Semiconductor Metrology – At the Core of Chip Market Explosive Growth

Semiconductors are at the heart of AI revolution, and demand is set to grow for years to come.  

Manufacturing semis is complex and there are just a handful of companies making them. Small is beautiful here and manufacturers continuously strive to produce smaller semiconductors. The reason for this is the improved performance and reduced power consumption provided by smaller components. A smaller semiconductor means that more transistors can be placed on a chip, therefore enhancing performance. Furthermore, a smaller size also allows for more computing tasks to be performed at a lower temperature.

What is Metrology

A crucial step for successful nano chips production is metrology. Metrology is the science of measuring and characterizing physical and electrical properties of wafers.

Metrology generally means a method of measuring numbers and volumes, mainly by using metrology equipment.

Metrology, though often considered synonymous with measurement, is a more comprehensive concept that refers not only to an act of measurement itself but to measurement performed by factoring in errors and accuracy, as well as the performance and mechanisms of metrology equipment. If pattern measurements are not within a given specification range, a manufactured device does not operate as designed, in which case the exposure transfer of the circuit patterns may be reworked.

In order to design and manufacture a high performance integrated circuit cost-effectively, several parameters of the manufacturing process need to be carefully controlled: film thicknesses and material properties must be accurate, uniform, and controlled; linewidths and edge profiles must fall within tight limits; and the devices need to be free of defects that affect yield. Thin film metrology and wafer inspection for defects are integral to controlling the semiconductor manufacturing process. Film properties, linewidths, and defect levels need to be measured, first to optimize the manufacturing process, then later to ensure that it is operating under control.

Why Metrology is Crucial

Metrology and wafer defects detection are vital in semiconductor fabrication since they provide the means to monitor and control the quality of each step in the manufacturing sequence.

In the semiconductor industry, the continual demand for denser integrated circuits with higher performance and higher speeds drives technological advances in all facets of manufacturing. A key to the success of semiconductor processing is an understanding of the chemical, mechanical, and kinetic properties of the wide range of materials used to make a typical circuit.

Placing and maintaining a process under control is the key factor for any production. This is even more true for the very demanding semiconductor and semiconductor like manufacturing processes, which can be considered some of the most complex ones, that requires the control of an increasing number of parameters. Not to forget that semiconductor is a brittle and hard material that requires dedicated machine tools to slice, lap, thin, get intelligent and finally cut the die.

In order to improve and maintain high yield, inspection and metrology are key factors. They are also crucial for the management of the semiconductor manufacturing process to find defects on both patterned and unpatterned wafers.

Metrology and inspection are important for the management of the semiconductor manufacturing process. There are 400 to 600 steps in the overall manufacturing process of semiconductor wafers, which are undertaken in the course of one to two months. If any defects occur early on in the process, all the work undertaken in the subsequent time-consuming steps will be wasted.

Metrology and inspection processes are therefore established at critical points of semiconductor manufacturing process to ensure that a certain yield can be confirmed and maintained.

Newly designed devices may go through several thousand metrology processes for one wafer during the start-up period of manufacture.

Growth Potential

The global semiconductor metrology and inspection market size was valued at $7.3 billion in 2021, and is projected to reach $13.3 billion by 2031, growing at a CAGR of 6.2% from 2022 to 2031.

The semiconductor metrology and inspection market is witnessing growth owing to expansion of semiconductor industry in countries such as China, the U.S. and India. Further, increase in demand for electronic products such as smartphones, wearables, laptop, computers, television and others, are creating growth opportunities for the market. Moreover, growth in demand for hybrid circuits from medical, military, photonics, and wireless electronics applications are propelling the semiconductor metrology and inspection market opportunities. However, fluctuation of raw material prices is expected to hinder the market growth.

Moreover, nations such as China, South Korea, the U.S. and India are witnessing increase in investments for semiconductors manufacturing industries. For instance, in June 2022, the Indian government announced that India will spend $30 billion to restructure its IT industry and build up a semiconductor supply chain. The investment initiative is aimed to boost local production of semiconductors, displays, advanced chemicals, networking and telecom equipment, as well as batteries and electronics. All such factors are fueling the semiconductor metrology and inspection market growth.

Top Companies

Major players have adopted various strategies such as product launch and acquisition to sustain the competition and improve the product portfolio. For instance, in January 2022, Nova Ltd. acquired Ancosys GmbH, which is a leading provider of chemical analysis and metrology solutions for advanced semiconductor manufacturing.

One great company in metrology is ASML that makes complete chip manufacturing machines.  ASML machines make the most advanced computer chips and it’s the only company in the world with that kind of technology.

Semiconductor is a long term growth story.

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