Everyday gadgets that we use employ highly miniaturised circuits and if you ever ‘accidently’ opened any such device, you know we cannot etch a processing chip on any regular Printed Circuit Board (PCB). These require clean rooms and sophisticated equipment. Such manufacturers, in essence, are the unsung heroes behind the large-scale adoption of technology.
Making basic components like Integrated Circuits (IC) for electronic devices is an art in itself. After all these ICs are what rules the phone in your hand or the computer on your desk. Let’s take a look into the process behind such wondrous manufacturing.
Steps involved in making an IC
Making an IC is a very complicated process and high care is taken to get everything right. Even a single dust particle can cause a short circuit in the equipment.
A single wafer goes through very stringent cleanliness measures in order to make the perfect solution. Even before involving the hardware, we have several steps to check for any problems that may occur in the finished product. Once those are taken care of, we fabricating the hardware.
The wafer is first prepared for fabrication by converting an ingot (cylindrical block of silicon) into thin strips of about 0.004 to 0.01 cm. These would later provide to be the base of the IC. After clearing for any scrapes, this wafer is subjected to superheated steam at about 1000 C. This creates an insulating coating of Silicon DiOxide (SiO2) to prevent any unwanted oxidation of the silicon that would cause problems later on.
Then the wafer goes for masking. Here the wafer is coated in a photoresist material. Once the wafer is completely coated in photoresist material, the process of exposure under Ultra Violet (UV) light takes place. Here, the wafer is exposed to UV light such that the photoresist material is differentiated in the form of hard and soft material. Next comes etching out the excess/unwanted silicon. The unwanted silicon is removed along with the excess photoresist material. Now we have the required circuit on a wafer.
Next we have doping and other ion implantation on the wafer. This is done in order to create transistors and such similar circuit components on the wafer. Once this is completed, a mechanically operated fine diamond cutter cuts the wafer. This creates several ICs from a single wafer of Silicon.
After several quality and other checks, the appropriate connections are made. Now we have a completed IC that can be packaged as required.
How do they do it?
Once we know the steps taken to manufacture an IC, a question that comes to mind is about the tools involved in the entire process. These have to be specialised tools with superior quality and durability. The machines involved into making these wafers cannot be changed regularly with each new update, so they have to be able to perform highly complex tasks with regular support from the manufacturer. But we never hear of these equipment, or their manufacturers.
Developing the equipment
A lot of research goes into making these equipment, as these are not easily replaceable. Additionally, “We also provide refurbishing with our equipment. We take our equipment and make suitable modifications making them ready to handle the evolving demands of the industry,” adds Ashok Belle, MD, Lam Research India.
The designing of these systems in done entirely within the organisation through Offshore Development Centres managed by firms like LAM Research. “We do research in collaboration with the customers. This makes way for the proper and desired equipment to be developed,” says Belle. The constant advancements in technology demands the need for machines that are both efficient and accurate in their delivery. The research done helps in bringing the equipment that the users want, and not just adding random features.