The global semiconductor business grows and grows. And given our increasing dependence upon all things electronic, it’s difficult to see a time when that won’t be the case. Look at the growth in mobile devices as an example, Gartner says that a billion smartphones were shipped in 2014. IDC forecast that number to increase to 1.4 billion in 2015. Whatever the application, manufacturers are continually exploring the boundaries of miniaturization to increase the features and reduce size and power requirements for leading edge integrated circuits (ICs).
As R&D do what they do in semiconductor design, the investment in chip production is equally eye-catching. Samsung made the headlines around a year ago when it announced its intention to construct a new production plant costing an incredible $15 billion, and to have it in operation by 2017. The investment will help to support the company’s leading position in the computer memory DRAM market, where its 41% share was worth $5,369 billion in Q4 2014 alone. It’s big business and the new facility will accommodate five production lines with a predicted capacity of at least 300,000 300mm wafers each month.
With so much riding on innovation to drive higher levels of penetration of electronic goods into consumer markets, it’s clear that the economics of production have to be kept right. Obviously, manufacturing output needs to meet higher levels of demand for silicon, but in today’s world it also has to minimize the environmental impact of operations, reducing energy consumption wherever possible. At the same time, production has to be reliable.
Key to reliable production is a reliable and clean utility supply. Plant capacity has to be continuously available with no unplanned outages. A power event has major financial consequences, for example, in a facility as large as the one that Samsung is building; the cost of downtime can easily run into millions of dollars per hour. At the same time, a failure in the power supply also presents a significant human risk to machine operators, increasing insurance costs and liabilities, which need to be factored in to overhead.
But it’s not just blackouts which are a challenge to IC manufacturing. The machinery used in semiconductor production is very precisely calibrated for an industry where units are measured in nanometres. With tolerances this small, even minor voltage fluctuations in the utility power supply can create serious problems with wafer-to-wafer and run-to-run quality, waste and lost productivity. As new technologies requiring even more powerful chips continue to proliferate there is a growing sense of urgency to:
- Increase system availability
- Satisfy increasing requirements yield
- Ensure 100% reliable supply of key utility to production room
- Lower environmental impact of fab operations
- Reduce energy consumption
Uniquely positioned to meet the specific challenges of semiconductor environments, Schneider Electric provides a wide range of solutions to enhance the availability of utility power throughout the many different manufacturing processes, including reliable and adaptable uninterruptible power supplies (UPS).
UPS are critical components to ensure excellent power quality for the most sensitive applications in semiconductor production, mitigating the effects of various power disturbances including outages, spikes, surges, brownouts and other transients. For further information, the white paper entitled “The Seven Types of Power Problems” can be freely downloaded from Schneider Electric’s website. If you would like to see more about the Schneider Electric solutions for semiconductor manufacturing, please click the link.