Smart Manufacturing Makes Semiconductor Fabrication and Advanced Electronics Possible

Vivek Jain

Aug 29, 2023 / 3 min read

It’s difficult to imagine our daily lives without the unseen but “always there” presence of semiconductors. From the moment we wake up with the assistance of our phone’s alarm clock function to unwinding after a busy day by streaming on entertainment devices, you can’t escape silicon in your routine. 

Semiconductor devices are ubiquitous in our everyday lives and foundational to today’s communication, education, manufacturing, health, and transportation industries. Over the last couple of decades, the technology for IC fabrication has shifted dramatically from microns to hundreds of nanometers to single-digit nanometers and is expected to shrink again to angstroms. And with this shrinkage in feature size comes a comparable increase in the complexity of the machines that build these advanced, sophisticated chips.

advanced semiconductor manufacturing

Semiconductor Manufacturing Today

Semiconductor fabs have developed into very complex factories to enable the production of these vital chips on which we all depend. For example, a cutting-edge fab requires an upfront capital investment of over $5 billion to produce trillions of transistors per minute, which are 2,000 times smaller than the width of a strand of human hair. Equally impressive is the fact that an average fab now produces over 10 petabytes of data every year. This data is collected in real time from hundreds of thousands of unique sensors interconnected to share information related to manufacturing chips at advanced nodes. This large data stream needs to be monitored and analyzed in a matter of seconds to guide fabs in achieving maximum efficiency.

There is a huge business incentive for semiconductor manufacturers to make transistors smaller, faster, and cheaper. However, this requires fabs to have the right expertise, equipment, and software to manufacture semiconductor chips at a large scale and with the speed necessary to meet competitive time-to-market requirements. Traditional techniques for monitoring and control of manufacturing processes are inadequate to fulfill these requirements because they aren’t scalable and usually become bottlenecked due to a lack of subject matter experts. In the past, a team of subject matter experts was expected to continuously increase productivity, solve any problem, and figure out how to produce new products, which came with their own set of obstacles. Due to the shortage of experts and the breakneck speeds of time to market, this is no longer possible to do effectively with only humans on the case.

Industry 4.0 and the Need for Software Solutions

Today, we are witnessing a paradigm shift in process control that requires modern software solutions to enable maximum semiconductor fab efficiency. Defined a decade ago, the vision of Industry 4.0 to digitize the manufacturing sector aligns seamlessly with the needs of advanced manufacturing chip fabs. Driven by disruptions, such as data scalability and connectivity, analytics, and optimized human-machine interaction, smart manufacturing practices are vital to the creation of semiconductors due to their sheer complexity. The realization of this Industry 4.0 vision is required for today’s semiconductor fabs. 

The latest artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technology enables automatic data analysis, supplements the knowledge and experience of subject matter experts in decision-making, and alerts fabs to potential process and yield issues. In addition, fabs can benefit from the recent industrialization of the cloud, which enables the connection of multiple fabs to further share learnings and enhance the process across fabs. When used effectively, software and data hosted in the cloud can sort and find the right data to analyze and use for optimizations, significantly diminish downtime, protect the greater supply chain from interruptions, help companies meet sustainability obligations, and, ultimately, beat out competitors.                

Put simply, software powered by AI and ML brings in the necessary process control paradigm shift mentioned earlier. Through analyzing petabytes of data across multiple fabs and assisting subject matter experts in the decision-making process, the right software allows manufacturers to drive toward the goal of “lights out” semiconductor fabs that require limited human interaction to run around the clock to increase productivity, enhance quality, and trim costs.

Synopsys’ Place in the Semiconductor Supply Chain

Synopsys is a leader in providing such software solutions to semiconductor fabs and the general electronics industry. Offering advanced capabilities in AI and machine learning, Synopsys recently launched, which is the industry’s first comprehensive solution suite to harness the power of AI from design to ramp and high-volume manufacturing. In addition, we have specialized expertise in the chip fabrication process, from IC design and mask synthesis to process and test and process control. The semiconductor industry needs the powerful software solutions that Synopsys uniquely offers to meet the ever-growing demands of the technology that powers our modern lifestyle.

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