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Planning More Effective New Fab Startups

By Haim Albalak

The cost of a new fab today can approach $10 billion, and such a high level of capital expenditure increases the importance of delivering a fast return on that investment. Now, a new early-stage fab-planning offering from the Applied Materials FabVantage™ Consulting group can help customers achieve faster, more efficient startups.

Proper planning for the operation of a new or expanded fab plays a critical role in determining how quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively a fab will reach desired performance levels and begin delivering measurable ROI. Indeed, some studies have estimated that a 10–20% reduction in operating expenses can be achieved through proper planning of manufacturing operations before tools are installed.

Accurate equipment capacity planning strongly impacts capital expenditures and future fab productivity, so there are many elements to consider when performing capacity modeling for a new fab. These include tool and chamber dedication, queue-time loops, lot sizes, and the uptime variability and inspection plans of production tools, to name a few.

For example, one manufacturer identified opportunities to reduce the capital-spending plan for an entire fab’s process tools by 2%, amounting to a savings of more than $60M. This was accomplished by using simulations to create fab and tool operational curves, and then performing a sensitivity analysis to validate and update productive capacity assumptions for bottleneck and non-bottleneck tools.

Unfortunately, under current market conditions, many semiconductor companies may be short of personnel with the extensive experience needed for fab planning and startup—the critical steps that begin with feasibility checks and continue until the facility is ready for equipment. This experience shortfall may be exacerbated by the sheer number of new semiconductor fabs currently in the planning stages; some 20 or more fabs are now in various stages of planning or construction around the world.[1]

Planning the startup of a new fab means minimizing a spectrum of risks—to cost, schedule and quality—while also optimizing capital expenditures and ensuring that the factory rapidly achieves design performance. A shortfall in any of these areas means fab managers will find it difficult to avoid the mistakes, oversights, and ineffective strategies that inhibit fab productivity, increase business risk, and lead to unnecessary capital expenditures.

Planning for a new fab must be supported by criteria or objectives agreed upon by management that become guidelines for the project team throughout the entire planning process, and that help management make objective decisions.

It is important to keep in mind that different fabs have different sets of criteria, and these should be weighted according to the company’s goals. Weighted criteria can help fab management evaluate alternatives in a wide variety of design aspects such as layout, tool selection, site selection and many others. Applied Materials recommends using a structured methodology such as an analytical hierarchy process (AHP) to establish and weight the criteria. Figure 1 illustrates how one simple set of fab criteria can be weighted differently by different types of fabs.

Figure 1. One size does not fit all when it comes to fab planning. Different fabs have different sets of criteria that should be weighted according to a company’s specific goals. These weighted criteria can help fab management better evaluate alternatives in a wide variety of design aspects for a new fab.

One such case is selecting the right conceptual layout of the fab. This has a large impact on the fab’s future performance, so decisions regarding the best layout should be made based on the fab design criteria. A common dilemma during conceptual design relates to the need to implement startup plans in phases.

For example, figure 2 shows two design alternatives to support a fab that will start up in two different production phases. Each alternative has its pros and cons, and the selection should be based on the overall fab criteria.

Figure 2. A manufacturer’s need to begin production in two distinct phases often makes it difficult to determine the optimum fab layout in advance. Some of the conflicts and trade-offs involved in a hypothetical layout design process are illustrated above. The ultimate decision should be based on the fab criteria that FabVantage consultants help customers define at the beginning of the planning process.

Often, manufacturers will look for external resources to help them manage these challenges. However, outside personnel may not have the requisite startup experience or access to prior learnings and know-how about fab planning, or the ability to benchmark both facilities and tools to best-in-class standards.

This lack of highly specialized expertise can result in ineffective planning for new fab startups, leading to mistakes and problems such as:

  • Subfab design that doesn’t easily support potential future production increases
  • Selection of incorrect tools or inefficient tool configurations
  • Inability to completely leverage the benefits of advanced computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) solutions in FullAuto mode
  • Insufficient material-handling and storage capacity
  • Insufficient or excess metrology capacity
  • Production inflexibility due to improper placement of equipment and automation systems
  • Excessive yield loss due to improper location of high-contamination areas


The Applied Materials FabVantage Consulting group has developed FabVantage early-stage planning, a new offering designed specifically to help startup fabs go from an initial plan to a highly productive manufacturing facility in less time, with less risk, and with greater capital efficiency.

