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Wafer (electronics)

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Wafer (electronics)

Polished 12" and 6" silicon wafers. The notch in the left wafer and the flat cut into the right wafer indicates its crystallographic orientation (see below)
VLSI microcircuits fabricated on a 12-inch (300 mm) silicon wafer, before dicing and packaging

A wafer, also called a slice or substrate,[1] is a thin slice of semiconductor material, such as a crystalline silicon, used in electronics for the fabrication of integrated circuits and in photovoltaics for conventional, wafer-based solar cells. The wafer serves as the substrate for microelectronic devices built in and over the wafer and undergoes many microfabrication process steps such as doping or ion implantation, etching, deposition of various materials, and photolithographic patterning. Finally the individual microcircuits are separated (dicing) and packaged.


On the 13th of December 1965, American-Engineers Eric O Ernst, Donald J. Hurd and Gerard Seeley filed Patent US3423629A[2] while working under IBM. This Patent was for the first High-Capacity Epitaxial Apparatus and the methods to create the, now, Silicon Wafer.


2-inch (51 mm), 4-inch (100 mm), 6-inch (150 mm), and 8-inch (200 mm) wafers

Wafers are formed of highly pure (99.9999999% purity),[3] nearly defect-free single crystalline material.[4] One process for forming crystalline wafers is known as Czochralski growth invented by the Polish chemist Jan Czochralski. In this process, a cylindrical ingot of high purity monocrystalline semiconductor, such as silicon or germanium, is formed by pulling a seed crystal from a 'melt'.[5][6] Donor impurity atoms, such as boron or phosphorus in the case of silicon, can be added to the molten intrinsic material in precise amounts in order to dope the crystal, thus changing it into n-type or p-type extrinsic semiconductor.

The ingot is then sliced with a wafer saw (wire saw) and polished to form wafers.[7] The size of wafers for photovoltaics is 100–200 mm square and the thickness is 200–300 μm. In the future, 160 μm will be the standard.[8] Electronics use wafer sizes from 100–450 mm diameter. (The largest wafers made have a diameter of 450 mm but are not yet in general use.)

Cleaning, texturing and etching

Wafers are cleaned with weak acids to remove unwanted particles, or repair damage caused during the sawing process. When used for solar cells, the wafers are textured to create a rough surface to increase their efficiency. The generated PSG (phosphosilicate glass) is removed from the edge of the wafer in the etching.[9]

Wafer properties

Standard wafer sizes

Solar wafers on the conveyor
Completed solar wafer

Silicon wafers are available in a variety of diameters from 25.4 mm (1 inch) to 300 mm (11.8 inches).[10] Semiconductor fabrication plants (also known as fabs) are defined by the diameter of wafers that they are tooled to produce. The diameter has gradually increased to improve throughput and reduce cost with the current state-of-the-art fab considered to be 300 mm (12 inch), with the next standard projected to be 450 mm (18 inch).[11][12] Intel, TSMC and Samsung are separately conducting research to the advent of 450 mm "prototype" (research) fabs, though serious hurdles remain.

  • 1-inch (25 mm)
  • 2-inch (51 mm). Thickness 275 µm.
  • 3-inch (76 mm). Thickness 375 µm.
  • 4-inch (100 mm). Thickness 525 µm.
  • 5-inch (130 mm) or 125 mm (4.9 inch). Thickness 625 µm.
  • 150 mm (5.9 inch, usually referred to as "6 inch"). Thickness 675 µm.
  • 200 mm (7.9 inch, usually referred to as "8 inch"). Thickness 725 µm.
  • 300 mm (11.8 inch, usually referred to as "12 inch"). Thickness 775 µm.
  • 450 mm (17.7 inch, usually referred to as "18 inch"). Thickness 925 µm (expected).[13]

Wafers grown using materials other than silicon will have different thicknesses than a silicon wafer of the same diameter. Wafer thickness is determined by the mechanical strength of the material used; the wafer must be thick enough to support its own weight without cracking during handling.

