How semiconductor robots are used in manufacturing

June 25, 2024
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What are semiconductor robots?

Semiconductor robots are machines built to handle various tasks in chip manufacturing. They're typically small, nimble, and designed to handle delicate semiconductor wafers with extreme care. 

They come equipped with various tools like grippers, probes, and vacuum tools to take care of different tasks such as moving, assembling, inspecting, and testing wafers.

Key processes in semiconductor manufacturing

Chip manufacturing involves a series of complex steps, and each necessitates plenty of precision and control. 

Semiconductor robots play a key role in several essential processes:

  • Wafer fabrication: This includes steps like photolithography, etching, and deposition, where robots carefully handle and position wafers.
  • Wafer testing: Robots automatically check for flaws in the wafers using electrical and visual tests to ensure quality.
  • Die bonding and wire bonding: Robots precisely attach tiny chips to substrates and connect them with fine wires.
  • Packaging: Robots handle and put together semiconductor packages, protecting the delicate chips and making them usable in electronics.

Wafer handling and transport

One of the main tasks in semiconductor manufacturing is the handling and transport of wafers. 

Here’s how semiconductor robots help:

  • Wafer transfer robots: These robots are made specifically for moving wafers between different stages of manufacturing. They use vacuum grippers or special wafer holders to safely transport the wafers without breaking them.
  • Wafer alignment robots: They precisely align wafers for processes like photolithography, making sure the patterns are accurately transferred onto the wafer surface.
  • Wafer sorting robots: These bots use cameras to inspect and sort wafers based on their quality, so only good wafers move on to the next steps.

Semiconductor robots in assembly and packaging

Semiconductor robots play a major role in the delicate processes of assembling and packaging semiconductor chips. 

Here’s how they help:

  • Die bonding: Robots precisely place tiny semiconductor chips (dies) onto substrates using adhesive or soldering techniques. 
  • Wire bonding: Robots connect the dies to the substrate or package leads using thin wires, typically gold or aluminum. 
  • Flip-chip bonding: Robots precisely align and bond the die to the substrate using solder bumps, enabling higher-density connections and improved electrical performance.
  • Encapsulation: Robots dispense and cure protective materials, such as epoxy resins, around the chip to shield it from environmental factors and mechanical stress.

Testing and inspection

Semiconductor robots verify that each chip meets stringent performance and reliability standards before they ship out to customers.

Let’s take a look at how: 

  • Wafer probing: Robots use specialized probes to test the electrical characteristics of individual dies on a wafer. This helps tag faulty dies early in the process, saving time and resources.
  • Final testing: Robots perform a series of functional and performance tests on packaged chips to verify their compliance with specifications.
  • Visual inspection: High-resolution cameras mounted on robots can detect even the smallest defects on wafers or chips, guaranteeing that only flawless products reach the market.
  • Automated optical inspection (AOI): Robots equipped with AOI systems can rapidly inspect large quantities of chips for defects.

Material removal and deposition

Semiconductor robots also help in precisely removing and depositing materials during chip fabrication. 

Here’s how:

  • Etching: Chemicals or plasma selectively remove unwanted material from the wafer surface. Robots precisely control this process — a must-have in the creation of transistors and interconnects. 
  • Chemical mechanical planarization (CMP): A combination of chemical and mechanical forces polishes the wafer surface, getting flatness and uniformity. 
  • Thin-film deposition: Thin layers of various materials, such as metals, insulators, and semiconductors, are deposited onto the wafer surface. 
  • Physical vapor deposition (PVD) and chemical vapor deposition (CVD): These processes involve depositing materials in a vaporized or gaseous state onto the wafer.
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Cleanroom applications

Cleanrooms are an irreplaceable part of semiconductor manufacturing, and it’s no surprise that you’ll see semiconductor robots hard at work in them.

Here’s why semiconductor robots are perfect for cleanrooms:

  • Cleanroom compatibility: Many semiconductor robots are designed with materials and finishes that minimize particle shedding and outgassing, making them suitable for use in cleanrooms.
  • Particle reduction measures: Features like HEPA filters and specialized coatings further reduce particle generation during robot operation.
  • Wafer handling in cleanrooms: Robots transport and handle wafers within cleanrooms, minimizing the risk of contamination from human contact or exposure to the external environment.
  • Maintenance and cleaning procedures: Strict cleaning and maintenance procedures are followed for robots used in cleanrooms to ensure they remain free of contaminants.