This FabVantage offering delivers fast, efficient, comprehensive fab planning support, along with assistance in executing phases of the plan. Specifically, FabVantage consultants help customers by using a carefully designed process to address equipment capabilities and requirements, fab layout review, facilities optimization, capacity modeling, project planning, and factory automation (see figure 3).

Figure 3. Applied Materials FabVantage early-stage fab planning is based on a comprehensive information-gathering, planning-and-design methodology.

Applied Materials is uniquely qualified to deliver this early-stage fab planning support. For decades, the company has been the leading manufacturer of the industry’s broadest line of semiconductor production equipment, software and services, with an installed base of >38,000 tools in more than 80 locations in 18 different countries. Applied Materials can benchmark facilities, and fab and tool performance to best-in-class standards. For example, our knowledge base contains data from more than 13,000 process chambers with more than 70 mainframe configurations from 113 different fabs. We have thousands of tools under service agreements, giving us unique visibility into best-in-class tool performance and practices (see figure 4).

Figure 4. Our knowledge base contains best-in-class benchmark data from thousands of tools under service agreement.

Here are examples showing how Applied’s FabVantage early-stage fab planning consultants help customers reduce risk and save on opex and capex.

Automated material-handling system (AMHS) design. These systems heavily influence future fab performance, especially in large advanced fabs where system complexity is growing. It is critical to use simulations and modeling to validate the design of the AMHS. This enables quick, easy evaluation by estimating capabilities and identifying potential bottlenecks.

In one instance, FabVantage consultants discovered that incorrect routing of an AMHS in relation to the layout of some of a fab’s high-throughput tools led to the tools being idle 2% longer than necessary because they had to wait for work-in-process (WIP) from the AMHS. This idle time was equivalent to $5–10M in cost, and resulted from locating too many short-process-time tools in the same service area of the AMHS track. Figure 5 illustrates the problem.

Figure 5. As an example of the need for effective capacity planning, the illustration above shows how incorrect planning of an AMHS system resulted in high-throughput tools sitting idle 2% longer than needed. FabVantage early-stage fab planning consultants uncovered the problem through fab simulations and modeling.

Planning for Energy Saving. Planning for energy efficiency from the outset is the best way to achieve it. One of the key opportunities is to enable equipment idle/sleep modes. To maximize this opportunity it is important to select the right subfab components during the planning stage because the overall energy-saving potential can be as high as 15% of a fab’s total power consumption.

FabVantage consultants leverage Applied’s experience with more than 2,700 iSystem™ subfab tool connections and >2,000 pre-pump plasma system installations to help customers plan subfab strategies that reduce energy and resource consumption, better monitor subfab components, and efficiently help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (see figure 6).

Figure 6. Planning for energy and resource savings from the outset is the best way to achieve it. One of the key opportunities is to enable idle/sleep modes in subfab components. The overall energy-saving potential can be as high as 15% of a fab’s total power consumption.


FabVantage early-stage fab planning provides customers with executive-level decision-making support during planning for a new fab startup, and expert consulting services over the life of the project. It includes subject-matter experts in multiple relevant disciplines and leverages the vast resources of Applied’s fab and tool knowledge base. FabVantage consultants also leverage Applied Materials expertise in CIM software solutions, based on extensive experience with the industry’s leading semiconductor companies to help customers achieve world-class levels of performance and rapid return on investment for their new fabs.

Underpinning the work of FabVantage experts is their access to the Applied Materials knowledge base. This is an encyclopedic collection of industry benchmarks and known successful best practices and procedures about tools, operations, processes, automation, facilities and factory-level technology.


The semiconductor industry faces a pressing need to bring numerous new fabs and fab expansions online at a time when experienced personnel are scarce in many parts of the world.

FabVantage early-stage fab planning is tailored to that need, and is one more way in which Applied Materials helps customers meet their most difficult manufacturing challenges.

Haim Albalak is the Fab Productivity Practice Leader in the Applied Materials FabVantage Consulting group.

For additional information, contact