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Advanced Process Control Conference: Finding APC Solutions

James Moyne

The annual Advanced Process Control (APC) conference in the United States continues to be a valuable resource for understanding the current as well as future APC challenges and solutions in semiconductor and display manufacturing.

Did you ever wonder how your APC implementation compares to that of others in your industry? Do you have challenges with your current APC system and wonder if others have the same problems, or if they may have found solutions? Do you know what APC will look like in our industry in 2 or even 10 years?

These are topics that are covered at the annual U.S. APC Conference ( Now in its 27th year, this conference was created to facilitate sharing of APC challenges and ideas, specifically as they impact semiconductor manufacturing. The event is usually attended by a who’s-who of semiconductor manufacturing APC innovators and experts. In the late 1980’s when the conference was started, terms like “run-to-run (R2R) control” and “fault detection and classification (FDC)” didn’t even exist; indeed many of the “first’s” associated with these technologies were presented in APC conferences. Over the years the conference has become the pre-dominant place in our industry for attendees to report their latest innovations and successes, determine how they should be using APC, find answers to specific issues, and share ideas and concerns with technology peers.

At the APC XXVI conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, last September, it was clear that “big data” is on the minds of many APC users and experts [1]. For example, over 70 people attended an all day tutorial on big data and the topic was covered in a number of presentations including the conference-opening keynote address by GLOBALFOUNDRIES executive Tim Miller.

As a result, a number of important consensus points on big data arose. The first is that all users, OEMs and suppliers need to consider big data issues if they are to remain competitive, and these issues can be summarized as the five “Vs”: Volume, Velocity, Variety (data merging and consolidation), Veracity (data quality) and Value (algorithms). Figure 1, presented during the tutorial provides a perspective from the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) on how big data issues might be addressed.

Click to enlarge chart
Figure 1: Table from the ITRS roadmap, illustrating the issues that must be addressed in big data. This complex table highlights the semiconductor manufacturing issues associated with big data and the five "Vs" (see left-hand column). The determination of the specifics of the roadmap associated with each of these issues is a task of the ITRS technology working group in 2015 [2].

The second point is that big data is a key required enabler of predictive technologies including predictive maintenance (PdM) and virtual metrology (VM). A final key big data consensus point is that addressing big data issues doesn’t necessarily require a move to technologies like Hadoop and MapReduce. While these technologies may be required in the long run, addressing issues like data Volume (e.g., archive lengths) and Veracity (data quality) in existing systems will go along way towards enabling predictive technologies in today’s fabs. Methods for doing this were discussed in the tutorial as well as a number of the presentations and posters.

The APC Conference also highlighted limits management in current fault detection (FD) systems as one of the biggest issues with today’s APC systems. A number of methods were presented, including one from Dario Nappa of Triquint, that eliminated the concept of FD limits altogether, however it was clear that more research in this area is needed. In response, the APC Council within SEMATECH decided to investigate the problem further though surveys of members and idea-sharing member meetings with the possibility of supporting specific projects to provide improved methods for FD limits management.

Other practical issues covered in the conference include (1) addressing cultural challenges from top management to the factory-floor in deploying APC technologies such as fab-wide FDC; (2) assessing FDC system effectiveness; and (3) solving practical problems in Predictive Maintenance (PdM) deployment such as process and equipment disturbances.

In the "what-lies-ahead" category, it appears that PdM is on the cusp of becoming widespread in today’s fabs. As an example, Jimmy Iskandar of Applied Materials summarized early PdM successes (Figure 2) and presented a re-usable solution for fab-wide PdM deployment. Other emerging ideas include:

  • The importance of linkages between capabilities such as FDC, R2R control, and electrical test analysis and the ability to "drill across" these capabilities in data mining;
  • New approaches to virtual metrology that leverage physical and small signal "stitched" models;
  • The move from "threaded" to "non-threaded" R2R control;
  • New sensors (e.g., mass flow controllers) that provide more data to support APC systems; and
  • The migration to a more services-based approach to deploying and maintaining "advanced" APC capabilities such as PdM and virtual metrology, so that tool and process knowledge can be better incorporated into solutions.

Figure 2: A summary of PdM successes reported by Applied Materials at the APC Conference XXVI, 2015 [3] included these solutions deployed at multiple Applied Materials customer sites.

Get Ready for APC Conference 2015

This year, the APC Conference will be held in Austin, Texas, October 12-14, 2015. The call for papers can be found at You should consider submitting abstracts to capture your solutions, issues and ideas. The format is presentations and posters (no papers required), so even ideas in their infancy would be welcomed. The conference is a great way to get your company and your engineers involved in the nano-manufacturing APC community, as well as determine the best ways to optimize your APC resources today and in the future.

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[1] APC Conference XXVI, Michigan, (September 2014).
[2] 2014 International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS): Factory Integration Chapter, available at
[3] J. Iskandar, P. Hawkins, J. Moyne and B. Schulze, “Predictive Maintenance is Ready to Increase Fab Productivity,” APC Conference XXVI, Michigan, (September 2014).