A unit wafer fabrication step, such as an etch step or a lithography step, can be performed on more chips per wafer as roughly the square of the increase in wafer diameter, while the cost of the unit fabrication step goes up more slowly than the square of the wafer diameter. This is the cost basis for shifting to larger and larger wafer sizes. Conversion to 300 mm wafers from 200 mm wafers began in earnest in 2000, and reduced the price per die about 30-40%.[14] However, this was not without significant problems for the industry.

There is considerable resistance to moving up to 450 mm despite the expected productivity improvement, mainly because companies feel it would take too long to recoup their investment.[15] Machinery needed to handle and process larger wafers results in increased investment costs to build a single factory. Lithographer Chris Mack claimed in 2012 that the overall price per die for 450 mm wafers would be reduced by only 10-20% compared to 300 mm wafers, because presently over 50% of total wafer processing costs are lithography-related. Converting to larger 450 mm wafers would reduce price per die only for process operations such as etch where cost is related to wafer count, not wafer area. Cost for processes such as lithography is proportional to wafer area, and larger wafers would not reduce the lithography contribution to die cost.[16] Nikon plans to deliver 450-mm lithography equipment in 2015, with volume production in 2017.[17][18] In November 2013 ASML paused development of 450-mm lithography equipment, citing uncertain timing of chipmaker demand.[19]

The time-line for 450 mm has not been fixed as of 2014. Mark Durcan, CEO of Micron Technology, said in February 2014 that he expects 450 mm adoption to be delayed indefinitely or discontinued. “I am not convinced that 450mm will ever happen but, to the extent that it does, it’s a long way out in the future. There is not a lot of necessity for Micron, at least over the next five years, to be spending a lot of money on 450mm. There is a lot of investment that needs to go on in the equipment community to make that happen. And the value at the end of the day – so that customers would buy that equipment – I think is dubious.”[20] As of March 2014, Intel Corporation expects 450 mm deployment by 2020 (by the end of this decade).[21] Mark LaPedus of reported in mid-2014 that chipmakers had previously set 2016 to 2018, though this has been delayed “for the foreseeable future.” According to this report some observers expect 2018 to 2020, while “G. Dan Hutcheson, chief executive of VLSI Research, doesn’t see 450mm fabs moving into production until 2020 to 2025.”[22]

The step up to 300 mm required a major change from the past, with fully automated factories using 300 mm wafers versus barely automated factories for the 200 mm wafers. These major investments were undertaken in the economic downturn following the dot-com bubble, resulting in huge resistance to upgrading to 450 mm by the original timeframe. Other initial technical problems in the ramp up to 300 mm included vibrational effects, gravitational bending (sag), and problems with flatness. Among the new problems in the ramp up to 450 mm are that the crystal ingots will be 3 times heavier (total weight a metric ton) and take 2-4 times longer to cool, and the process time will be double.[23] All told, the development of 450 mm wafers require significant engineering, time, and cost to overcome.

Analytical die count estimation

In order to minimize the cost per die, manufacturers wish to maximize the number of dies that can be made from a single wafer; dies always have a square or rectangular shape due to the constraint of wafer dicing. In general, this is a computationally complex problem with no analytical solution, dependent on both the area of the dies as well as their aspect ratio (square or rectangular) and other considerations such as scribeline size and the space occupied by alignment and test structures. Note that gross DPW formulas account only for wafer area that is lost because it cannot be used to make physically complete dies; gross DPW calculations do not account for yield loss due to defects or parametric issues.

Wafermap showing fully patterned dies, and partially patterned dies which don't fully lie within the wafer.

Nevertheless, the number of gross die per wafer (DPW) can be estimated starting with the first-order approximation or wafer-to-die area ratio,

DPW = \left\lfloor\frac{\pi d^2}{4S}\right\rfloor,

where d is the wafer diameter (typically in mm) and S the size of each die (mm2). This formula simply states that the number of dies which can fit on the wafer cannot exceed the area of the wafer divided by the area of each individual die. It will always overestimate the true best-case gross DPW, since it includes the area of partially patterned dies which do not fully lie on the wafer surface (see figure). These partially patterned dies don't represent complete ICs, so they cannot be sold as functional parts.

