When failure is not an option

by:Nick McNeal, Pragati Verma, Thyag Sadasiwan

Electric vehicles. Sensor-embedded Smart Devices. 5G and 6G connectivity. Quantum computing. What do they all have in common? They require chips made from compound semiconductors, handling the high voltages and powers that silicon can’t.

As the demand for compound semiconductors soars, what do the manufacturers of these devices need besides more deposition and etch tools, and more substrates? It’s a steady supply of some inconspicuous yet indispensable components that are critical for manufacturing new generations of compound semiconductor devices.

Chemraz Seals: Unsung Heroes

At Greene Tweed, we engineer sealing solutions that outperform and outlast in the world’s harshest semiconductor manufacturing applications. They are a remarkable example of what we do, working behind the scenes to empower the intricate machinery of chipmaking. For 160 years, we’ve been equipping critical sectors with materials and engineered components that deliver certainty during crucial operations.

For instance, our perfluoroelastomer (FFKM) Chemraz o-rings and sealing solutions meet the critical demands of modern chip fabrication. They are renowned for preventing contamination, while withstanding aggressive chemicals and extremely high temperatures.

For decades, we have been at the forefront of the complex FFKM production process. These high-performance materials need specific ingredients. Due to this, disruptions can occur when just a single ingredient is in short supply. During the last couple of years, an unexpected and tumultuous industry-wide supply crunch had gripped several FFKM ingredients. Exacerbating this situation, this supply shortage coincided with a global surge in the demand for chips. As a result, FFKM material was in short supply, just at the very moment when semiconductor manufacturers needed it to go into overdrive. This snared the FFKM industry in the epicentre of a perfect storm, where supply delays threatened to impede semiconductor availability and the resultant economic recovery.

If the recent silicon chip shortage has taught us anything, it’s the need to fortify supply chains for the components that are powering the intricate machinery of semiconductor manufacturing. Chipmakers are now acutely aware of how dependent the semiconductor industry is on FFKM seals, especially as they turn to more demanding processes that rely on ultraclean processing.

Greene Tweed was the first company in the US to use cleanroom manufacturing to produce our sealing solutions. We pioneered this move, because we intimately understand the significance of ultraclean operations in the semiconductor industry. We know that our seals have to perform in the harshest environments of modern semiconductor fabrication processes, where they are critical to improve uptime, reduce contamination and boost wafer yield.

Where second best isn’t good enough

Over the last couple of years, the demand for materials used to make SiC and GaN power devices has been soaring. As a result, sales of compound semiconductor substrate materials are set to more than double by 2027, according to Yole Intelligence. This French market analyst forecasts that the compound substrate material market will grow from $945 million in 2021 to $2.3 billion in 2027, equating to a compound annual growth rate of 17 percent.

To meet the growing demand for compound semiconductors, chipmakers need to step up manufacturing capacity and strengthen their supply chains for components such as FFKM seals, which are critical to manufacturing these chips. As a global leader in seals based on FFKM elastomers, we know second-best seals aren’t good enough in an industry as complex and challenging as semiconductor manufacturing. So, we have taken action to ensure a steady supply of our sealing solutions. This allows us to meet the burgeoning demand, while ensuring industry resilience and minimizing the impact of any future disruptions on the supply of FFKM materials.

We realise that the dynamic and fast-growing landscape of the compound semiconductor industry demands strategic planning and foresight. To enable our customers to do this, we are proactively taking measures to create robust business continuity plans and ensure a steady and uninterrupted supply. Our efforts began by conducting comprehensive risk assessments, identifying vulnerabilities, and developing contingency plans to mitigate potential disruptions. Following this deep exploration, we have rolled out four major initiatives. They will help us navigate this turbulent terrain, circumvent future disruptions, and secure a regular supply – all critical initiatives for helping us to drive our semiconductor customers’ continued growth and success.

To learn more about what we are doing to secure regular supply for our semiconductor customers’ growth and success, read the article originally published in Compound Semiconductor