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Components | September 19, 2012

European Research Project 'IMPROVE a success

The 35 European partners in the research project IMPROVE have succeeded in making the European semiconductor industry more competitive in the global arena.
In 2009, a group of European semiconductor companies joined together under the technical project management of Infineon Technologies AG. Their aim was to identify new methods to increase the efficiency of semiconductor manufacturing in Europe and, at the same time, reduce costs and processing times.

Technology partners of the project funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) were software enterprises, semiconductor companies with production sites in Europe, research institutes and academia from Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Portugal. IMPROVE stands for “Implementing Manufacturing science solutions to increase equipment productivity and fab performance”.

IMPROVE research success: Better yield in shorter production time

The IMPROVE project partners have managed to decrease the rejects in chip production by 12 percent with their research work. In addition, the IMPROVE project has also succeeded in reducing the production time for semiconductor products, which is currently about 12 to 16 weeks for a complex chip.

Soon it might be possible to cut back the production time for semiconductor products by up to 3 percent. The IMPROVE partners have achieved this result by developing fundamentally new and intelligent methods of analysis and software tools and combining them with innovative data evaluation techniques. In order to obtain more control of process fluctuations, the research partners looked at the entire production line.

One of the main challenges was to integrate the new methods and software components into the semiconductor manufacturers’ existing production information and control systems, in order to confirm the research results in productive pilot applications.

Today, making a complex chip requires an average of 550 individual process steps. The typical production run is 50 to 100 wafers after which manufacturers have to reset production tools for the next of their many products and production processes. This makes precise monitoring of the production line and its conditions as well as predictive maintenance essential in order to stay competitive. IMPROVE has made an important contribution toward saving time here, too.

“The IMPROVE research project was urgently necessary owing to growing chip functionality and the increasingly complex production methods with their additional process steps and longer production time,” said Dr. Cristina De Luca, IMPROVE project head at Infineon Technologies AG. “The joint research work of the semiconductor industry with academia, plant and process control and sensor and software development has helped semiconductor production to take a big step forward with the most modern techniques.”

The IMPROVE research project

The IMPROVE project had a total budget of approximately Euro 37.7 million, half of which was carried by the partners from industry and research. The other half is funded by the ENIAC Joint Undertaking of the European Union as part of their program “SP4 Nanoelectronics for Energy & Environment” as well as by national funding of the participating nations.

The BMBF is supporting the project with Euro 3.3 million under the “Information and Communications Technology 2020” program. Infineon was in charge of the coordination of the German project partners until November 2011, after which the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Systems and Device Technology took over.

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