to improve Automated Material Handling Systems (AMHS) asset utilization by 30% have also been demonstrated in real-world fab environments. The session highlighted the importance of scheduling with AI-powered DTs and standardizing data availability across the industry. Other impressive product development use case studies shared included a rapid COVID-19 tester system development and a global supply chain DT.

Speakers described how challenges such as infrastructure readiness, talent gaps, and data privacy concerns are slowing industrywide adoption. They also discussed efforts to develop an open-access academic cleanroom dedicated to developing and testing DT models for lithography and etching processes, with investigation of federated learning to address data privacy & sharing concerns. The experts characterized the hierarchy of DT types as a framework based on the ISA-95 standard to ensure seamless communication and collaboration between DTs across various levels, from process development to production. This interconnected approach could revolutionize chipmaking across the entire enterprise, as demonstrated by an example showing DTs spanning the enterprise.

Digital twin connectivity and platform integration session

The session focused on a variety of product and service offerings by cloud, facilities, and supply chain solution providers that help companies implement and manage DTs of various levels. These solutions include integration, connectivity, security and horizontal integration across the supply chain. Almost all speakers pointed to the importance of standardization efforts as crucial for future development. Speakers included Rad Desiraju of Microsoft, Gautham Unni of AWS, David Gross and Srividya Jayaram of Siemens, Slava Libman of FTD Solutions, Becky Kelderman of Rockwell Automation, Ram Walvekar of HCL Technologies, and Paul Trio of SEMI International Standards

Session speakers touched on definitions and categorization of DTs, including types and uses, as well as building dedicated infrastructure to support their development. The experts highlighted a few DT development challenges in areas such as data sources and provenance, as well as visualization and shared their solution offerings for creating, connecting, and maintaining these digital twins both vertically and horizontally within an enterprise.

The presenters also shared use cases on how DTs bridge design and manufacturing, enabling simulations and faster production, and how connecting DTs for various assets, processes, and products creates a holistic view. Session speakers also discussed a DT maturity scorecard that enables players from across the supply chain to track their progress and identify areas for improvement. Use cases of facility-level DTs for water management in fabs for promoting sustainability was also a topic of discussion.

The semiconductor industry’s commitment to digital twins

The Semiconductor Digital Twin Workshop showcased the industry’s commitment to adopting and advancing the technology. Continued collaboration and adherence to standards and sustainable practices will play a crucial role in unlocking the full potential of DT technology in semiconductor manufacturing.

SEMI thanks the speakers who provided access to their material presented at the workshop. Visit Semiconductor Digital Twin Workshop OnDemand | SEMI for the workshop materials.


  1. Ondrej Burkacky, Julia Dragon, and Nikolaus Lehmann, The semiconductor decade: A trillion-dollar industry, McKinsey & Company (blog), April 1, 2021

Nishita Rao is senior product marketing manager at SEMI.
Karim Somani is program manager at SEMI.

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