Co-authored by Wonjoo Kim
Semiconductor manufacturing has been facing unprecedented challenges, struggling with the rapid transformation of technologies and ever-increasing demand for faster time to market while preserving cost effectiveness. The manufacturing domains are navigating a complex territory labeled by rapid scaling, intricate stacking methodologies, escalating process complexities, and the demand for expanded product portfolios. In the dynamic landscape of semiconductor manufacturing, the adoption and integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications have emerged as transformative force, already realizing outstanding achievement across various stages of the production process . We will explore how these emerging technologies are reshaping key areas of semiconductor manufacturing, promoting improvements in circuit design, fabrication (fab) processes, inline monitoring, wafer testing, and packaging.
Circuit Design with expanded creativity with AI
The core of semiconductor manufacturing lies in circuit design, where engineers accurately work on the blueprint for integrated circuit (IC) devices. AI is transforming this phase dramatically by expanding human creativity with predictive modeling and optimization algorithms. AI models can predict potential issues and recommend design modifications, reducing the chance of costly errors in the later stages of manufacturing. The iterative nature of circuit design can be expedited as AI algorithms continuously learn from each design iteration, streamlining the process and enhancing the overall quality of the final product. Designing complex IC requires a deep understanding of various parameters, and AI can analyze vast datasets to identify patterns and correlations that might escape from human designers. Furthermore, AI tools can expedite the design process by predicting potential issues and suggesting optimized solutions. This not only accelerates time-to-market but also reduces the risk of errors, contributing to cost savings and improved product quality .
Fab Process with enhanced precision and efficiency
The fabrication process involves the intricate steps of manufacturing semiconductor devices on a wafer. AI applications play a crucial role in optimizing these processes, leading to higher precision and efficiency. AI algorithms can analyze real-time data from the manufacturing equipment to predict potential defects or anomalies, enabling proactive maintenance and minimizing downtime. AI-driven predictive maintenance can extend the lifespan of critical manufacturing equipment, reducing the need for frequent replacements and, consequently, lowering operational costs. Furthermore, AI algorithms can optimize production parameters, such as temperature and pressure, to enhance yield and reduce defects. By continuously learning from production data, AI systems can adapt and improve manufacturing processes over time, resulting in higher efficiency and lower production costs .
Inline Monitoring with real-time quality assurance
Inline monitoring with metrology and inspection is crucial to ensure the quality and consistency of semiconductor manufacturing. The integration of AI in inline monitoring provides real-time insights on the manufacturing floor, enabling immediate identification of pattern defects. These defects include particles generated during process steps such as lithography, etch, and thin-film deposition. Automated inspection systems powered by AI can detect and classify defects with high accuracy exceeding conventional methods. With automated inspection, fab manufacturing can significantly reduce the risk of defects escape, thereby improving the overall yield .
Fab facility (building) management with efficiency
AI has gained significant attention in fab facility management for its ability to enhance energy efficiency, reduce operational costs, improve safety and security, and support sustainability goals. Utilizing AI for controlling energy consumption can clearly boost efficiency and reduce costs. Traditionally, energy management is reactive, relying on observed patterns and manual adjustments. However, AI integration enables predictive energy management by analyzing extensive data, forecasting future energy needs, and facilitating optimized smart grid application for energy consumption. AI systems autonomously adjust settings by considering external weather conditions, internal heat generated by fab equipment, and the occupancy levels of floor-workers. Smart thermostats, equipped with learning capabilities, can adapt to optimize temperatures, balancing efficiency with comfort.
In the AI integrated safety systems, for example video analytics is instrumental in real-time monitoring of video feeds, proficient at detecting anomalies, unauthorized entries, or unsafe behaviors through data-driven decisions. Improving air quality and particle control in semiconductor fabs are crucial due to the sensitive nature of semiconductor manufacturing. Even microscopic particles can result in defects in semiconductor chips, causing significant financial losses. AI systems offer continuous, real-time monitoring of air quality and particle levels, utilizing data from an array of sensors throughout the fab for immediate anomaly detection and increased particle level awareness. Additionally, AI can maintain an optimal balance between holding stringent air quality standards and sustaining energy efficiency, thereby reducing operational costs without compromising the integrity of the cleanroom environment .
Wafer Test with predictive capability
Wafer testing is a critical stage in semiconductor manufacturing, ensuring that each chip meets the specified performance criteria. AI applications enhance this process by analyzing test data to identify patterns that correlate with potential chip failures. This predictive capability enables early detection of faulty chips, reducing waste and improving overall yield. AI algorithms can optimize testing protocols, reducing test time without compromising reliability. This not only accelerates time-to-market but also contributes to cost savings by increasing the throughput of the testing stage .
Advanced Packaging with intelligent optimization
In the fast-paced world of semiconductor manufacturing, the demand for high-performance computing solutions has led to the development of advanced packaging technologies such as Through-Silicon Vias (TSV) and 3D stacking integration . As the industry looks for ways to improve bandwidth, power consumption, and overall performance, AI is emerging as a key driver in optimizing the design, manufacturing, and testing processes associated with these cutting-edge technologies. AI algorithms are employed for the layout optimization for 3D stacked structures, customized thermal management enabling dynamic adjustment to the system’s cooling mechanism, and smart testing methods to assure quality. The combined effort between AI algorithms and advanced packaging techniques not only accelerates the design and manufacturing processes but also enhances the overall reliability and performance of vertically stacked CPU, GPU, memory chip, etc. .
Challenges and Future Prospects
The integration of AI applications opens a new era in semiconductor manufacturing, where innovation and efficiency go side-by-side. From circuit design to packaging, these technologies enable manufacturing to establish seamless processes and improve quality. While the adoption of AI in semiconductor manufacturing holds immense promise, still its challenges remain. Data security, algorithm/model robustness, and the need for skilled personnel to develop and manage these advanced systems are areas that require careful consideration. The benefits of AI applications in semiconductor manufacturing are large, reshaping traditional approaches and opening doors to unprecedented possibilities. As we move forward, continued research and development in this field will undoubtedly unlock even greater potential, leading in a new era of innovation and efficiency for the semiconductor industry.
The application of AI in semiconductor manufacturing sets a transformative era, reconstructing circuit design, fabrication processes, inline monitoring, wafer testing, and advanced packaging. AI’s impact is evident in circuit design, where predictive modeling and optimization algorithms enhance creativity, expedite iterations, and reduce errors. In fabrication processes, AI optimizes precision, efficiency, and equipment lifespan through predictive maintenance and parameter optimization. Real-time quality assurance in inline monitoring improves with AI’s defect detection accuracy. Wafer testing benefits from AI’s predictive capabilities, accelerating time-to-market. AI’s role in advanced packaging enhances design, manufacturing processes, and testing, leading to a new era of innovation and efficiency. While challenges persist, the ongoing research assures to open greater potential, driving the semiconductor industry towards exceptional possibilities.
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Sam is the semiconductor industry lead at Infosys Consulting. He has close to 30 years experience advising large multinational clients globally in enterprise digital transformation, manufacturing technology and processes, product engineering, and process improvements. In addition to his consulting experience, he held key leadership positions at Samsung Electronics and Foxconn.
Wonjoo is a Principal Consultant with CMT practice specialized in semiconductor manufacturing at Infosys Consulting. He has more than 20 years engineering experience in yield and quality improvement of semiconductor devices from top leading semiconductor manufacturers including Samsung Electronics, Micron Technology and Western Digital.