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Rapid scale up: microchip manufacturing equipment output

Upgrades to existing semiconductor plants and facilities are quick wins in closing the disproportionate gap between global supply and demand of microchips. Specialist clean technology teams are key to success.  

Expanding the capacity of a semiconductor plant that is still in full operation is like performing open-heart surgery due to the sensitive cleanroom environments. With high investment costs ranging between EUR 5-10 billion and long lead time for new build, expanding production in existing plants and upgrading facilities is the quickest route to closing the gap global microchip shortage.

Widespread  reliance on smart products, and hence for microchips, is unabated with a sharp upward trend on the back of the rapid commercialisation of artificial intelligence. Semiconductor manufacturing is among the most rapidly evolving industries in the world, with faster processing times and more features in new products.  

Keeping the show running 

Deerns has the deep domain knowledge to keep contaminants out of these working facilities, where even microscopic dust particles can interfere with the operation of miniscule chip components. There are exciting and unique challenges which we face together with our clients through to ensure that outdated facilities are future-proof in terms of capacity, quality, operational reliability and sustainability and that production continues.   This requires focus, a thorough approach, commitment, a strong and experienced project team used to consultation and coordination with production and facilities as well as Environment, Health and Safety departments. 

Case study: Fast tracked expansion 

Fast tracking the increase of production output was the obvious choice for a semiconductor manufacturer faced with resolving the tension between the unabated demand for microchips and long lead times for scale up. Installing more microchip manufacturing equipment was the easy part of the solution. Doing so in a shortened timeframe in a fully operational plant, already at full capacity, was however going to require specialist, smart and fast design and planning. 

Since this was first project of this magnitude with such a short lead time, the first step was to fast track a feasibility study in a workshop with Deerns, the client and main contractors. This turned out to be crucial not only for assessing the feasibility of the project, but also for keeping it on track. During the project, we faced several challenges, such as the impact of Covid-19, non-deliverable materials and delayed equipment delivery. We were working in a constant state of flux which brought moments of exasperation. Since we were all committed to making this a successful project, combined with the upfront team planning, we all started and ended the project with smiles on our faces.  

(High Purity) essential for microchip production 

Microchips are the most complex components in existence, requiring a highly sensitive manufacturing process. This involves hundreds of steps and uses all kinds of special gases and chemicals. Ultrapure water and operating High Purity materials chemicals are two of the important operating materials. Reliable quality, stable supply and purity are crucial for making highly complex component microchips. 

Ultra-pure water 

A microchip factory consumes 120 m³ of water in less than 60 minutes, depending on its size, compared to the same amount the average household uses about p.a. Balancing the high quality and supply demand in the entire system is key act from the purification process through to the pipe design. Ultra-pure water (UPW) is processed prior to and after each production step for the removal of residual products and contaminants, such as salts, minerals, metals and bacteria. Drinking water is reprocessed int a UPW polishing plant, and then distributed to consumers.  

Specialised team for high-purity chemical processes  

Microchip manufacturing involves a complex series of photolithographic and physical chemical processes involving harmful chemicals which can be irritating, corrosive, toxic and flammable.  Capacity expansions are often accompanied by more and new chemicals, introducing other risks to reduce and preferably eliminate.  Deerns ensure plant upgrade design complies with strict regulations across all facilities in the manufacturing process.  

Chemical Dispense Systems move chemicals from one place to another and form the backbone of the Wet Processing in the plant. In principle, the same considerations apply here as for UPW; that the system delivers the right chemicals to the machine at the right time, at the right quality and in the right quantity.  

Planning microelectronics production facilities requires specialist teams familiar with the various technical disciplines. At Deerns, we have the knowledge and expertise to understand the information required for this type of complex issue and arrive at Best-Fit Concepts using our holistic approach. Our consultants and  in our Process Critical Systems (PCS) group specialise in the Electronics and Life Sciences markets. We also work with specialist firms that build  installations which ensure quantity and high purity 24/7. 

Let’s talk

Vincent Jansen

Senior Project Manager