Announced today at SEMICON West 2020, when work around the world ground to a halt as humans sought to stop coronavirus, an unsurprising “essential” segment of the global economy proved capable of proceeding apace, keeping people employed and technology moving ahead. That, and the next steps for helping to keep the microelectronics business on schedule, were among news shared at the annual West Views Media Conference.
Standards are making it possible for thousands of tech staff to keep working through COVID shutdowns – and whatever happens next – should another pandemic hit. Substantial credit is given to a broad adoption of uniform standards, accepted and utilized across the industry, globally providing a logical foundation for factory automation.
As a result, new standards gleaned from lessons being gained right now are proposed for approval and release in the coming months. James Amano, senior director of International Standards for SEMI, announced the candidate standards today.
Amano indicated that invaluable preparation has become readily apparent during the past few months, when fab operations hummed along despite COVID. For example, suppliers of software that is used to diagnose and manage semiconductor manufacturing tools remotely, saw its usage more than double between February and April. It has remained at record-high usage levels during May and June. He said that with the groundwork established by standards, a lot of technicians have continued to handle vital diagnostics and control, but from home.
Further, across multiple industries, standards-enabled augmented reality (AR) transitioned from experiment to everyday tool, widening its adoption and permitting tech workers to train colleagues remotely rather than in person.
“The pandemic has put a spotlight on the fact that a lot of chipmaker suppliers can use tablets, headsets or goggles to do work that once required traveling engineers,” Amano said. “Thanks to SEMI and committees comprised of more than 5,000 Standards volunteers, there is no hodgepodge of differing remote connectivity solutions across different platforms, nor the accompanying accidental cybersecurity threats.”
This is particularly true for a common consumer item: cars, noted Dave Anderson, SEMI Americas president and host organizer for SEMICON West.
“Automobiles now contain hundreds of microchips, so carmakers are big proponents and users of industry standards,” Anderson observed. “The global auto industry can teach other businesses new lessons about how standards can strengthen and advance industries. And at the same time, the auto industry can learn more about machine interface and data communications standards from the semiconductor industry”
Meanwhile, chipmakers welcome technology that limits people within their cleanrooms.
“You want to minimize how often people come close to wafers, much less touch them – especially at leading-edge fabs where semiconductor recipe changes can occur every few months,” Anderson said.
Anderson also predicts the COVID crisis will accelerate widespread interest in standards.
What’s next for cybersecurity and standards
Among takeaways already being surfaced during the pandemic is the need for accelerated development of standards with ever-more comprehensive cybersecurity specifications. In an increasingly competitive world, such standards will help to sustain uninterrupted progress during a next crisis, including another quarantine. Underscored by the pandemic, two draft standards are underway.
Intel and Cimetrix are leading SEMI Draft Document 6566, Specification for Malware-Free Equipment Integration, refining it to define protocols for pre-shipment scans of equipment as well as various types of ongoing support, including file transfers, maintenance patches, and component replacement. Importantly, the team’s aim is for the desired standard to introduce steps to “harden” equipment software and make it less vulnerable to cyberattacks. The measures will be evaluated against third-party frameworks, such as the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) and Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS).
Second, TSMC and Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) are leading SEMI Draft Document 6506,Specification for Cybersecurity of Fab Equipment, which defines a common, minimum set of security requirements for fab equipment. The standard will provide a baseline focusing on four major components of fab equipment: operating systems, network security, endpoint protection, and security monitoring. Once approved by the global SEMI Information and Control Committee, the goal will be to scale requirements as malware threats evolve.