Semiconductor Industry News, Trends, and Technology, and SEMI Standards Updates

Equipment Data-Driven Continuous Improvement for 200mm Fabs

Posted by Alan Weber: Vice President, New Product Innovations on Feb 23, 2016 1:03:00 PM

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The focus of the most recent SYSTEMA Expert Day, held during a snowy week in Dresden in late January 2016 in conjunction with the 13th annual innovationsforum, was “200mm Fab Enhancement” and featured a number of presentations from Systema GmbH customers and partner companies.

By way of background, there are a number of reasons for the emphasis on 200mm fab enhancement, most notably that many of these factories are enjoying a renaissance of business to meet the growing demands for IoT (Internet of Things) devices. Moreover, since the drivers for this market segment include cost, variety, and volume, the automation and operations people in these factories are faced with a new combination of challenges not seen in earlier markets.

Cimetrix’ contribution to the event was a presentation titled “Equipment Data-Driven Continuous Improvement for 200mm Fabs,” which outlined a model-based, ROI-driven approach for adding equipment data collection capabilities to existing factories. Our basic premise is that such an approach helps meet some of the automation challenges in an incremental, cost-effective way without requiring major redesign of the factory or equipment control systems.

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Since the term “model” is used in many different contexts, we first clarified what this term means in the context of SEMI equipment communications standards, and how this evolved over the past three decades. This was accomplished using a natural language analogy, which is shown in the figure below. Note that the culmination of this process to date is the EDA (Equipment Data Acquisition) metadata model called for in the latest generation of standards, which is very prescriptive in terms of structure, content, and naming conventions for the elements of a semiconductor manufacturing equipment. And even thought the specifics of this model were designed with 300mm wafer fab equipment in mind, the principles well apply to all substrate sizes, and even to the types of material, processes, and equipment found in back end assembly and test factories.

After establishing the value of explicit models for representing equipment, sensors, and other key items in a manufacturing environment, we next introduced concept of an ROI-driven strategy for evaluating the relative benefit of various data collection projects. This strategy first identifies and ranks the key manufacturing objectives that must be addressed, then poses the questions that must be answered to meet those objectives. It then identifies the data sources for the information required to answer those questions, and the data collection techniques (including software) applicable to those sources. Finally, since the original objectives can change with time and additional knowledge, they should be re-examined periodically, giving the strategy an iterative aspect as well.

In order provide specific examples for the uses of equipment data in a continuous improvement program, the presentation listed a number of application use cases that have been successfully deployed in 200mm facilities. These included (in general increasing order of complexity) substrate tracking, process execution tracking, product time measurement (aka wait time waste analysis), external sensor integration, component fingerprinting, and product traceability.

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A couple of these were then explained in more detail, showing how a basic tracking application could start by using a small subset of the equipment data, and then evolve over time to provide more advanced functions (and benefit!) as more detailed information was made available.

For those who want to understand this process in more depth, you are welcome to download the entire presentation using the link below, or call us to discuss how we can apply these ideas to your company!


“Equipment Data-Driven Continuous Improvement for 200mm Fabs"

Watch the Video

Topics: Semiconductor Industry, Market Trends, EDA, SYSTEMA GmbH, Data Collection

To the Cimetrix Community of Clients, Partners, Shareholders, and Employees

I believe that 2015 will be viewed as a significant turning point in the history of Cimetrix. When I accepted the role and responsibility of president and CEO of Cimetrix in 2001, Cimetrix was a publicly traded company. In addition to the normal challenges of running a business, Cimetrix was required to comply with all SEC reporting obligations. When the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) imposed additional financial reporting obligations with increased internal controls, Cimetrix was required to spend even more time and money. I’ve always believed if you are going to do something, you should do it to the best of your abilities. Consequently, Cimetrix dutifully fulfilled its quarterly SEC reporting and SOX compliance obligations. Every year independent SOX auditors performed the required annual audit and their reports always concluded that there were no material weaknesses in our financial reporting or internal controls.

