New approaches in chipmaking and fast-evolving specialty markets are driving the need for new equipment on the fab floor. 3D chips (be they stacked or bonded), MEMS, lighting, power – they’re all leveraging wafer substrates in new ways. Altatech, the equipment division of SOI-wafer leader Soitec, has just announced new inspection equipment for foundry and IDM customers fabbing 3D and other chips. ASN talks to Jean-Luc Delcarri, Altatech general manager, about the company and its recent announcements.
Advanced Substrate News (ASN): Can you tell us briefly about the company and the markets it serves?
Jean-Luc Delcarri (JLD): Altatech makes specialty equipment for the fab floor. We have two main areas of deep expertise: one is in defect inspection, and the other is in CVD* technologies for semiconductor, LEDs, MEMS and photovoltaic devices. I founded the company in 2004, and then in 2012 we became a subsidiary of SOI wafer leader, Soitec.
ASN: At Semicon Europa 2015, you announced “…a new, high-speed inspection system for ultra-thin, transparent and bonded substrates inspection for 3D applications in power, MEMS and mobile technologies.” What’s driving that market?
JLP: Yes, at Semicon we announced the Eclipse TS, which is a unique, high-reliability and easy-to-implement inspection system solution that’s now ready for mass production.
You’ve got the need for these advanced substrates that’s being driven by really rapidly growing markets in automotive, industrial power and mobile electronics. We’ve been working quietly on this tool for years, and now the Eclipse TS has been qualified for volume manufacturing at a leading-edge semiconductor manufacturer, so we’re really excited about it.
ASN: What makes the Eclipse TS different from other inspection sytems?
JLP: When you’re looking for defects on these advanced wafer solutions, you have to do much more than scan the top: you need to inspect the front side, the back side and the edge of very thin wafers – and you have to do it without touching them. Our ability to do all this makes us totally unique on the market: we have built this tool on a strong IP portfolio.
So with the Eclipse TS, you have a high-speed inspection system that can measure very thin and stacked wafers down to 50 microns, as well as Taiko rings, stacked substrates and silicon-on-glass wafers. Plus we can do the front-side, back-side and edge inspection in one pass with no back-side contact.
In today’s 3D technologies, substrates undergo grinding, stacking and gluing, so you can end up with wafers with a very high bow, or wafers with a warp of up to 6 mm. We can handle those wafers. In fact, the Eclipse system can monitor these sorts of processes. The inspection occurs without any contact on the active surface, and at a throughout of more than 90 wafers per hour for 300-mm substrates.
We’re of course compliant with the latest automation standards, so the system can be fully integrated into the line, and provide comprehensive reporting for defects classification and yield maps.
Our full Altatech Eclipse series covers advanced metrology and holistic inspection systems. That means we can detect, count and bin defects during the wafer manufacturing process as well as do continuous outgoing wafer-quality inspection. So the quality of both the wafer-surface and edge is ensured. We also have proprietary Eclipse sub-modules that detect specific sorts of particles and defects of interest for both patterned or unpatterned wafers.
All that puts Altatech in a leading position in what is a very large market opportunity.
ASN: You also make CVD – deposition – equipment. Can you tell us a little about that, and what’s driving those markets?
JLP: Sure. Last year we introduced the AltaCVD 3D Memory Cell™, which is the newest member of our AltaCVD product line. This is used for depositing ultra-thin semiconductor films when you’re manufacturing the high-density, low-power memory chips used throughout mobile electronics. Our new system does atomic-layer deposition 10 times faster than conventional ALD** systems, which is of course huge when you’re manufacturing advanced memories where you need to run in very high-volume production with extreme cost efficiency.
In the new 3D device architectures for mobile apps, our customers are looking to really increase memory capacity and boost performance. And to do this, they need very advanced material deposition to create atomic-layer films with high uniformity – you really are at the atomic level of control here. The AltaCVD 3D Memory Cell deposits layers of chalcogenide*** materials by using a combination of precursors, which is very leading edge.
So with our tool you can use conventional gaseous or solid precursors, but we also have a patented pulsed technology, which means you can also use advanced CVD precursors that are available only in liquid form. This is remarkable versatility: it allows us to achieve exceptional step coverage over features with very high aspect ratios – that’s a key performance requirement when you’re talking about vertical integration high-density memory circuits.
You can also use it for advanced pre-treatment of semiconductor surfaces (which improves circuit functionality), as well as post-treatment of surfaces (which enhances electrical performance).
