MUNICH; Germany A group of European chip manufacturers and academic institutions have gathered in a research project aiming at improving the competitiveness of European chip industry. The 'IMPROVE' project focuses on specific aspects of chip semiconductor production: virtual metrology and predictive maintenance.
IMPROVE stands for 'implementing manufacturing science solutions to increase productivity and fab performance'. The activities of the 35 research partners, coordinated by STMicroelectronics, aim at reducing manufacturing costs and speeding up wafer processing.
Predictive maintenance aims at processing large amounts of available data such as process parameter and measurement results from within the production in order to optimize maintenance cycles for the manufacturing equipment, explained Andreas Kyek, IMPROVE project manager for chip vendor Infineon. Within the project, tools to improve process monitoring throughout the entire manufacturing process will be developed. The implementation of predictive maintenance would be a paradigm shift, Kyek said. "The shift from "reactive" to "proactive" is the key lever in improving quality and boosting efficiency. Currently there are lots of ideas being discussed at conferences with respect to predictive maintenance, but no usable concepts", he said.
The second focus point of the project is virtual metrology. The concept aims at interpreting and extrapolating existing data to make some measurements disposable. This would help to save time and speed up the wafer's run through the production line.
According to Kyek, in particular the production of logic devices will benefit from the IMPROVE program since in this type of production the frequent change of products currently makes it difficult to generate sufficient amounts of statistical data.
The project is scheduled to run through 2011. Participants are chip vendors such as AMS, Atmel, Infineon, Intel and ST as well as a number of technology and software companies. Academic partners are a number of universities in Austria, Germany, France, Ireland and Italy as well as research organizations CEA LETI, Fraunhofer IISB and others.
Funding comes in part from the European Nanoelectronics Initiative Advisory Council (ENIAC) which contributes 16.7 percent of the total budget of 37.7 million (about $53.5 million) for industrial participants. In addition, national governments contribute significant amounts; the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) supports the project with Euro 3.5 million within its IKT 2020 funding program.