Martin Mason, VP Product Development, Atonarp
The sub-fab component of semiconductor fabrication has for decades been somewhat of a secondary afterthought. And, unlike in the bright, glistening processing corridors of the main fab, sub-fab equipment is generally conceptually relegated to lower-level systems associated with basic tool management and waste handling tasks. However sub-fab applications have been seeing a resurgence as increased vacuum intensity and control along with new safety requirements from advanced process chemistry and related safety and abatement sustainability are driving a larger share of an already surging semiconductor equipment market.
The key components of a sub-fab include the dry vacuum pumps, combustion and absorber abatement systems, as well as water handling equipment and chillers, as well as bulk materials delivery and management. As today’s fabs become more and more complex, the lowly sub-fab comes to the fore as an increasingly more valuable component of the overall system. Sales of products used in the sub-fab area totaled around $2 billion in 2018.
However, as clients’ demands for greater sustainability drive fab operators to place an increasing importance on the impact that semiconductor manufacturing has on the environment, the once-overlooked sub-fab is now seen as a critical element for reducing the fab’s environmental footprint and increasing overall efficiency. Combined with increasingly stringent safety requirements, the growing importance being placed on sustainability and efficiency is giving rise to a greater focus on running sub-fab equipment smarter, with real-time in-situ monitoring and control.
Sub-fab managers have three main resources they need to manage: energy (electricity and natural gas), water and materials. By far the biggest challenge is materials management from both safety and sustainability. Green energy sources and carbon offsets are common, and water recovery and recycling are well understood and managed, however reduction and management of materials is very challenging and an area where the both the safety and sustainability issues are growing. Of course, to avoid costly downtime of the fab, the modern sub-fab must also meet the highest reliability standards and find solutions for safety and sustainability while dealing with the constant pressure for managing costs.
This article explains the three fundamental pillars of sub-fab management, along with the main challenges and the solution. Click here to read the full article in Semiconductor Digest magazine.