IMG_5110.jpgFor a small company like Cimetrix, we can be proud of these accomplishments. We are very thankful to have had Jodi Juretich as CFO for these past eight years. Jodi managed the company’s financials and was responsible for preparing all of our SEC filings. For those of you not aware, the SOX laws include significant personal liability for the CEO and CFO in the event of any material errors or misstatements. As a result, while we had no idea how many people might read our SEC filings (other than the fact that we know our competitors all meticulously read each and every one), each filing had to be reviewed not only internally, but also by SOX compliance consultants, auditors, lawyers, and the board of directors. Significant management time and precious time with our board of directors was spent reviewing and approving SEC filings. As I hope everyone can appreciate, this represented a huge burden for a small company like Cimetrix. In addition to the hard costs that we estimated at approximately $250,000 per year, it is difficult to overstate the amount of energy in terms of management time and attention that went into reviewing and approving not only the financial statements, but the mandatory narratives for these quarterly SEC filings.

Since the introduction of SOX, many public companies have made the decision to go private, and we received a lot of advice over the years that Cimetrix would likewise be much better off as a private company. As you can imagine, however, there are many factors that go into such a decision. We always considered what is best for our shareholders, clients, and employees. Accordingly we were careful and patient in waiting for the right opportunity. From our perspective, that opportunity arose last year, which allowed us to go private without the need for external capital or any dilution to our shareholders. We believe it was an excellent use of the company’s cash to remove the ongoing “tax” of being a public company, which we accomplished in late 2014.

As I reflect back on our first year as a private company, there were a number of highlights in 2015.

  • The change in management focus has been remarkable. From the board-level to the daily and weekly operational meetings, the focus is now centered on clients, products, and strategy. How can we better serve our clients? How can we operate more effectively and efficiently?

  • Maybe the timing was coincidental, but Cimetrix also completed a major corporate organizational restructuring in early 2015. We involved ten of our key employees in an off-site workshop to map out the type of company we wanted to be going forward. Using an experienced coach and facilitator, we spent time reviewing and reaching agreement on “core” items including our shared vision and values, identification of our core customers, what is our promise to our clients, what is our long term “big hairy audacious goal,” and, equally important, what are the things we should stop doing. We identified the key functions of the company and the people with the best skills and experience to lead those functional areas. The result was a much flatter organization with opportunities for some of our most experienced engineers to assume more management responsibility. It was a very energizing and invigorating process that aligned the entire company on the path forward.

  • We also made the commitment to go through our product lines and address all outstanding issues. Over time, the number of product issues that were not urgent or high priority had been slowly building. We made the decision that in order to position the company for faster long-term growth, as well as to reflect our values and brand promise to our clients, we should refresh our current product lines and drive the number of outstanding issues down to zero. This strategy will greatly reduce the long-term costs of maintaining our product lines going forward, as well as further improve the quality and performance of our industry leading product lines. It was wonderful to see the cooperation of our different departments work through the full database of all reported issues and reach resolution. During 2015 we completed new Service Releases for our GEM and GEM300 product lines, which included SECSConnect, CIMConnect, and CIM300, that resolved all reported issues and significantly increased the test coverage for each product. Our Product Management group coordinated the effort to resolve all issues with appropriate stakeholders. Once the backlog of work was clearly identified, our Software Engineering group accepted the challenge and took great pride in doing the work they had wanted to do, but never had had the time, to improve our products and significantly increase the level of automated tests.

  • As part of the strategy to improve our customers’ experience using Cimetrix products, we expanded our customer support group into a “Client Training & Support” group with an enhanced staff of senior engineers. Their responsibility is to demonstrate Cimetrix products during the sales cycle, train new clients, and serve as proactive technical liaisons as our clients progress through the critical development cycle. Initial feedback from clients has been outstanding. In particular, I had one new client tell me that in his experience, it is natural for the level of support to fall off a bit after they place an order for a product. However, in the case of Cimetrix, we provided a very high level of attention and support during the sales cycle, and once they placed the PO, they were pleasantly surprised to see that the level of attention and support from Cimetrix actually increased. While they have had problems with other suppliers “over-promising and under-delivering,” their experience with Cimetrix has been overwhelmingly positive, as our software does what we say it will do, and we provide very responsive and passionate support with senior engineering staff.

