The Power Of Collaboration: Solutions For Improving Manufacturing

Why a lunch hour can disrupt the workflow, and what to do about it.


The Fab Owners Association (FOA) held its third annual Collaborative Forum in Santa Clara, Calif., earlier this month. The focus of this event was to discuss how companies are able to work together to improve manufacturing efficiencies in wafer fabs. The forum is by invite only to FOA members, and I was invited to make a presentation on the market trends due to the impact of MEMS and Sensors.

The FOA is an international, non-profit trade association of semiconductor and MEMS fab owners and industry suppliers. The fab owners are known as Device Makers (DM). These include both IDMs and foundries. Companies supplying equipment and services are known as Associate Members (AM). Among the benefits offered by FOA is for companies to discuss and act on common manufacturing issues, combining strengths and resources. This is done in a non-competitive, cooperative environment.

At the forum there were presentations by guests, but the main thrust was to demonstrate the benefits of being a member of FOA. Most of the presentations were success stories outlining how a supplier (AM) was able to solve a problem for a fab manager (DM). In some cases this collaboration came about from networking opportunities provided by FOA. Several attendees referred to this jokingly as “speed dating” sessions, such as those held at Semicon West annually.

The key message for these success stories is that a fab manager had a problem and an AM was able to provide a solution with the two working closely together. There were seven collaborations presented as case studies.

The agenda covered the following:

  • Case study #1: Microtronic – Microchip: “Macro Defect Management Improves Yield, Quality, and Overall Efficiency”
  • Case study #2: BISTel – Qorvo: “Implementing Advanced Factory Automation in Legacy Semiconductor Manufacturing”
  • Case study #3: MAX – ON Semi: “Boosting Production Performance”
  • Case study #4: PlasmaTherm – ON Semi: “Enabling Singulation Technology Development”
  • Case study #5: Semplastics – Micrel: “Slurry Savings for an IPEC472 Polisher”
  • Case study #6: Uti IMS – TowerJazz: “Saving money while concentrating resources on core business operations”
  • Case study #7: Ebara – Polar: “TEL ALPHA 8 LPCVD Nitride Exhaust Management Improvement Project”

These collaborations occurred within the last two years. The companies were able to achieve their goals quickly. The presentations were technical and highly detailed. A problem was presented and the solution and process were described. The AM and DM worked closely together in all of these cases.

One case that stood out in my mind was PlasmaTherm and ON Semi. PlasmaTherm, mostly known for its etch and deposition tools, also offers an on-tape plasma-based die singulation solution. The company’s method offered ON several benefits. Most notable is that with a regular saw, it would take 6 to 8 hours to dice a wafer. With PlasmaTherm’s solution it only took 15 minutes. In addition there were no rough edges a saw would leave. The streets on the wafer were reduced from 75 micrometers to 15 micrometers. The yield increases from 10% to 20%. Thus, ON could achieve either more die per wafer or increase the size of the die by integrating more features.

There were also some less technical, more amusing anecdotes. Improving the fab workflow is always a goal of fab managers. In one case the AM and DM found that fab workers were returning late from breaks and lunch, which caused workflow issues. After some investigation they found that the delays were due to the cafeteria’s traditional single line food preparation process, which created one long queue for everyone. Fab managers needed to get employees in and out of the cafeteria faster. How did they solve that problem? They redesigned the cafeteria to look more like a fab with multiple food stations, thus reducing the queues and creating a more efficient system to get employees back to work on time. The side benefit—employees were probably happier with shorter wait times and more food selections.

Ultimately, the case studies and the forum in general showed how collaboration among the FOA members benefits all parties. Attendees were able to share ideas and make critical connections. They learned the latest information on products and practices. Being able to improve manufacturing efficiencies and lower costs is essential for the overall health of the semiconductor industry.