Because it’s used in everything from research to high-volume manufacturing, it can process 200-mm or 300-mm substrates, and uses a single-wafer, multi-chamber architecture. One of our key customers demonstrated it last year. We’re now selling production units, and we’re pleased to say it’s been very successful.
ASN: Do you have other products in the pipeline?
JLP: Next up we have a new solution for high aspect ratio 3D copper deposition. The system, which is called RUBY, can deposit a barrier layer of titanium nitride or tantalum nitride with almost 100% step coverage on an aspect ratio higher than 10:1. This is followed by deposition of a copper seed layer with similar performance. Combined with a proprietary copper cleaning process, it will be able to meet the growing challenge of copper metallization in MEMS and semiconductor 3D integration. We’ll release it as soon as we’ve completed our product milestones for reliability and performance.
ASN: Where do you see the highest-growth areas?
JLP: We’ve developed the right technology for the right time in a number of key markets, so we’re really well-positioned to answer the needs of a number of high-growth markets. The move to 450mm wafers is something we’re ready for, which will probably happen first in advanced memories. But in the meantime we also see significant activity in MEMS, RF, high power and LEDs. We’re winning customers in China who are looking to be leaders in these markets. All in all, much of the future of the phone in your pocket depends on what we can help our customers do in high-volume and cost-effectively on the fab floor – so it’s a very exciting time to be in this business.
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*CVD=chemical vapor deposition
**ALD=atomic layer deposition
*** chalcogenides include sulphides, selenides, and tellurides
Advanced substrate leader Soitec and Intelligent Epitaxy Technology, Inc. (IntelliEPI, Taiwan) a leader in InP, GaAs, and GaSb epi wafers, have signed a collaborative agreement to better serve the GaAs market (press release here).
“We are delighted to announce the license of our technology leading to a second source for our products for our key GaAs customers ,” said Bernard Aspar, Senior Vice President and Soitec’s Communication & Power Business Unit General Manager.
“This collaborative agreement will reinforce our GaAs technology and product know-how while, at the same time, offering Soitec’s customers supply-chain security,” said Yung-Chung Kao, IntelliEPI President and CEO.
Gallium arsenide (GaAs), a III-V semiconductor, is used in the manufacture of devices such as microwave frequency ICs, monolithic microwave ICs, infrared light-emitting diodes, laser diodes, solar cells and optical windows. GaAs is often used as a substrate material for the epitaxial growth of other III-V semiconductors including InGaAs and GaInNAs.
If you say “IP” in the chip business, everyone thinks of cores and design. But in fact, the importance of intellectual property for chips can extend right down to the substrate level.
Engineered, advanced wafer substrates open new doors for designers. For example, Soitec recently announcement that we are licensing some of our Smart Stacking™ generic bonding IP related to back-side illumination (BSI) in image sensors to TSMC. This is a clear testament to the value of IP starting at the substrate level. But in fact, TSMC is not the first company licensing our portfolio for BSI: ST took a license for BSI a few years ago.
Soitec is known throughout the industry for our Smart CutTM technology, the enabler of the silicon-on-insulator (SOI) wafer revolution. Most of today’s industry-leading SOI wafers destined for chip manufacturing are made by wafer suppliers using the Smart Cut layer transfer technology. The Smart Cut technology is also behind the development of new families of standard and custom engineered wafers.
In fact, Soitec’s IP portfolio extends to over 3000 patents covering over 600 inventions, and every year, we add about 350 more patents. This gives us what is arguably the most complete advanced substrate engineering portfolio in the world.
So when speaking of Soitec’s expertise, we might think first of SOI wafers, but in fact, such IP is generic. It can be used as building blocks in leading-edge microelectronic products, applied to an array of materials covering a wide realm of applications.
For example, Smart Cut™ technology is now being leveraged by Sumitomo Electric to produce GaN substrates for high-performance LED lighting applications. Following the announcement of last year, Sumitomo is now industrializing the product and investing in Smart Cut technology.
In the case of Soitec’s Smart Stacking™ generic bonding technology, one of the earliest applications was indeed BSI image sensors, to help manufacturers to deliver increased sensitivity and smaller pixel size. But Smart Stacking will also be leveraged to dramatically improve the performance of RF products, opening new doors to future RF and 3D-integration applications.
One example of how effective our IP policy is came about in 1997 when we contracted with Shin-Etsu Handotai Co., Ltd (SEH) of Japan for SOI manufacturing using our Smart Cut technology. The manufacturing agreement helped establish SOI products made with Smart Cut technology as the global standard.