  • We have been at the forefront of the new industry standards for “Interface A,” or its alias “Equipment Data Acquisition (EDA),” for over ten years. When these standards were initially conceived and driven by representatives from Intel and AMD, we thought these new standards made logical sense and would ultimately be adopted by the industry, but we had no idea how long it might take for these standards to be adopted. A large semiconductor foundry in the industry has become the leading user of EDA. Our strategy has been to work closely with this company and the large number of equipment makers that selected Cimetrix’ CIMPortal Plus product to meet the company’s requirements for EDA. While Cimetrix did this facilitation work on our own dime, we believe this investment has paid off handsomely as we’ve helped many of our clients achieve good success in this company's factories, and, as a result, we now have very appreciative clients all over the world that serve as solid references for Cimetrix and our EDA products. In parallel, our Sales and Account Management team has been evangelizing the benefits of EDA to other semiconductor manufacturers. The list of companies now implementing some aspect of EDA has grown to include industry leaders such as Globalfoundaries, Infineon, Inotera, Samsung, Toshiba, and TSMC. The biggest news was Samsung announcing plans for an EDA pilot project in 2016. In a recent briefing to local Korea-based equipment makers, it was reported that some large equipment makers such as Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron developed their EDA solutions in-house, but “most of the rest use Cimetrix products.” To respond to these opportunities, the Cimetrix Sales and Account Management group worked quickly to establish relationships, distribution channels, and local sales and support for Cimetrix products in Taiwan and Korea. While Cimetrix has great partners in Japan, we have learned that each country is different and customers prefer to receive support from companies within their own country, in their native language. Dave Faulkner and Alan Weber logged many miles this year explaining the best practices for EDA and establishing these very important relationships for Cimetrix, which we believe position Cimetrix to sell and support our products more effectively within these markets. In 2016 Cimetrix is scheduled to exhibit in industry trade shows in Korea, China, Taiwan, and Japan that we believe will lead to new clients in these growing markets.

  • Lastly, even though we are no longer required to publish SEC filings, we maintain the same high level of internal controls and fiscal discipline. The only difference is we don’t go through the seemingly endless quarterly reviews and narratives. The semiconductor capital equipment market is widely reported to have declined during 2015 and is expected to be flat for 2016. Cimetrix has noticed similar trends among our client base. During 2014, Cimetrix was profitable every quarter with total revenue in the $6 to 7M range with over $500,000 of adjusted EBITDA. For 2015, we continue to operate profitably on a quarterly basis and expect to have similar full-year financial results as 2014. We expect to end the year with close to $2M of cash and, of course, no debt.

Going Forward

Going forward, industry analysts predict a decrease in semiconductor capital equipment spending for 2016. Cimetrix has a number of irons in the fire that we hope will counteract the overall industry trends and enable us to grow next year. We have some major clients in adjacent markets that have the potential to contribute increased revenue. We also hope to get some traction from our efforts to add new clients and grow revenue in the Taiwanese, Korean, and Chinese markets. However, as we have learned over the years, it takes time to develop such new markets, so we are not planning to see large increases in revenue in the immediate future.

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By working closely with our clients in semiconductor and adjacent markets, we have identified a number of opportunities for new products. We plan to continue to invest in our current product lines for GEM, EDA, and Equipment Control, as well as look for opportunities to develop new products in conjunction with industry leaders.

If I sound excited about the future for Cimetrix, it is because I am. We have a great team here at Cimetrix and we added a number of solid new team members during 2015. While we have made great progress, we are never satisfied, and will strive for continual improvement as we pursue closer relationships with our clients, improvements in our efficiency and effectiveness, and above all, building great products that help our clients be successful and perform well for those they care about.

I want to thank our clients for the faith and confidence they have placed in Cimetrix’ products and team members, our employees for their passion, dedication and commitment, and our shareholders for their patience that we believe will ultimately be rewarded.

