Nov 18 2022

NIST Outlines 7 Opportunities for U.S. Semiconductor Manufacturing

A new report details research and development methods that could enable breakthroughs for next-generation microelectronics.

A new report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) outlines seven “grand challenges” in measurement, standardization, and modeling and simulation that could strengthen the U.S. semiconductor industry.

The recently enacted Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act calls on NIST to conduct research and development in support of the domestic semiconductor industry to enable advances and breakthroughs for next-generation microelectronics.

As devices become smaller and more complex, the ability to measure, monitor, predict and ensure quality in manufacturing is becoming more difficult. As the report notes, “Systems are growing in complexity even as their components are shrinking in size.”

“Successful implementation of the CHIPS Act programs will require close coordination and input from industry and key stakeholders,” NIST Director Laurie E. Locascio writes in the report. Here are the challenges semiconductor manufacturers are facing, and NIST’s solutions to address them.

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1. Update Metrology for Material Purity, Properties and Provenance

New metrology — the science of measurement and its applications — is needed to meet increasingly stringent requirements for semiconductor material purity, physical properties and provenance (​​which records the journey of a material from production to end use) across a diverse supply chain.

Even microscopic defects or inadequacies can severely limit the performance of next-generation devices. Plus, different manufacturers may not have the same standards for accuracy in measurements or may have different assessment methods.

NIST calls for the development of measurement technologies, properties data and standards focused on defect and contaminant identification. The goal is to support uniform material quality and traceability across the supply chain.

2. Developing Advanced Metrology for Future Microelectronics

The challenge here is to make sure that critical metrology advances keep pace with cutting-edge and future microelectronics and semiconductor manufacturing. Complex 3D devices are being incorporated more often, and the metrology tools needed to measure them are often expensive and contain capability gaps.

NIST’s solution is to develop advanced physical and computational metrology tools that are adaptable to the next-generation manufacturing of advanced complex, integrated technologies and systems.

READ MORE: Advanced new technology can also be made more efficient.

3. Enabling Metrology for Integrating Advanced Packaging Components

Advanced packaging is key in microelectronics. This involves enabling different devices to be integrated and packaged together to meet application-specific requirements. The materials and processes used to create advanced packaging impact metrology and inspection.

Nonstandard materials may impact inspection requirements, and advanced packaging presents unique measurements for back-end processes and technologies.

NIST proposes R&D to develop metrology to enable the integration of sophisticated components and new materials to support the domestic advanced microelectronics packaging industry.

4. Reviewing Semiconductor Materials, Designs and Components

Modeling and simulation are used in the semiconductor industry to reduce development time. However, next-generation semiconductor materials and devices will require advanced metrology tools to be modeled and simulated effectively.

More complex future technologies will test the limits of current systems and may cause reductions in performance and accuracy.

The proposed solution is to create advanced design simulators using multiphysics models and next-generation concepts, such as artificial intelligence and digital twins.

Laurie E. Locascio
Successful implementation of the CHIPS Act programs will require close coordination and input from industry and key stakeholders.”

Laurie E. Locascio NIST Director

5. A Look at the Semiconductor Manufacturing Processes

The entire semiconductor manufacturing process can have thousands of steps. To meet the standards of more complex processes, breakthroughs need to be made in the measurement and development of consensus standards.

To NIST, the way forward is through research to develop a variety of manufacturing simulation tools and related standards that can be applied to in-line processes and model key parameters.

Using digital twins could be a solution, in which virtual twins of fabrication facilities are used to model individual pieces of equipment. For maintenance, a virtual twin could provide feedback about potential equipment failures or preventive maintenance scheduling.

6. Standardizing New Processes and Equipment for Microelectronics

Manufacturing standards ensure quality, safety and reliability, along with compatibility and interoperability across the supply chain. The integration of new materials and processes calls for a new set of standards and validation methods to accelerate the development and manufacturing of future technologies.

NIST’s solution involves conducting R&D, data collection, process validation and other standards-related activities to develop new standards and protocols that support the use of new materials, processes and equipment in future-generation microelectronics.

DIVE DEEPER: Find out how the Navy uses digital twin technology.

7. How Metrology Is Enhancing Microelectronic Security

Recent chip shortages have resulted in increased counterfeiting, IP theft and the production of low-quality and defective chips. If the provenance of a semiconductor cannot be verified, malicious circuits could be added anywhere along the supply chain, giving bad actors the ability to bypass defense mechanisms. As a result, robust hardware security is a requirement.

Adapting to these increased threats will require a comprehensive approach to hardware security protection that includes standards, protocols, formal testing processes and advanced technologies, while providing avenues for assurance and provenance of microelectronic components across the supply chain and end products.

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