Refinements of this simple formula typically add an edge correction, to account for partial dies on the edge, which in general will be more significant when the area of the die is large compared to the total area of the wafer. In the other limiting case (infinitesimally small dies or infinitely large wafers), the edge correction is negligible.

The correction factor or correction term generally takes one of the forms cited by De Vries,[24]

DPW = \frac{\displaystyle \pi d^2}{4S} - \frac{\displaystyle \pi d}{\sqrt{2S}} (area ratio - circumference/(die diagonal length))
or DPW = \left(\frac{\displaystyle \pi d^2}{4S}\right) \exp(-2 \sqrt{S}/d) (area ratio scaled by an exponential factor)
or DPW = \frac{\displaystyle \pi d^2}{4S} \left(1 - \frac{\displaystyle 2\sqrt{S}}{d} \right)^2 (area ratio scaled by a polynomial factor)

Studies comparing these analytical formulas to brute-force computational results show that the formulas can be made more accurate, over practical ranges of die sizes and aspect ratios, by adjusting the coefficients of the corrections to values above or below unity, and by replacing the linear die dimension \sqrt{S} with (H+W)/2 (average side length) in the case of dies with large aspect ratio:[24]

DPW = \frac{\displaystyle \pi d^2}{4S} - 0.58^{*} \frac{\displaystyle \pi d}{\sqrt{S}}
or DPW = \left(\frac{\displaystyle \pi d^2}{4S}\right) \exp(-2.32^{*} \sqrt{S}/d)
or DPW = \frac{\displaystyle \pi d^2}{4S} \left(1 - \frac{\displaystyle 1.16^{*} \sqrt{S}}{d} \right)^2

Crystalline orientation

Diamond Cubic Crystal Structure, Silicon unit cell
Flats can be used to denote doping and crystallographic orientation. Red represents material that has been removed.

Wafers are grown from crystal having a regular crystal structure, with silicon having a diamond cubic structure with a lattice spacing of 5.430710 Å (0.5430710 nm).[25] When cut into wafers, the surface is aligned in one of several relative directions known as crystal orientations. Orientation is defined by the Miller index with (100) or (111) faces being the most common for silicon.[25] Orientation is important since many of a single crystal's structural and electronic properties are highly anisotropic. Ion implantation depths depend on the wafer's crystal orientation, since each direction offers distinct paths for transport.[26] Wafer cleavage typically occurs only in a few well-defined directions. Scoring the wafer along cleavage planes allows it to be easily diced into individual chips ("dies") so that the billions of individual circuit elements on an average wafer can be separated into many individual circuits.

Wafer flats and crystallographic orientation notches

Wafers under 200 mm diameter have flats cut into one or more sides indicating the crystallographic planes of the wafer (usually a {110} face). In earlier-generation wafers a pair of flats at different angles additionally conveyed the doping type (see illustration for conventions). Wafers of 200 mm diameter and above use a single small notch to convey wafer orientation, with no visual indication of doping type.[27]

Impurity doping

Silicon wafers are generally not 100% pure silicon, but are instead formed with an initial impurity doping concentration between 1013 and 1016 atoms per cm3 of boron, phosphorus, arsenic, or antimony which is added to the melt and defines the wafer as either bulk n-type or p-type.[28] However, compared with single-crystal silicon's atomic density of 5×1022 atoms per cm3, this still gives a purity greater than 99.9999%. The wafers can also be initially provided with some interstitial oxygen concentration. Carbon and metallic contamination are kept to a minimum.[29] Transition metals, in particular, must be kept below parts per billion concentrations for electronic applications.[30]

