SEMICON West Preview: Smart Microelectronics Manufacturing Builds the Infrastructure to Enable AI Applications

By Paula Doe

The fast-maturing hardware and software that are enabling practical applications of equipment intelligence and machine learning mean disruptive change for microelectronics manufacturing. But first comes the basic work of building the basic infrastructure, figuring out IP separation, and learning to solve physical problems in the digital world.

Just how much can the semiconductor industry leverage industrial IoT practices from other industries? Common wisdom may be that industrial software solutions aren’t well suited to the IC sector’s complex needs. But GE Digital enterprise account executive Luke Smaul, currently working with Intel, argues that semiconductor fabs and toolmakers are dealing with similar issues as GE did when it first started working with Delta Airlines to monitor the GE engines on Delta planes. Smaul will speak at SEMICON West about GE’s work with Intel over the past few years and, in particular, how its solution for cloud security and IP separation can work for ICs.

“GE learned to provide IP security and separation in the aviation space with its suppliers, which moved us all up the value chain, providing a big engine for growth,” says Smaul, who started his career as an IC engineer. “GE Aviation saw a 25 percent increase in issue detection rates by leveraging the same common platform. We’ve shown that we can protect Intel intellectual property in its own cloud space and control who can access what.” A toolmaker can access only particular fab data as needed for analysis, and then can reveal only the output from the analysis and a subset of supporting data. “IP separation has to happen, and it will unlock huge added value,” Smaul says.

GE’s Predix solution aims to supply an easy-to-use, plug-and-play system for analytics to enable a yield engineer without a deep data background to select a supported sensor, a gateway to connect automatically to the cloud, and an analytics application to test a hypothesis of how the collected data relates to yield. “This empowers the yield engineer to use and unlock information for a quick improvement, even for simple things such as looking at the impact of degradation of fan performance over time on yield,” says Smaul. “Though the scope may be small, the impact on yield in aggregate, and when scaled, is large.”

“There needs to be much more collaboration across the industry to make this work, and to share best practices,” says Smaul. “Just as GE moved from selling gas turbines to selling power-as-a-service, vendors of other big, expensive assets like IC equipment will likely change their business model from selling tools towards selling yield-as-a-service. This will simplify life for the fab while bringing the toolmaker more opportunity to sell improved capabilities on existing tools.”

More human intelligence makes AI smarter

Applying AI neural network approaches such as deep learning to predict outcomes from digital models is enabling disruptive advances in speech and image recognition, but applying it to complex IC manufacturing problems such as predictive maintenance has been a challenge. These neural networks require massive amounts of data to train, and the IC sector doesn’t really have big data, just a lot of little data clusters due to the dynamics and context richness of processes. This data is difficult to combine for analysis. In addition, the neural network provides only an answer but can’t explain why, notes Michael Armacost, managing director of advanced service engineering at Applied Materials. “We’ve learned that it works better if we do not ignore what we know already, but rather incorporate expert knowledge in a structured way to help us focus on the key features and the key data,” says Armacost, who will also speak in the program. This includes choosing the most important steps to include in the model, identifying the limited data to collect and how to filter the data for outliers, and then selecting the final parameters and features, adjusting the limits, and making adjustments as results drift change over time.

The less data needed, the better for the complicated issue of IP protection as well. The big gains from these new analysis approaches will likely require data from more than one company and supporting security for remote connectivity. “Some end users are attempting to do the AI all themselves, but in the long term there will need to be collaboration across companies,” says James Moyne, University of Michigan professor and consultant to Applied Materials, another speaker. Collaboration will need to balance the value of the solution against the risk of compromising IP. “The low-hanging fruit are applications such as predictive maintenance in areas that do not involve high-priority IP. Another approach will be to limit the amount of shared data needed – to first build the model on a wide range of data, but then to use only a very small amount of data to operate the models.”

Ready-made models could speed the process

Coventor’s semiconductor process models are finding initial applications in R&D whereby companies use the simulation to understand the effect of process variation on their complex designs. Instead of running dozens of actual wafers to optimize semiconductor processes, users can instead quickly simulate the results of complex process interactions on their design. Going forward, the process models could find a wide range of applications, from accelerating stabilization of new processes in the fab to enabling real-time co-optimized control across previously independent unit steps to improve wafer uniformity.

“This improved uniformity across wafers and equipment could potentially reduce the need for costly physical silicon validation,” suggests Joseph Ervin, Coventor director, semiconductor process and integration, another SEMICON speaker. “Making use of in-situ metrology for real-time control also demands a digital model to process and analyze the collected data for quick response. This area has tremendous potential for improving semiconductor process control.”

SEMICON West features a Smart Manufacturing Pavilion with displays and three full days of speakers on building the infrastructure needed to enable disruptive artificial intelligence in the microelectronics sector.

The SEMICON West Smart Manufacturing Pavilion features interactive Touch Liquid Crystal Displays (TLCD) and working production equipment on the floor from Bosch Rexroth, Cimetrix, Rudolph Technologies, Inficon/Final Phase Systems, OMRON, DISCO and Edwards Vacuum.

For information on the SEMI Smart Manufacturing Initiative and how to get involved, please click here.
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