Precision ceramics: the key to solving the "neck" problem in the semiconductor industry!
In the 2022 National Peoples Congress, the democratic parties have put forward a series of proposals focusing on important decisions and deployments of the CPC Central Committee and the state, and on important livelihood issues of public concern, taking advantage of their own strengths and providing important references for scientific decision-making by the Party and the government. Peoples Daily Online - China Communist Party News Network and China United Front News Network jointly launched the column of "Selected Proposals of Democratic Parties for the 2022 National Committee of the Chinese Peoples Political Consultative Conference" to select some of the proposals to be submitted to the Fifth Session of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese Peoples Political Consultative Conference by the Central Committee of Democratic Parties. Among them, the Central Committee of the Taiwan League of Democrats (TLD) intends to submit a proposal on further accelerating the development of the semiconductor precision ceramic parts industry.
The proposal emphasizes that, as a key component of semiconductor production equipment, the development and production of precision ceramic components directly affects the development of semiconductor equipment manufacturing and even the entire semiconductor industry chain. It can be said that the precision ceramic components is the foundation of the entire semiconductor industry in the foundation. Therefore, whether from the perspective of economic security or industrial cost considerations, to break through Chinas semiconductor industry is facing the "neck" dilemma, must pay attention to precision ceramic components and other key components of semiconductor production equipment localization development.
A, the application of precision ceramics in the semiconductor
Semiconductor equipment requires a large number of precision ceramic components. As ceramics have high hardness, high elastic modulus, high wear resistance, high insulation, corrosion resistance, low expansion and other advantages, can be used as silicon wafer polishing machine, epitaxy / oxidation / diffusion and other heat treatment equipment, lithography, deposition equipment, semiconductor etching equipment, ion implantation machine and other equipment parts. Semiconductor ceramics are alumina, silicon nitride, aluminum nitride, silicon carbide, etc. In semiconductor equipment, the value of precision ceramics accounts for about 16%.
Alumina is the most widely used precision ceramic material in semiconductor equipment. It has the advantages of stable material structure, high mechanical strength, high hardness, high melting point, corrosion resistance, excellent chemical stability, high resistivity, and good electrical insulation properties, and is widely used in semiconductor equipment.
In semiconductor etching equipment, the etcher chamber material as the main source of wafer contamination, the degree of impact of plasma etching on it determines the wafer yield, quality, stability of the etching process and so on. Therefore, the choice of etcher chamber material is particularly important. Currently, high purity Al₂O₃ coatings or Al₂O₃ ceramics are mainly used as protection materials for the etching chamber and the components inside the chamber. In addition to the chamber, alumina ceramics are also used for the gas nozzles of plasma equipment, the gas distribution tray, and the fixing ring for fixing wafers.
Ceramic robotic arms made of alumina ceramics are used in the handling of wafer silicon wafers. Both alumina ceramics and silicon carbide ceramics have the physical properties of dense quality, high hardness, and high wear resistance, as well as good heat resistance, excellent mechanical strength, good insulation at high temperatures, good corrosion resistance, and other physical properties, making them excellent materials for making robotic arms for semiconductor equipment. From the material properties, silicon carbide ceramics are more suitable for making ceramic robotic arms, but from the material price, processing difficulties and other economic aspects, alumina ceramic robotic arms are more cost-effective.
In addition, in the wafer polishing process, alumina ceramics can be widely used in polishing plate, polishing pad calibration platform, vacuum suction cups, etc.
2、Silicon carbide (SiC)
Silicon carbide has high thermal conductivity, high temperature mechanical strength, high stiffness, low coefficient of thermal expansion, good thermal uniformity, corrosion resistance, wear resistance and other characteristics. Silicon carbide maintains its good strength at extreme temperatures up to 1400°C. Grinding discs using silicon carbide ceramics can be ground and polished at high speeds because of their high hardness and low wear, and because their coefficient of thermal expansion is essentially the same as that of silicon wafers.
In silicon wafer production, which requires high-temperature heat treatment, silicon carbide jigs are often used for transportation. They are heat-resistant and non-destructive, and can be coated with coatings such as diamond-like (DLC), which can enhance performance and mitigate wafer damage while preventing the spread of contamination. In addition, silicon carbide ceramics can also be used in XY platforms, pedestals, focus rings, polishing plates, wafer chuck, vacuum suction cups, handling arms, furnace tubes, crystal boats, cantilever paddles, etc.