Compound semiconductors

While silicon is the prevalent material for wafers used in the electronics industry, other compound III-V or II-VI materials have also been employed. Gallium arsenide (GaAs), a III-V semiconductor produced via the Czochralski process, is also a common wafer material.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Phillip A. Laplante (2005). Comprehensive dictionary of electrical engineering (2nd ed.). CRC Press.  
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Semi" SemiSource 2006: A supplement to Semiconductor International. December 2005. Reference Section: How to Make a Chip. Adapted from Design News. Reed Electronics Group.
  4. ^ SemiSource 2006: A supplement to Semiconductor International. December 2005. Reference Section: How to Make a Chip. Adapted from Design News. Reed Electronics Group.
  5. ^ Levy, Roland Albert (1989). Microelectronic Materials and Processes. pp. 1–2.  
  6. ^ a b Grovenor, C. (1989). Microelectronic Materials. CRC Press. pp. 113–123.  
  7. ^ Nishi, Yoshio (2000). Handbook of Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology. CRC Press. pp. 67–71.  
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Silicon Wafer". Retrieved 2008-02-23. 
  11. ^ Intel, Samsung, TSMC reach agreement about 450mm tech
  12. ^ Presentations/PDF/FEP.pdf ITRS Presentation (PDF)
  13. ^ Industry Agrees on first 450-mm wafer standard -
  14. ^ : Approaching Industry Goals300 for
  15. ^ 450 mm: A Promise Postponed
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ "Nikon appointing head of precision equipment business as new president" (Press release). Japan: Nikon Corp. semiconportal. 2014-05-20. Nikon plans to introduce 450mm wafer lithography systems for volume production in 2017. 
  18. ^ LaPedus, Mark (2013-09-13). "Litho Roadmap Remains Cloudy". (Sperling Media Group LLC). Retrieved 2014-07-14. Nikon plans to ship 'early learning tools' by 2015. 'As we have said, we will be shipping to meet customer orders in 2015,' said Hamid Zarringhalam, executive vice president at Nikon Precision. 
  19. ^ "ASML 2013 Annual Report Form (20-F)" (XBRL). United States Securities and Exchange Commission. February 11, 2014. In November 2013, following our customers’ decision, ASML decided to pause the development of 450mm lithography systems until customer demand and the timing related to such demand is clear. 
  20. ^ [2]
  21. ^ "Intel says 450 mm will deploy later in decade". 2014-03-18. Retrieved 2014-05-31. 
  22. ^ LaPedus, Mark (2014-05-15). "Is 450mm Dead In The Water?". (California: Sperling Media Group LLC). Archived from the original on 2014-06-05. Retrieved 2014-06-04. Intel and the rest of the industry have delayed the shift to 450 mm fabs for the foreseeable future, leaving many to ponder the following question—Is 450 mm technology dead in the water? The answer: 450 mm is currently treading water. 
  23. ^ Wafer Thickness for 450 mm
  24. ^ a b Dirk K. de Vries. "Investigation of gross die per wafer formulas". IEEE Transactions on Semiconductor Manufacturing (February 2005): 136–139.  
  25. ^ a b O'Mara, William C. (1990). Handbook of Semiconductor Silicon Technology. William Andrew Inc. pp. 349–352.  
  26. ^ Nishi, Yoshio (2000). Handbook of Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology. CRC Press. pp. 108–109.  
  27. ^ "Wafer Flats". Retrieved 2008-02-23. 
  28. ^ Widmann, Dietrich (2000). Technology of Integrated Circuits. Springer. p. 39.  
  29. ^ Levy, Roland Albert (1989). Microelectronic Materials and Processes. pp. 6–7, 13.  
  30. ^ Rockett, Angus (2008). The Materials Science of Semiconductors. p. 13.  

External links

  • Everything Wafers - A guide to semiconductor substrates type, property, cleaving, etching, and fabrication.
  • Die per wafer calculator by Michael Hackerott - includes many options for die size, spacing, and other layout considerations
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