Integration with manufacturing execution systems (MES)

Robotic automation in semiconductor manufacturing is not an isolated process. 

That's where Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) come into play:

  • Getting actionable data: MES systems gather data from various sources, including the robots, to provide insights into cycle times, material usage, and error rates. This information is invaluable for identifying bottlenecks, tracking quality, and making data-driven decisions to improve processes.
  • Monitoring things as they happen: With MES integration, you can monitor the robots' performance in real-time, allowing you to quickly detect and address any issues that may come up, preventing costly downtime.
  • Efficient electronic scheduling: MES systems can coordinate the scheduling of robotic tasks with other production operations for smooth and efficient operations across the entire factory floor.
  • See where everything goes: By integrating with the MES, you can track the movement and processing of each wafer throughout the manufacturing process, ensuring quality control and compliance with industry standards.
  • Get remote access: Some MES systems provide remote access capabilities, allowing you to monitor and control your robotic systems from anywhere, giving you greater flexibility and control over your operations.

Advantages of semiconductor robots

Semiconductor robots have brought about a huge improvement in the chip-making industry.

Here are the ways they make things better and more efficient: 

  • More chips, faster: Robots don't need breaks, so they can work all day and night, making way more chips and getting them out the door quicker.
  • Better quality, fewer mistakes: Robots are super precise and consistent, which means fewer errors and higher quality products. And because they work in cleanrooms, they don't contaminate the chips.
  • Safety wins: By handling dangerous jobs like working with toxic chemicals or in hot environments, robots protect squishy humans from getting hurt.
  • Money savers: While robots can be expensive to buy and set up, they save money in the long run.
  • They can be flexible: Some robots can be easily reprogrammed and retooled to handle different tasks or product variations. If you’ve got changing needs, robots are where it’s at. Note that in some cases, reprogramming them can be complex and time-consuming — except for robots that use no-code frameworks. 
  • Data collectors: Robots can collect valuable data on production processes, which can be analyzed to find bottlenecks, improve performance, and make the whole process more efficient.

Challenges of semiconductor robots

While robots bring a lot to the table, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows either.

Let’s take a look:

  • They cost a lot: Buying, installing, and programming robots can be expensive, especially for smaller companies. But remember, the long-term savings and the return on your investment will make up for it. 
  • You’ll need tech experts on hand: Setting up and maintaining robots isn't easy and requires specialized knowledge. Companies might need to invest in training or hire experts to keep the robots working well.
  • Integration isn’t that easy: Adding robots to your current manufacturing setup can be complicated and may require changes to existing equipment or processes. Careful planning is key to making this transition smooth.
  • Safety needs to be paramount: While robots can make the workplace safer by doing dangerous tasks, they also introduce new risks. It's important to have safety rules and training in place to make sure everyone stays safe.
  • Yes, some jobs are at risk: As robots take over tasks that were once done by humans, some people might worry about losing their jobs. Companies need to think about how to retrain and reassign employees who are affected by automation.

In summary

Semiconductor robots have become part and parcel of the chip-making industry, improving efficiency, quality, and safety throughout the manufacturing process. 

While getting a robot may seem like a tall order at first, especially if you don’t have the budget for one or if your facilities aren’t equipped properly, it’s definitely a no-brainer at this stage of the game. 

As we’ve concisely pointed out, the benefits are just too many to sweep under the rug — automation is here to stay! 

Next steps

Ready to open up the full potential of your semiconductor production line? Look no further than RO1 by Standard Bots, the powerful six-axis robotic arm:

  • Save money, and increase efficiency: RO1 offers top-notch automation at a fraction of the price of other robots, making it a smart investment for businesses of all sizes.
  • Power and precision: With a strong lifting capacity and fast movements, RO1 outperforms similar robots, ensuring your production line runs smoothly and efficiently.
  • Smarter over time: RO1's advanced AI technology allows it to learn and adapt to your specific needs, making it easier to integrate into your existing workflow. Plus, its simple interface means you don't need to be a coding expert to get started.
  • Safety is queen: RO1 is designed to work safely alongside your team, thanks to its cutting-edge vision and sensor technology.

Don't miss out on the chance to upscale your semiconductor manufacturing process. Contact us today to schedule a demo and see how RO1 can take your business to new heights!

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