Is Automation Software Useful in LED Manufacturing?

Sep282010

In his blog, James Moyne talked about Applied Materials’ software footprint as it relates to crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar production. James highlighted a specific scenario where advanced process control plays an important role in addressing issues associated with solar cell printing. As this type of technology becomes widely adopted, the c-Si solar industry will collectively improve processes and drive the quality and conversion efficiency of the product to new highs.

The LED manufacturing world has an interesting mix of semiconductor technology and c-Si manufacturing practices. This raises the question: can automation software be beneficial—and affordable—for LED production lines? The answer is YES, and I’ll begin to tell you why.

The front end of LED manufacturing is essentially a simplified semiconductor process with much less re-entrant flow, especially in the lithography area. The back end is similar to many other assembly processes that package electronics into a device. While similar to c-Si manufacturing in that there is minimal or non-existent product tracking (though as James pointed out in his blog, c-Si manufacturers are investing now in more sophisticated tracking solutions), LED manufacturing differs in its general lack of in-line measurement in the front end process – a topic widely discussed at this year’s SEMICON West. Couple this lack of traceability in LED with the delay of final testing data, and a manufacturer’s ability to predict the quality of the end product is inaccurate at worst or delayed significantly at the very best. Since traceability from finished product to front end run is almost non-existent at many sites, the ability to create manufacturing correlations has been extremely difficult. This makes it challenging to improve quality or drive further control of bin size.

Fortunately, LED manufacturers are starting to understand and realize the value of a software solution that can trace a product from wafer-to-die, to die-on-tape, and then to final product. Additional measurement steps are being added closer to the MOCVD tools that allow excellent correlation between tool settings and recipes and product performance. Some manufacturers also add in-situ metrology which contributes even more data that can be correlated to product performance. This results in an opportunity to directly impact bin yield by merely adding software along with in-line measurement steps.

During this crazy period of growth in LED demand and production, manufacturers are quickly realizing the immediate value from software that can provide full product traceability and advanced process control to ensure that each production run outputs the highest quality product. Getting more from current manufacturing lines is as important as getting new lines up and running quickly.