Topics: Semiconductor Industry, Market Trends, EDA, Customer Service, Doing Business with Cimetrix, Cimetrix Culture, Investor News

2015 Advanced Process Control (APC) Conference Focused on High Quality Equipment Data

Posted by Alan Weber: Vice President, New Product Innovations on Oct 23, 2015 1:00:00 PM

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Cimetrix participated in the recent Advanced Process Control (APC) Conference in Austin, Texas, along with more than 120 control professionals across the semiconductor manufacturing industry. This conference, now in its 27th year, is one of only a few global events dedicated to the domain of semiconductor process control and directly supporting technologies, so it was encouraging to see its attendance and energy level rebound from its low water mark a few years ago. The calendar may have indicated it was fall, but nobody told the weather forecasters… Austin set temperature records that week, even hitting 99°F one day!

Given the importance of high quality equipment data for all types of equipment- and factory-level process control applications, it is vital that Cimetrix and its customers understand the current requirements and future direction of this industry segment. Many presentations addressed these topics indirectly, but perhaps the newest insights in this regard came not from the wafer fabrication processes, but rather from the Back End, OSAT (Outsourced Assembly and Test), and advanced packaging segments.

As evidence, a number of presenters mentioned the growing need for equipment data collection in these areas, and cited the following reasons: 1) increasing demands by the consumer product manufacturing customers of these facilities (especially smart phone providers, but others as well) for equipment data to support their product quality and supply chain optimization initiatives; 2) emphasis on the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) productivity metrics, and the event/status data needed to support their automated calculation; 3) broader deployment of multi-variate Fault Detection and Classification (FDC) applications, which require more equipment trace data parameters than have typically been collected from back end equipment; and finally, 4) actual feedback control based on back end metrology – the best example of this presented last week was an application on dicing equipment that showed how kerf data collection and analysis can be used to adjust saw process parameters

The takeaway for Cimetrix in all this is that the back end equipment suppliers will need to anticipate this demand and may need to upgrade their interface capabilities substantially.

Since some of Cimetrix’ customers have pioneered the application of the latest generation of SEMI EDA (Equipment Data Acquisition) / Interface A standards in plumbing data from external “add-on” sensors to fault detection applications, I presented a generalization of this approach during one of technical sessions. This presentation, “Data Fusion at the Source: Standards and Technologies for Seamless Sensor Integration” is available on the Cimetrix website for those who want to learn more about how this is done.

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Check back next week to learn more about creating good EDA/Interface A purchasing specifications.

Topics: Equipment Data Acquisition, Market Trends, Interface A, EDA, Events, Data Management, Data

EDA Standards Seeing Increasing Adoption Across the Industry

Posted by Alan Weber: Vice President, New Product Innovations on Sep 22, 2015 9:19:21 PM

As mentioned briefly in a previous posting, the adoption momentum for the SEMI EDA (Equipment Data Acquisition) suite of standards has picked up noticeably over the past 6 months, and a number of pilot projects are now underway at leading chip makers across the industry, especially in Asia. As these projects bear fruit, we expect to see explicit requirements for EDA interface capability in the purchase specifications of many more fabs in the coming months. But that’s just a start.

The early adopters of these standards who have now accumulated years of production experience clearly understand that the key to realizing the full manufacturing benefit of this technology lies in the structure and content of the equipment metadata models, which to date have been largely determined by the equipment suppliers themselves. The resulting diversity of EDA implementations is reminiscent of the situation that existed in the days before GEM, when every chip maker required their own particular “dialect” of SECS-II, and the equipment suppliers had to support a custom interface for each customer… not a pretty picture.

Luckily, the standards community recognized this problem early on, and addressed it via the Specification for EDA Common Metadata (SEMI E164). This standard effectively unifies the equipment models across the fab, regardless of process type or supplier, enabling the factory software developers to create generic manufacturing applications that “plug and play” with the equipment to address the problems that are common to all (status and productivity monitoring, material flow, resource utilization, etc.). 

