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Understanding Fab Yield in Semiconductors

  • Semiconductor yield refers to the percentage of working chips that are produced on a wafer.
  • Chip designers can be extremely demanding, so if a fab can’t meet their requirements they will switch to another provider. In 2023, Samsung lost customers to TSMC as it could not provide the required yield.
  • Improving fab yield reduces costs, improves customer satisfaction and generates higher profit margins. Engineers use process control to improve manufacturing yields.

Why Is Yield Important For Fabs?

Semiconductor fabs have high fixed costs and need to operate 24/7 to generate the necessary economies of scale. A higher chip yield means more healthy chips can be produced using the same number of wafers, which lowers production costs as foundries will spend less on raw materials and energy.

Customers typically pay for total wafer output, so a higher yield will also lower their expenses while improving satisfaction. Samsung knows well that when you are unable to deliver acceptable fabrication yields, customers will switch to competition. The firm has lost important customers in 2023 as its 3nm process was not providing the required yield. Furthermore, higher yields generate higher profit margins which fabs can use to reinvest into expansion, research & development or new equipment.

How Do Foundries Improve Semiconductor Yield?

A chip must undergo more than 12 highly technical processes during manufacturing. Some of these processes, such as lithography, are extremely critical, and even a deviation of a few nanometers could render the chip defective.

Semiconductor yield can be improved in many ways.

Sometimes a simple change, such as switching to a higher-quality silicon provider, will improve yields. Other times it might require more sophisticated techniques. Engineers apply process control to achieve higher yields. This involves monitoring the semiconductor equipment, identifying deviations, and making appropriate adjustments. Process control also uses statistical methods for early detection and prevention of defects. Reducing process variability is also key, as variability can lead to a lack of consistency. Fab standardization is crucial to facilitate knowledge sharing between employees, improve efficiency and reduce testing and manufacturing costs.

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