Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Carolyn Krause ()
Communications and External Relations


ORNL-SEMATECH Computing Tool Helps U.S. Semiconductor Industry Identify Manufacturing Problems

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 4, 1998 — The U.S. semiconductor industry is raising its productivity and lowering its costs in producing electronic components for computers using a computer software tool developed at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Working with SEMATECH, which was created in 1987 as a partnership between the U.S. government and the semiconductor industry to make the U.S. semiconductor industry more competitive, ORNL developed a software tool that recognizes defect patterns on silicon wafers and identifies the manufacturing problems causing the defects. This "spatial signature analysis" (SSA) algorithm has been licensed to 14 semiconductor manufacturers and equipment suppliers.

Because the manufacturing process involves hundreds of steps, the opportunities for defects to form are large. Defects in the dies on the wafers - tiny luminescent squares dotting 8-inch black disks - mean that these dies for carrying traces of electrical current are unfit for use in microprocessor chips, the "brains" of desktop computers. A certain pattern of defects, or signature, usually indicates a particular manufacturing problem. For example, a scratch across many dies on a wafer could be a sign of mechanical mishandling of the wafer by an industrial robot.

"SSA rapidly extracts only meaningful information from huge amounts of data on the wafers obtained from lasers and microscopes," says Ken Tobin, a senior research scientist at ORNL and one of the developers of the algorithm. "It quickly identifies defect patterns and traces them to manufacturing malfunctions, enabling industry engineers to find and fix the problem fast."

"An excellent use of this tool is the detection of scratches caused from wafer handling in real time," says Marylyn Bennett of Texas Instruments in Dallas, Texas. "If we could automatically detect and prevent scratches alone, the potential savings would be about $100,000 for every lot of wafers saved." SSA was fully integrated into the Texas Instruments data management system in November 1997.

Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation recently licensed the ORNL-SEMATECH SSA technology to 14 companies, many of which are SEMATECH member companies. The licensees are eight semiconductor manufacturers - Advanced Micro Devices, IBM, Intel, Lucent Technologies, Motorola, National Semiconductor, Rockwell, and Texas Instruments, and six semiconductor equipment suppliers - Applied Materials, Defect and Yield Management, Inc., Inspex, KLA-Tencor, Knights Technology, Inc., and ADE, Inc.

Other industries that may benefit from this knowledge-based tool include manufacturers of textiles, flat panel displays, and optical and magnetic disks.

SSA technology was developed by Kenneth W. Tobin, Shaun S. Gleason, and Thomas P. Karnowski, all of the Image Science and Machine Vision Group in ORNL's Instrumentation and Controls Division, under a cooperative research and development agreement between the Defect Reduction Technology Group at SEMATECH in Austin, Texas. The Department of Energy provided half the funding. ORNL, one of the Department of Energy's multiprogram national research and development facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research.