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As a result, the next wave of factory implementations can directly leverage these lessons learned by requiring compliance to “Freeze 2, E164” level of the EDA standards suite, and focus their energies on new application development rather than supplier-specific custom integration software. Given the years of experience Cimetrix has dedicated both to the development of the EDA standards in the SEMI community and in providing product-based implementations on “both ends of the wire” (in other words, equipment and client/host side), we can support customers wherever they are in the implementation life cycle, from building awareness to initial purchase specification development to system architecture and application design to conformance and acceptance testing.

For more information about how we can help align your activities with this accelerating adoption process, please contact us… and stay tuned for more specifics on all the above!

For an introduction to EDA, download the presentation Interface A Overview: Characteristics, Benefits, and Applications.

Topics: SEMI Standards, Semiconductor Industry, SEMI, Market Trends, Interface A, EDA

Trends in the Semiconductor Equipment Industry

Posted by Cimetrix on Apr 4, 2013 9:50:00 AM

By Dave Faulkner

Executive VP, Sales and Marketing, Cimetrix

Back in October of 2012, the outlook for the semiconductor equipment industry was dominated by dark clouds. First, the U.S. and European economies were in the doldrums, and there was a great deal of discussion about an economic slowdown in the China. But the economy was not the only factor that weighed upon the industry. There was also a significant amount of uncertainty about what was happening with the personal computer market. Demand for PCs was dropping, which impacted not just microprocessors, but DRAMs as well.

With all the news about the global economic health and the trends in PCs, analysts were calling for a significant fall-off in semiconductor equipment orders. Gartner, in October of last year, forecasted 2012 would end with a 13% drop in equipment revenue from 2011 levels, and that 2013 would be flat to slightly down. (See Semi Equip Spending To Drop 13.3% In 2012, Gartner Says).

However, the story became even worse. In December, Gartner’s forecast changed to a drop of 17% in revenue in 2012 and a further decrease of 10% in 2013 (Gartner: Fab equipment still getting softer, next up cycle starts in 2014). SEMI’s forecasts for 2012 and 2013 reflected a similar decline of 12% and 2%, respectively (See Semiconductor New Equipment Market $38.2 Billion for 2012; Recovery in 2014.

Analysts were so focused on the bad news that they did not consider the good news coming out. For example, the drop in PCs was accompanied by an increase in demand for tablet computers and smartphones, both of which used processors, flash memory, and mobile communications chips. Just a couple of months after the dismal forecasts, the three largest semiconductor manufacturers announced their intent to continue or increase equipment expenditures.

When industry analysts started to see some of the brighter signs, the picture improved. In January, SEMI called for a flat to down year, with an uptick in the second half of 2013 (In 2013, Fab Equipment Spending for Front-End Fabs to Shrink Back to 0% Growth). Here is what they predicted, effectively forecasting 0% growth in 2013:

 Fab Equipment Sales By Region

While 0% growth does not sound very good by itself, it certainly sounds better than down 10% or more!

In January 2013, market analysts were calling for a strong increase in semiconductor device sales, led primarily by communications chips (See EETimes: Semi Upswing Seen in 2013). TSMC described plans to increase their capital expenditures by 8% to a record $9 billion for 28nm production and initial 20nm technology. Intel announced they would invest $13 billion in 2013, including $2 billion on construction of a 450mm facility. Samsung even stated they would invest $11-$12 billion in 2013, approximately what they spent in 2012.

In addition, Applied Materials’ latest quarterly report showed a strong forecast, up 15-25% (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/applied-materials-announces-first-quarter-210302893.html). In SEMI’s February and March 2013 semiconductor book-to-bill reports, we had some very good news, showing the market for equipment growing with a robust book-to-bill of 1.10 for each month.

Over the last four months, we have seen a significant shift in the semiconductor industry forecast, from a flat-to-down year to an overall positive year for semiconductor equipment revenue. When we look at history of the semiconductor equipment industry over the last 15 years, we see how the industry cycles up and down. It is our belief we are currently experiencing the industry trough, when capital equipment sales are at their lowest in the cycle and they are about to trend upwards. At this point, it is difficult to forecast accurately what that increase will be, but we think the trends are positive.

Stay tuned and we will continue to update the story.

Topics: Semiconductor Industry, SEMI, Market Trends

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