Process kits to deliver secret sauce data to fabless users

Software that had its beginnings in a European Union-funded research project could come to the rescue of fabless companies who need access to the closely guarded process data held by the foundries they use.

Originally developed to help predict how well the processes for micro-electromechanically machined systems (MEMS) would work, Process Relations has come up with the idea of a ‘process kit’ that will let fabless users do what-if analyses of how a customised process might work without looking directly at the commercially sensitive fab data.

“In the design space, you can buy design kits,” explained Dirk Ortloff, chief technology officer at Process Relations. “We have the concept of process kits: providing a process from the foundry in a black box.”

The information about the foundry’s data is encrypted but can be read by the XperiDesk software sold by Process Relations. One use of the system is for situations becoming encountered more often in MEMS manufacture where a company needs to have wafers processed partially at an external foundry to add, for example, CMOS circuitry. Ortloff said some users are interested in working on power-oriented processes, another area where fabless companies have hit problems because they cannot get detailed enough information on how an external process will behave.

“The customer can look at the whole flow and find issues that may come from the external process. You can propagate things in both directions and possibly find ‘I forgot to do a strip process’ or ‘I exceeded the temperature budget’. One user said the flow, before the analysis, would have cost $250,000 because, by missing a step, it would have damaged some of the equipment,” said Ortloff.

Several companies, such as Replisaurus and AMO, have signed up to develop process kits. “Some partners, such as X-Fab are involved in follow-up research,” Ortloff claimed the ability to deliver process kits is attractive to fab owners. “The feedback has been positive. One person said: ‘This is a tool I was dreaming of for 20 years’.”

Process Relations was formed after the completion of Promenade, a project funded by the EU that involved Cavendish Kinetics, the University of Siegen, Bosch Research, IMEC and the University of Vienna, among others. Cavendish and the University of Siegen decided to spin out the technology, with Ortloff, one of the project leaders, becoming CTO.

The XperiDesk software, which has recently been updated to include the ability to search through unstructured process information to make it easier to work out how certain process conditions can lead to problems, was designed to make process data more accessible and allow the rapid prototyping of processes using simulation.

By capturing the recipe used for each wafer or batch held by the tool, Ortloff claimed: “From that we can draw cause and effect data. We have a very sophisticated searching capability so engineers can ask all sorts of questions of the system.”

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