We use semiconductors for practically everything
Microprocessors and the semiconductors they use are the small but formidable brains that help power our society. For most of us, these chips remain invisible, even though they are engineered into virtually every modern product – from your car to your phone to the toaster in your kitchen.
So the chip shortage is painful
However, during the recent chip shortage, our favorite products suddenly became more expensive and difficult to obtain. In a constant state of high and growing demand and produced by fabs that run non-stop, COVID-damaged supply chains and logistics have reminded us how much we rely on the fabrication of these chips.
Semicon manufacturers must make more chips even faster
For semiconductor manufacturers, among whom competition is fierce and success hinges upon incredibly small advantages, the goal is clear: Build new semicon fabs faster, increase the production capacity of existing fabs, and reduce chips’ time-to-market.
The recipe for more speed requires careful attention to design and construction
Expanding semiconductor production capacity requires more fabs be built. According to SEMI, semiconductor manufacturers will have started construction on 19 new high-volume fabs by the end of this year and break ground on 10 more in 2022. These projects, however, are far from trivial. In our experience working with semiconductor manufacturers, we see two major factors for success:
- Building modeling and construction process: Today, many semiconductor fab projects take advantage of BIM 4D, which encompasses 3D modeling and project scheduling. However, it lacks the valuable financial planning element of BIM 5D.
- Designing and simulating the fab’s power system: Today, during the design stage of new semiconductor fabs, consultants and engineers often spend more time designing the fab’s mechanical and process systems, which means they have less time to dedicate to power and electrical design. As a result, there is a tendency to reuse existing electrical systems from past projects. This has some downsides:
- First, semiconductors manufacturers might not be able to optimize their existing design, missing an opportunity to improve their system and save costs.
- Second, some manufacturers are building in new geographies where they cannot repurpose past project designs because of local requirements and standards.
Digital tools and specialized expertise make designs better and construction smoother
To improve design and speed up construction of new semiconductor fabs, there are two important resources to leverage – the first is powerful digital tools and the second is expertise:
- Today’s best digital tools bring certain advantages:
- First, take the example of RIB. This BIM 5D tool smooths the construction phase and includes not only traditional 3D modeling and optimum project scheduling that mitigates errors, but also includes the financial planning piece. This cost component means better visibility and tracking of material delivery milestones (BOM references) so project cash flow can be properly managed – a strong advantage in the context of capex-intensive semiconductor investments. The integration of all 5 dimensions of BIM 5D brings many advantages through project automation, including the immediate visibility of the consequences of a design change on construction schedule and cost.
- As a second example, ETAP is industry-leading software to design, simulate, and optimize power systems architectures and reduce design errors. Many of the world’s top manufacturers rely on it to develop power systems that meet the most rigorous of operational and quality requirements, such as those demanded by semiconductor fabs.
- Expertise: A power systems expert group with a history of success serving semiconductor manufacturers, such as Schneider Electric’s Electra team, bring big value to many aspects of a semiconductor fab: MV/LV electrical distribution, secured power solutions, power monitoring and automation. Let’s take two examples:
- First, through co-design: Power systems expert groups like Electra can work in direct collaboration with semiconductor customers on electrical distribution design, development, and optimization – including with technology workshops and technical support. They can also deliver reference designs and technical studies.
- A second example is by translating existing designs into a different standard, when setting up a new fab in a different geography (e.g., moving from Asia to the U.S., from IEC to the NEMA standard). And it works
First, take an example on the low voltage side. In one case, a major semiconductor manufacturer was defining their future electrical architecture to cope with increased power needs due to new tools like extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUVL), which requires 5 times more power. They were concerned about impact of higher harmonic contents from their new tools, and were undergoing analyses to increase the short circuit capacity of the installation. Schneider Electric’s experts worked with the customer and conducted harmonic studies and arc flash studies that clearly demonstrated that increasing the power source strength was not the optimal solution with the new tools, and in fact would increase arc flash risk in LV distribution and increase costs for NFPA 70 safety compliance. Alternative optimized solutions were then proposed to cope with the fab’s future needs, which allowed the company to ensure savings from the power supply design of future fabs.
Now look at a second example on the medium voltage side. One semiconductor company, to cope with the critical need for power availability in their fab, was using a complex backup HV power supply with expensive equipment in a parallel design. Following a detailed study by Schneider Electric experts, it became clear to the semiconductor manufacturer that they could achieve the same high level of availability through a change in its power supply architecture, substantially reducing its costs and system complexity. This solution has become the new standard HV/MV architecture for this company’s semiconductor fabs.
To learn more about how semiconductor manufacturers can make designs better and construction smoother, visit our semiconductor website.