【Lab Spotlight】Semiconductor Manufacturing Process: Key Technology Development in Taiwan | Nano-Electro-Mechanical Systems Research Center (Semiconductor Process Key Technology Platform)

Publish Date:2024-03-26 11:00:00

Introduction to the Research Center

The NTU Nano-Electro-Mechanical-Systems Research Center, which operates the Semiconductor Fabrication Lab of the Consortia of Key Technologies, is an academic research institution focusing on multidisciplinary semiconductor-related topics. It was funded by the National Science and Technology Council and launched in 1998. By continuously receiving government and industrial grants and University supports, the Center has expanded its space to 1200 square meter with seven full-time staffs to serve over 400 active users under breakeven financial status, providing training and qualification services of nanofabrication equipment for academic and industry users, as well as staff operation services. 

We are currently focusing on five key research topics: artificial intelligence, biomedicine, quantum computing, innovative semiconductor materials, and advanced semiconductor device fabrication. 

What is Semiconductor Manufacturing Process?

The semiconductor manufacturing process encompasses a series of steps, including design, manufacturing, packaging, and testing, with applications in transistors, discrete devices, and integrated circuits.

Design Phase: Using Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tools to design the arrangement and functionality of integrated circuits.

Manufacturing Phase: To prevent contamination, the manufacturing process is conducted in a cleanroom environment. Typical semiconductor processes include photolithography, thin film deposition, etching, chemical mechanical polishing (CMP), diffusion, and ion implantation. These processes result in the creation of patterns on silicon wafers, thus forming integrated circuits.

Testing Phase: Wafers are cut into individual chips, followed by packaging and testing to ensure performance and functionality.

Applications of Semiconductors in Daily Life

The semiconductor industry is deeply intertwined with our daily life. Through process innovations and functional diversification, semiconductors can be more flexibly and widely applied in various technologies in order to improve the people’s lives. As the world's fourth-largest traded commodity, trailing only behind crude oil, automotive parts, and petroleum, semiconductor chips provide capabilities of computation, communication, detection, and control, serving as the core of most modern technological applications in daily life. Whether it is consumer electronics (such as air conditioners, rice cookers, or central processing units of computers), digital products (such as smartphones and LED displays), or even in banking ATMs, trains, the internet, and other medical infrastructures, semiconductor applications are ubiquitous. In recent years, semiconductor applications have become more diverse. For example, efficient logistics systems can save a significant amount of energy, promoting environmental conservation. Additionally, the number of cars equipped with semiconductor devices is increasing annually. On average, a normal car houses around 1,400 semiconductor units. Notably, advanced driver assistance systems, which have been widely discussed recently, are one of the technological developments that is in urgent need of semiconductors.

Development of Taiwan's Semiconductor Industry

The semiconductor industry in Taiwan not only holds significant importance worldwide but also has an inseparable relationship with Taiwan's economic and industrial development. Taiwan's semiconductor industry has achieved remarkable success due to its robust ecosystem, gathering expertise from various fields. With the contributions of numerous suppliers and manufacturers, along with government support and Taiwan's well-established talent cultivation system in the semiconductor field, a conducive environment for development has been created, resulting in substantial production capacity. Taiwan's semiconductor industry holds an 18% market share globally, second only to the United States at 39%. More than 60% of the world's semiconductors are produced in Taiwan, with 90% being the most advanced semiconductors globally. In 2022, the semiconductor sector in Taiwan generated a value of USD 170 billion. This significant market share and value can be attributed to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world's largest semiconductor foundry. TSMC utilizes cutting-edge manufacturing processes to produce chips for renowned global clients such as Apple, Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA. Recently, TSMC has actively expanded its global presence by establishing factories overseas in countries like the United States, Japan, and Germany, broadening its global footprint.

Highlight of the Research Center

National Taiwan University (NTU) is committed to nurturing talents within the semiconductor industry and spearheading forward-thinking, innovative research initiatives. Through its dedication to cultivating professionals in related fields, NTU aims to drive research focusing on vision and creativity. Our center is committed to developing process technology and various related application studies. As a multidisciplinary academic research institution, we actively engage in research areas such as artificial intelligence, biomedical sciences, quantum computing, innovative semiconductor materials, and advanced semiconductor device manufacturing. In order to facilitate effective research, the National Science Council (NSC) and NTU have invested over three hundred million NT dollars to establish a well-equipped research center with comprehensive space planning. The center includes clean rooms, analysis rooms, thin film deposition rooms, etching rooms, and furnace rooms.

The center provides over 30 state-of-the-art semiconductor manufacturing equipment and tools. Among them is the maskless laser direct writing system, which, by controlling the laser dosage, is able to manufacture 3D grayscale micro/nanostructures in a single step. Additionally, the inductively coupled plasma reactive ion etching system (ICP-RIE) can etch various materials, including silicon, compound semiconductors, and metals. It can also perform silicon deep etching to create high aspect ratio structures. Furthermore, the pulsed laser deposition (PLD) equipment enables precise film thickness control by adjusting high-power pulsed laser parameters.

The research center is open to all students, scholars, and engineers from the industry who have undergone general laboratory safety and hazard awareness training. We also provide OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and testing services for industry and academic researchers. Therefore, students conducting experiments at the research center can collaborate with scholars and industry engineers, facilitating mutual learning and accelerating students' progress in their respective fields.

The center also considers nurturing semiconductor talents a core component of its long-term planning. Each year, we design distinctive semiconductor process courses tailored to students of different age groups, ranging from elementary to graduate school. Students gain hands-on experience in a cleanroom environment by personally using process equipment, thereby enhancing their practical skills.

The Vision and Future Development of the Center

In addition to continuously developing innovative process technologies to support the research and development needs of academic and industrial units domestically and internationally, our center is committed to serving as a bridge between academia and industry. We closely collaborate with crucial technology research institutes and research and development departments, assisting in establishing semiconductor process practical courses and cleanroom introductory training courses, providing students with more practical experience.

The center will continue acquiring advanced process equipment and enhancing the instrumentation and equipment required for nanoscale semiconductor processes, allowing students to understand advanced semiconductor processes through hands-on equipment operations.

Furthermore, the center will develop applied research in artificial intelligence, biomedical sciences, quantum computing, innovative semiconductor materials, and advanced semiconductor device manufacturing. We aim to continue driving forward-looking research and development.

Additionally, we look forward to opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration with scholars and researchers from internationally renowned institutions. By forming multinational scientific research teams, we can exchange and learn from each other's strengths, promoting innovation in various aspects of science and technology.