3、Aluminium nitride (AIN)
High-purity aluminum nitride ceramics have excellent heat conduction, heat resistance, insulation, thermal expansion coefficient close to silicon, and excellent plasma resistance, and the product has uniform heat distribution. It can be applied to heaters for wafer heating, electrostatic chuck, etc.
4、Silicon Nitride (Si3N4)
Silicon nitride (Si3N4) is a material with high fracture toughness, high thermal impact resistance, high wear resistance, high mechanical strength, and corrosion resistance. It can be applied to the platform, bearing and other parts of semiconductor equipment.
Second, the development status of precision ceramics at home and abroad
1, the semiconductor equipment market will exceed 100 billion U.S. dollars, ceramic components account for more than 10% of the cost
Recently, the U.S. Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) said that global chip sales reached a record $ 555.9 billion in 2021, an increase of 26.2% over the previous year. The association expects global chip sales to grow 8.8 percent in 2022 as chipmakers continue to expand capacity to meet demand.
The semiconductor market is growing rapidly while taking flight in the upstream equipment market.
It is understood that, following a 17% year-on-year growth in 2020 and 39% year-on-year growth in 2021, fab equipment spending is expected to continue to grow in 2022. SEMI (Semiconductor Industry International Association) pointed out that the global front-end fab equipment in 2022 (excluding packaging and testing front-end process equipment, generally wafer fabrication equipment) spending is expected to exceed $ 98 billion, reaching an all-time high, achieving growth for the third consecutive year.
Precision ceramics have become a key component of semiconductor equipment, accounting for more than 10% of the cost.
In high-end lithography, in order to achieve high process accuracy, it is necessary to widely use ceramic parts with good functional composite, structural stability, thermal stability, and dimensional accuracy, such as E-chuck, Vacumm-chuck, Block, magnet skeleton water-cooled plate, reflector, guide, etc. These key components are generally selected from precision ceramic materials.
In etching equipment, the etcher chamber material is used as the main source of wafer contamination, and the degree of impact of plasma etching on it determines the wafer yield, quality, stability of the etching process, etc. Therefore, the research and development of an extremely etch-resistant chamber material has become a challenging task in the semiconductor integration industry as well as in plasma etching technology. Currently, high purity Al₂O₃ coatings or Al₂O₃ ceramics are mainly used as protection materials for etching cavities and components inside the cavities. In addition to the cavity, precision ceramics are also required for the gas nozzles, gas distribution trays, and retaining rings for holding wafers in plasma devices.
A semiconductor device may look like it is made of metal and plastic, but in fact there are many highly technical precision ceramic components hidden inside. In short, the application of precision ceramics in semiconductor equipment is much more than we think.
2, the current global competition pattern
At present, foreign companies at the forefront of the development and application of precision ceramic structural components for integrated circuit core equipment are Kyocera Japan, the United States CoorsTek, Germany BERLINERGLAS, etc., of which, Kyocera and CoorsTek companies occupy a high-end precision ceramic structural components for integrated circuit core equipment market share of 70%.
Kyocera and CoorsTeks high-end ceramic parts have a complete material system, excellent performance, complex structure, high processing accuracy, the manufacturing of precision ceramic structural parts almost covers the existing structural ceramic material system, such as alumina, silicon carbide, silicon nitride, aluminum nitride, etc.; structural parts application areas also cover almost all integrated circuit core equipment, forming a series of complete models, a variety of precision ceramic structural parts. For example, CoorsTek can provide a series of products such as special components for lithography, plasma etching equipment, PVD/CVD equipment, ion implantation equipment, wafer adsorption and fixed transmission; Kyocera can provide precision ceramic structural components for lithography, wafer fabrication equipment, etching machines, deposition equipment (CVD, sputtering), LCD and other equipment. LCD and other equipment with precision ceramic structural parts. Chinas core equipment in the integrated circuit with precision ceramic structural parts of the development and application of a late start, in the large size, high precision, hollow, closed-cell, lightweight structure of the preparation of structural ceramic parts in the field of many key technical issues to be broken.
