Getting More from Your Fab with Predictive Scheduling

Sep282011

Chipmaking is arguably the most complex manufacturing operation in human history. To illustrate this:

  • A modern megafab – one that processes over a million wafers a year – contains hundreds of individual machines and turns out billions of finished chips a year
  • It can take over 750 individual process steps to make a modern microprocessor
  • The number of different types of chips being made simultaneously in the same fab is growing while adding more layers to each one. As technology continues to progress the size of the chips are shrinking and manufacturing constraints are increasing.

How is this complexity handled? By computers, of course, using a similarly complex piece of software called a manufacturing execution system (MES) which keeps track of every machine and every wafer in the fab.This automation system knows the processing steps and issues instructions to the robots or humans that actually move wafers around in the fab.

At Applied Materials, we’ve taken software automation to the next level. Our SmartSched software doesn’t just react to changing fab conditions; it peers into the future, anticipating the changing state of the factory and predicting what will be processing at what time in the future. SmartSched will then organize wafer lots and photomasks for optimal use to deliver more customer orders.

It’s like predetermining the order of building blocks in a game of Tetris, long before they visibly appear on the screen. The result is a smoother flow of blocks and more organized use of the available space. SmartSched delivers to a fab the proven ability to better utilize its expensive assets and increase the output capacity with those same assets. This video shows how it works.

As we announced earlier in a press release, a leading chipmaker is deploying the SmartSched system in one of the largest megafabs in the world. Customers view using SmartSched as a golden opportunity to manufacture more chips from the machines they already have.

The movement from reactive to predictive operations in the fab symbolizes the next generation in fab productivity. In today’s economy, where reducing waste is essential to a company’s survival, SmartSched represents an Applied Materials innovation that allows fabs to get more productivity out of their existing equipment.

Categories: