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Getting More from Your Applied Materials Equipment

By Nanochip Staff

Semiconductor and display manufacturing are highly complex undertakings, but in that complexity lay many opportunities to improve the speed, efficiency, productivity and environmental impact of production tools and factory systems. As Vice President of Services Marketing and Business Development for Applied Global Services (AGS), Jeremy Read is chartered with finding ways to help customers do just that. 

Nanochip Fab Solutions spoke with him recently to discuss how AGS is working to respond to customers’ evolving service needs and help them get more from their Applied Materials tools and factory systems.

NFS: Jeremy, how would you describe today’s service landscape?

Read: To fully appreciate the changes that are taking place in service, we first must realize that the semiconductor and display industries are at an historic inflection point in their growth and development. Demand for chips and displays for diverse consumer and IoT applications is explosive. Couple that with the ongoing need for high-performance chips for data centers, and speed to solutions becomes essential.. End-markets are more dynamic than ever and manufacturers need to earn a return on invested capital as fast as possible.

Customers’ service requirements are changing to reflect these new realities. Quality output is always important; but today, speed and cost are also competitive drivers.  So the pressure is on AGS to deliver continually evolving service concepts and solutions such as new contractual arrangements that rapidly and efficiently help customers get the most out of their tools and fabs.

NFS: Would you briefly describe AGS?

Read: AGS is the equipment service arm of Applied Materials, including all parts and consulting offerings.  We serve a global installed base of more than 35,000 tools, with a team of 4,000 highly trained and certified field service engineers among the global ranks of AGS personnel. Our mission is to support users of Applied Materials equipment with everything from the parts, maintenance and repair of a single 150mm or 200mm tool all the way up to the design, startup, automation and fine tuning of fleets of our equipment in the industry’s most advanced 300mm fabs.

But the ways in which we fulfill that mission are changing, starting with the very design of Applied’s new tools. If you’ve ever worked on a car, it may have occurred to you that if service technicians had been involved in its design, then working on it surely would be easier and take less time. Well, that’s now our philosophy, the goal being to minimize equipment downs and maximize the success of service engagements. AGS parts and service engineers now routinely work alongside Applied’s product design and manufacturing teams in a cross-functional manner to develop service routines, become familiar with process operations, and understand parts, kits and replacement cycles.

The Applied Centris™ Sym3™ etcher is a great example. Despite the fact that it’s a new, highly sophisticated tool that enables production of advanced nodes, it also features faster ramp times than its predecessors, and better troubleshooting capabilities.

NFS: You mentioned new “evolving service concepts.” What do you mean by that?

Read: While we’re always very happy to do a simple, traditional repair on a customer tool as needed, we’ve increased our capabilities to address today’s more complex needs. We’ve developed a range of service technologies that no one else can match; introduced highly competitive parts with performance advantages and greater lifetimes; implemented a service network that ensures a physical presence no matter where in the world a customer is located; and created a variety of cost-effective contractual arrangements that offer customers great flexibility.

NFS: Would you give us a few examples of these services?

Read: If you consider the typical service requirements across a fab’s lifecycle, there are at least three phases with distinct needs: startup, high-volume manufacturing and then later on, tool life extension. A fast startup requires proven installation and software expertise so that tools can be ramped and optimized quickly, and our advanced services such as chamber-matching and defect-reduction are key. AGS has shown the ability to achieve fab ramps 15% faster than traditional ramps, in terms of average cycle-time days. Further, the use of AGS’s advanced analytics with our proprietary field service server (FSS) during startup can dramatically reduce troubleshooting time, thereby improving overall cycle time by 25%.

In high-volume manufacturing, AGS helps maximize tool availability and reduce operating costs with a range of services—things like faster troubleshooting, highly efficient preventive maintenance (PM) strategies and extended-lifetime parts. In one case we optimized PM procedures and schedules such that the customer achieved a more than 4% uptime improvement for a fleet of ion implanters, and produced >150,000 additional wafers.

To support older tools, Applied continually invests in re-engineering parts and subsystems for better performance.  We also develop completely new parts to support more advanced applications. A case in point: our new Throughput Health Monitor, used with the FSS, improved output by >10% on a customer’s fleet of 200mm Endura PVD tools.

NFS: You mentioned “new contractual arrangements.”  Please elaborate.  Does everyone need one?

Read: Every customer has unique challenges, so we offer a range of service plans to ensure that tools and fabs are operating at peak performance no matter what. There always will be customers who want to manage their equipment support on an ‘as-needed’ basis, and we will accommodate that with best-in-class people and services. But these days, service content and delivery is largely influenced by the customer’s need to resolve problems quickly, amp-up performance fast, while still holding the line on costs . So we offer an increasingly broad range of service options that can be tailored to the needs of the customer.

So for instance, if the customer goal is enhanced uptime and throughput, we can offer Applied Managed Service™.  It offers priority support for corrective and preventive maintenance, with a focus on increasing equipment availability. A variety of methods are used to accomplish this, such as optimizing maintenance schedules to reduce downtime and achieve faster green-to-green times. This plan also combines proprietary data analytics with our digital tools for increased fab throughput. Premium-level versions include access to the FabVantage 360™ benchmarking team, as well as the latest in parts technology and customization.

If a customer requires help with unit-process needs such as ramping tools, moving to tighter process specifications during a node transition, addressing yield issues and so on, then various options are available in the family of Applied Performance Service™ plans. We believe they offer the industry’s widest range of options and tool-specific performance commitments for such requirements.

NFS: What about more traditional service plans? Does AGS still offer them?

Read: Certainly! Applied Standard Service™ helps customers quickly recover from equipment downs by providing certified AGS field engineers and quality Applied parts to rectify problems. Preventive Maintenance is available as an add-on so that Applied Materials equipment continues to operate at peak performance.

For spare parts, Applied maintains one of the industry’s largest global inventories of high-quality spare parts, along with robust tracking services to ensure on-time delivery. Applied Total Kit Management™ solutions can be either included in service contracts or can be stand-alone agreements. They provide turnkey, cost-effective chamber kits with Applied-managed logistics for reduced tool downtime. Applied Forecast Parts Management™ is a more comprehensive parts support option designed to reduce wait times for parts and optimize on-site inventory levels.

NFS: Advanced analytics are enabling AGS to help customers in ways that weren’t possible before. How are they implemented?

Read: Today’s complex systems and the need for faster time to yields at advanced nodes simply demand better, more robust approaches to data analytics. So our premium service agreements can include Applied’s proprietary digital tools, algorithms and models tailored to Applied tools. These transform raw data into actionable analytics to help reduce start-up times, increase wafer output, reduce wafer scrap and improve yield, all while protecting customer data.

We use analytics such as virtual metrology (VM) to improve within-wafer performance, a multivariate chamber health index (CHI) to monitor excursions in real-time, and equipment health monitoring (EHM) to track sensors that detail hardware activity.

They’re very powerful tools. In one case, a customer needed the ability to accurately predict thickness, dopant levels and resistivity during process qualification of its epi chambers. We developed VM models to enable the customer to reduce process-tuning time by 40%. In another instance, a CHI was developed that leveraged multiple critical sensors for the etching process so that a PM could be triggered before problems arose .

NFS: Earlier you mentioned consulting. Can you give us a few details?

Read: Our FabVantage™ Consulting group helps customers address their most challenging problems, whether they involve cost, efficiency or yield. So for example, a FabVantage analysis for one customer resulted in reduced particle adders on a PVD TiN hardmask from 16 to 9 per wafer. In another, FabVantage chamber-matching methodology matched critical dimensions (CD) and trench depth to achieve a chamber-to-chamber CD range of <0.5nm on a fleet of etch chambers in 2x-nm DRAM production.

FabVantage consultants use advanced modeling and analytical tools and work with service teams to benchmark fab operations against best-in-class performance to ensure that tools are operating at optimum performance. Tools and recipes are audited, and sensor and on-wafer data is used to pinpoint key issues. This team is comprised of experts with specialized, hands-on experience and tool knowledge. They leverage best-known practices and specific expertise to help customers isolate problems and get to potential remedies faster.

NFS: Any final thoughts, Jeremy?

Read: The changes in our industry are creating major opportunities for our customers to deliver exciting new products to market faster. But they are also raising the stakes for equipment downtime, slow or ineffective problem-solving practices, and sub-par performance. Because our customers’ success is really our success as well, we are committed to providing a rich, diverse offering of services to help customers get more out of their equipment as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.

To learn more about Applied Materials service and support offerings contact