Download a PDF
In the semiconductor industry, quality and precision are more than just watchwords: They’re essential to a chip manufacturer’s survival. Tokyo Electron (TEL), which provides metallization solutions to chip designers and manufacturers, as well as other associated companies, acquired NEXX Systems partially in response to the industry’s continuing shift from wire bonding to flip chip technology. TEL NEXX’s back-end-of-the-line systems, Stratus™ Electrochemical Deposition System and Apollo Sputtering System, deposit metals through electrochemical deposition (ECD) and physical vapor deposition (PVD) processes for the wafer sizes and thicknesses chip manufacturers require.
The Stratus™ and Apollo systems are designed to handle the wafer-level packaging and form factor reduction critical to the production of semiconductors for smart devices. These ECD and PVD machines are built for heavy volume and a long useful life. They’re capable of handling wafers ranging in diameter from 100 mm to 300 mm. As durable as these machines are, some parts do wear out—for example, the parts repeatedly exposed to electrochemical processes. These limited-longevity components, called consumables,
are the responsibility of manufacturing engineer Brian Hart and his team.
In this industry, any variation is undesirable. TEL NEXX’s chip-manufacturing customers require strict variation control. To meet customers’ needs and expectations, TEL NEXX strives to learn and continually improve its processes.
TEL NEXX follows a rigorous internal quality assurance process, complies with SEMI S2, ISO 9001:2015, and OSHA standards, and must adapt to the demands of each customer. TEL NEXX teams maintain extensive documentation and detailed archives in support of these customer requirements. Historically, TEL NEXX relied almost entirely on manual data collection and quality control, and operators had to enter data into spreadsheets for report generation. These systems were time-consuming and required rechecking to avoid errors.
To run reports in the consumables area, for example, Hart had to locate specific spreadsheets and analyze them for answers. When customers submitted inquiries, response times could be slow.
“For us, quality itself is not a challenge; we continuously learn and improve our processes,” says Hart. “The current focus is on creating efficient methods to gather and analyze all our process data.”
With management looking to modernize and improve data collection and response, a move to InfinityQS® ProFicient™ offered many benefits and opportunities. But the transition had to occur in a way that supported operator adoption and didn’t disrupt production.
“ProFicient has made accessing the history for each product easy. As our database grows, we can extract information to drive continuous improvement and eliminate bottlenecks. Moving from a paper-based system to an accessible database has made us more efficient.”
— Brian Hart, Manufacturing Engineer
Hart has been largely responsible for the incremental rollout of ProFicient at TEL NEXX. Adoption began in January 2017 in the consumables area and over six months expanded to other areas for test and evaluation. Hart rolled out the ProFicient software on two production lines, with plans to roll the solution out to four more lines by the end of 2017. Line operators in the test sections were given tablets on which ProFicient is installed for direct data entry, with laptops for the managers and administrators.
In addition to the use of tablets instead of paper-based checklists for data entry, Hart and his team are phasing in ProFicient integration with existing shop-floor systems. “One of the projects,” Hart notes, “is currently set up to drive our label printing software, which previously relied on a Microsoft Access database.” He notes that the team plans to automate a handful of existing test stands by the end of the year.
Before ProFicient, Hart had no way to review data and get feedback in real time. Now he has access to additional data, such as time stamps and traceability variables that were not captured before. “Continuous improvement projects for the manufacturing and testing of our consumable product lines are critical to maintaining our competitive differentiation. There is a trend towards process automation and metrics analysis, which is where InfinityQS can play a big role.”
The phased, incremental rollout of ProFicient has allowed Hart and his team to closely observe improvements while maintaining their high level of precision.
- Eliminated duplicate data entry, saving time and simplifying operator processes.
- Eliminated manual data transfer, improving accuracy and timeliness of data capture.
- Data entered in real time is also visible in real time.
- Enabled rapid responses to issues, reducing time to identify and correct errors.
- Operator morale is improved as they see the direct importance of data collection work.
- Helps identify opportunities for quality operational improvement.
ProFicient has contributed to improving TEL NEXX’s overall objective of more comprehensive manufacturing. Operators no longer have to duplicate data-entry steps, manually recording statistics on paper, then entering them in spreadsheets. Instead, they’re entering data into ProFicient once in real time. “As the operators have adapted to the new system, overall efficiency has visibly changed,” Hart says. “As the projects and operators advance, we only expect to move faster and faster—with the same integrity.”
Morale has improved on the shop floor, as well. The operators are excited to enter data on the tablets. Hart notes, “There has been an overall change in the manufacturing atmosphere, from the drudgery of manually recording data and sending it into a black hole to a feeling of ownership as people see their names and the data they entered instantly.” The result is greater pride in their work and a greater sense of the importance of accountability in operators’ data.
Hart’s first success occurred within just weeks of deploying his first ProFicient project. Hart was able to detect equipment settings that had been inadvertently altered from the original specification and—within hours—correct the settings and move forward, knowing that the equipment was operating appropriately. Previously, accurate operation was assumed but not confirmed.
Hart says, “ProFicient has made accessing a history for each product easy. As our database grows, we can extract information to drive continuous improvement projects and eliminate bottlenecks. Moving from a paper-based system to an accessible database has made us more efficient.”
Creating the first set of projects and getting them live is only the first step for Hart’s team. They are looking forward to:
- Transforming their newly accessible data into information for CIP
- Providing live metrics to quickly correct acute issues
- Monitoring trends to improve proactive responses
- Automating data collection from off-the-shelf and home-grown equipment via deployment of InfinityQS’s Data Collection Service
“There are many more features we are interested in pursuing to improve our manufacturing efficiency,” says Hart. “With the proper tests and checks in place, we can be assured that every product going to the customer is 100% vetted in real time, with each test taking place at the most efficient step in the process.”
Download a PDF