3、The problems faced by China
The proposal to be submitted by the Central Committee of the TCC "on further accelerating the development of semiconductor precision ceramic parts industry" points out the problems in the development of Chinas precision ceramic industry and gives important suggestions. Among them, the following problems exist in the development of Chinas precision ceramic industry.
First, the R & D system is not sound, with R & D strength of the core enterprise long-term absence. At the research level, Chinas Tsinghua University, Shanghai Institute of Silicate, Chinese Academy of Sciences and other research institutions in the precision ceramics research and development, although there is a good accumulation, but the late 1990s after the investment in research and development almost stopped, the application of precision ceramics narrowed, high-end products stop in the laboratory and difficult to mass production. At the enterprise level, the ceramic industry chain has long existed large but not strong problem, especially the raw material link ceramic powder preparation level than Japan, Germany, etc. is still a big gap, the current domestic structural ceramics are basically limited to a large number of low-end ceramic products, and the scale are not outstanding, it is difficult to have sufficient R & D strength.
Second, the domestic semiconductor systems, manufacturing and packaging manufacturers habitually purchase foreign equipment and components, domestic components and materials into the procurement system is difficult. Domestic component products are in the critical period of exploration and upgrading, and it is difficult to pass the OEM quality certification of the leading equipment companies in the short term, which requires the patient participation and joint cultivation of the backbone enterprises in the domestic semiconductor industry chain.
Third, the key materials industry investment to be strengthened. Due to the long research and development cycle, development difficulties and other factors, at present, the industry investment in precision ceramic components and other key materials is insufficient. To the National Integrated Circuit Industry Fund, for example, the investment in equipment and materials industry only accounts for 3% of its total investment, which does not match its status role.
Third, the development of Chinas precision ceramic industry suggestions
1, cultivate potential enterprises, play an industry-driven role.
Suggest that the relevant state departments in the implementation of the "national integrated circuit industry development to promote the program", to further increase the support for precision ceramic components R & D and industry. Through the integration of scientific research system and industry associations, alliances, nationwide focus on resources to select and foster a number of internationally competitive potential enterprises, so as to drive the development of enterprises across the industry.
2, strengthen industrial synergy, integration of domestic industrial resources.
Suggest that the relevant state departments to encourage state-owned equipment, materials, chemicals and other large enterprises to participate in the development of precision ceramics industry. Develop guiding objectives for the localization of equipment and accessories, establish a guidance mechanism for the localization of key components and materials combined with financial guidance and scientific and technological insurance, and encourage domestic semiconductor equipment enterprises to purchase domestic precision ceramic components through the governments financial and market-based insurance product protection support. Encourage enterprises and colleges and universities to jointly establish technology research and development and testing and certification institutions to accelerate the establishment of precision ceramics and other key components and materials localization of the science and technology service system.
3, strengthen the protection of enterprises involved, optimize the industrial development environment.
Suggest that the relevant state departments in the precision ceramics industry gathering place to set up intellectual property assistance center, by shortening the intellectual property review and authorization cycle, increase the infringement punishment, etc., to guide and assist enterprises to deal with intellectual property disputes, to protect the R & D innovation drive. Attract key precision ceramic enterprises to settle in the Free Trade Zone, through the tax policy differentiation of limited areas, to alleviate the current pressure of the semiconductor industrys R & D attack cost. At the same time, around the precision ceramics enterprise professional and technical personnel cultivation, strengthen the policy coordination, support the local good core team members to settle, childrens schooling, medical care and other supporting protection, especially from leading foreign companies to introduce a team of talented people service support.
4, play the role of the market, increase industrial investment.
It is suggested to further improve the trading function of SSE and SZSE, and take advantage of the new opportunity of establishing Beijing Stock Exchange to innovatively set up new material sectors such as precision ceramics in three national exchanges to precisely support new material SMEs with core competitiveness. Encourage insurance, trust and other long-term funds to increase equity investment in outstanding unlisted SMEs, and open up reasonable channels for capital integration and exit, so as to further support the growth of new materials "hard-core technology" enterprises and speed up the obstacles.
Reference source: Peoples Daily - China Communist Party News, China Electronic News, Reuters
Article source: Frontier Materials
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