The rapidly changing and growing mobile market has fundamentally transformed the semiconductor industry. Strong consumer demand for smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices is fueling significant growth within the semiconductor industry, and the design community is continually exploring new ways to rapidly develop differentiated and powerful mobile solutions to keep pace.

For example, greater functionality, higher integration at the chip level, smaller form factors, lower power requirements and bigger, brighter screens are several factors driving capital investment, process technologies and operations methods in the semiconductor industry. At the same time, new advances in semiconductor technology are driving an increased pace of innovation within the mobile device market.

The Move to a Fab-less Design Model

At the macro level, mobility market requirements are also driving a shift toward the fab-less design model that uses semiconductor foundries for production.  Faster innovation cycles and the growing use of licensed IP content, such as ARM processor cores, are making it more advantageous in many cases to separate design from production. While this is a positive trend for the industry and innovation, it also presents some additional challenges in terms of unifying end-to-end processes and ensuring optimal yields that conform to the design intent. With that said, it has also opened the door for new process control solutions, such as our NanoPoint family of technologies, that include built-in, design-aware capabilities to help smooth the transition to the foundry and support a faster yield ramp.

Regardless of whether the design and fab processes are in-house or separated, the mobility revolution has created some very significant implications for process control and yield management.  It’s clear that accelerated design, introduction and ramp-to-revenue schedules require process control solutions that enable delivery of yield targets, even as new semiconductor technologies are being introduced in parallel with new mobile product generations. 

Mobile Advancements Complicate Process Control and Defect Detection

Additionally, mobility demands are driving increased complexity throughout the semiconductor ecosystem, resulting in more difficulty in achieving yield ramps. Smaller feature sizes require better defect detection and more accurate metrology, and new materials used in processing create new defects and measurement challenges. On the process side, complex lithography (multiple patterning and the future implementation of EUV), more critical interconnect layers, and the move from 2D to 3D gate and memory structures are simultaneously complicating the process control challenges and adding an additional level of complexity.

Amid these rising levels of design and process complexity, defect detection and metrology control are critical components for achieving yield targets, driving the need for process control tool performance to improve faster than the underlying semiconductor technologies.

450 mm Transition Brings Added Layer of Complexity

As the semiconductor industry transition to 450mm wafers, it will encounter a whole new set of metrology, inspection and process control challenges, despite popular belief that larger die sizes will address cost/yield challenges.
In actuality, as die sizes increase, it means that simply maintaining the same defect density will no longer be sufficient. For every doubling of the die size, the number of die on a given wafer size is cut in half.  Therefore, merely maintaining the same defect density and yielded die level will necessitate a doubling of the number of wafer starts to achieve the same production output, placing even greater pressure on process control requirements.

In Conclusion: Design and Process Control in the New Mobile Ecosystem

These challenges must be addressed amidst ever-shortening product life cycles within the consumer marketplace. Time to market has become a make-or-break factor for OEMs and mobile device makers.  Being late to the market window not only can significantly impact profitability, in some cases missing market expectations can irreparably harm a company’s reputation. 

While many are focused on the pressure consumer demands are placing on the end-product mobile arena, the resulting affects are felt all the way down to OEMs and semiconductor manufacturers.  If suppliers are not able to meet the higher complexities, faster introductions, yield ramps and cost targets required for each new generation of mobile devices, they will be out of the game—and out of business. 

With the pace of change only getting faster and the stakes higher, process control and defect detection technology must stay “ahead of the game” to enable the next-generation semiconductor devices that will keep suppliers in business.