Viewpoint - Uwe Wagner
January 21, 2021

VIEWPOINT 2021: Uwe Wagner, Chief Technology Officer, 3D-Micromac AG

VIEWPOINT 2021: Uwe Wagner, Chief Technology Officer, 3D-Micromac AG
Uwe Wagner, Chief Technology Officer, 3D-Micromac AG
The semiconductor industry has shown surprising resilience in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic, with continued growth forecasted for 2021. The pace of semiconductor innovation has also not slowed down. However, as costs and technical challenges associated with new devices and packaging continue to mount — especially with the migration to 3D heterogeneous integration — finding new ways to reduce cycle times will be critical to manufacturers' bottom lines.

Microstructure diagnostics and failure analysis (FA) are important steps to reduce development cycle times and bring new products to market. Yet, the process of preparing samples from semiconductor wafers, dies and packages for FA is itself time-consuming and costly.

Focused ion beam (FIB) micromachining, the primary method of sample preparation used in semiconductor manufacturing today, can take several hours to prepare a typical sample. FIB only allows for very small sample sizes, and precious FIB time is wasted by "digging" excavations needed for cross-sectional imaging in a SEM or making a TEM lamella. Reaching larger depths or widths is severely restricted by the limited ablation rate.

Over the past 60 years, lasers have found many applications in science and technology, and have proven to be reliable processing tools in many industries. Since laser radiation consists of just photons, lasers are contamination-free. Their extremely-high-energy densities can be focused to small diameters. By reducing pulse lengths from a few nanoseconds to the pico- or femtosecond range, superficial surface heat damage from ablation can be reduced to depths of a few microns or less.

By off-loading the vast majority of sample prep work from FIB tools and relegating FIB to final polishing or replacing it completely depending on application, laser micromachining can reduce time to final sample to less than one hour in many cases. As a result, the semiconductor industry is reexamining the role of laser micromachining as a new tool to accelerate sample preparation for semiconductor FA.

Uwe Wagner, Chief Technology Officer
3D-Micromac AG
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