Last year, Soitec and SEH (which is the world leader in the manufacturing of silicon wafers) announced a Smart Cut™ licensing extension and expanded technology cooperation agreement. The new partnership includes an extended 10-year licensing agreement between the two companies and establishes a new level of joint technology cooperation. It will facilitate the development and wafer supply of SOI wafers to meet major market opportunities such as SOI for RF devices, FinFETs on SOI and FD-SOI.
The agreement expands the scope of the partnership between Soitec and SEH, including cross-licensing Smart Cut related patents between the two companies. SEH will now also be able to extend its Smart Cut manufacturing capabilities to other materials, a trend commonly referred to as Silicon on Anything or SOA (any material on top of which there is a thin film of plain silicon), thereby further expanding the scope of applications.
Soitec’s expertise also extends to the domain of III-V epitaxy, which is leveraged in substrates for applications like RF, power, and lighting.
Beyond microelectronics, we are leveraging and expanding our innovation portfolio in energy markets. For example, earlier this year we announced the industry’s first four-junction solar cell for concentrator photovoltaic systems. We leverage both our proprietary semiconductor-bonding (Smart Stacking™) and layer-transfer (Smart Cut™) technologies to successfully stack non-lattice-matched materials while also raising the possibility of re-using expensive materials. These cells have recently reached efficiency of 44.7%, setting the world record.
The Soitec IP portfolio now represents over 20 years of successful innovation at the substrate level. We invest around 10% of our revenue in R&D to develop and perfect breakthrough materials technologies. Our R&D teams work closely with manufacturers, as well as with laboratories such as CEA-Leti and the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems. We also take full advantage of the high-tech resources available in and around all of our locations worldwide.
In short, the innovations found in our substrate engineering IP portfolio are at the heart of how we lead, grow and maximize value through incremental and breakthrough solutions for the electronics and energy industries.
An agreement between Soitec and GT Advanced Technologies is aiming to lower the cost of LED production and accelerate adoption in commercial and residential lighting. GT is developing an HVPE (high productivity hydride vapor phase epitaxy) system incorporating Soitec Phoenix Labs’ (a subsidiary of Soitec) unique and proprietary HVPE technology. This includes Soitec’s novel and advanced source delivery system that is expected to lower the costs of precursors delivered to the HVPE reactor. The HVPE system will enable the production of GaN template sapphire substrates at scale. The expected target date for the commercial availability of the HVPE system is the second half of 2014.
Soitec‘s Smart Cut™ technology, best known for its role as the leading technology for producing SOI wafers, is now being leveraged to produce GaN substrates for high-performance LED lighting applications. Following a successful pilot line announced last year, Sumitomo Electric will now industrialize the product and invest in Smart Cut technology. Yoshiki Miura, general manager of the Compound Semiconductor Materials Division at Sumitomo Electric, said, “By combining the two innovative technologies – Soitec’s Smart Cut technology and our high-quality, large-diameter, free-standing GaN substrates – we are able to offer a high-value proposition to our LED customers. Soitec’s unique material-transfer technology enables the reuse of GaN wafers several times, achieving a substantial reduction in the cost of high-quality GaN materials to serve high-volume applications.”
NXP has named SOI wafer-leader Soitec as this year’s recipient of the “Best Supplier – Valued Partnership” for the company’s SOI solutions. NXP uses Soitec’s wafers in many of its most successful products for high-volume markets including power, automotive and lighting. The two companies have worked together since 1995.
World-leading advanced substrate maker Soitec and compound materials leader Sumitomo Electric are launching pilot production of 4” and 6” GaN wafers for the LED and power markets. Soitec applies its Smart CutTM layer-transfer process to Sumitomo’s bulk GaN wafers to generate engineered wafers with the same thermal expansion (CTE) as standard GaN wafers but at lower costs.
NXP has introduced the GreenChip SSL4101T controller IC for Solid State LED lighting power supplies. Based on SOI, its industry-leading performance includes Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) of less than 20 percent, a high Power Factor (PF) of .99, and high efficiency of 94 percent.
In recent months, Soitec has inked deals with:
• Peregrine for joint development and production of a new, bonded silicon-on-sapphire (SOS) substrate for RFICs;
• and with Sumitomo for the development of engineered gallium nitride (GaN) substrates for applications like high brightness LEDs as well as electric power devices designed for hybrid and full electric vehicles.