The Key to Navigating Complex Material Supply Chains

Article By : Anand Nambiar, EMD Electronics

Navigating the complexity of material supply chains and mastering data analytics is key to chip growth.

The chip shortage continues to challenge the industry. Many issues still prevail and one that has become a central global challenge is the scarcity of raw materials. Raw materials ranging from aluminum, cobalt, copper, silicon, tungsten, and more are critical to product innovation and semiconductor manufacturing.

This has created a critical need for more data to expedite product development processes, enhance material quality, and help make production more efficient — especially with the acceleration of everything digital. Combining data management with the right materials will enable  the advancement of semiconductor products.

The sheer complexity of both the supply chain and the semiconductor manufacturing process prevents any one company from adequately controlling it on its own. Navigating this complexity through data is imperative for sustained growth of the industry

New manufacturing investments from major semiconductor companies to expand capacity demonstrates the industry’s commitment to addressing the chip shortage and supply chain issues. These new fabs are creating a growing demand for equipment and materials to fulfill the future exponential growth.

As smart factories come online, digitally connected machines and robots continuously collect data. Additional technologies in these advanced factories, such as augmented/virtual reality and predictive maintenance, process large volumes of data. This valuable data can be used to monitor, control, and optimize the production processes.

An important prerequisite for mastering the growing flood of data is to collect a wide data base that stretches across the value chain. For example, some raw material manufacturing processes or supply sources have become highly concentrated in a region or individual countries. Scouting of alternative supply sources can be accelerated by using advanced analytics that predicts the impact of a new raw material source on finished goods.

To succeed in the future, companies need to rethink how to acquire and work with materials they need and collaborate across the industry.

More data, integration capabilities needed

In addition to this new influx of data from smart factories, semiconductor chip architectures and processes have become much more complex, requiring more elements in the periodic table. A few decades ago, less than 10 elements were used in chip processes. Now, with the explosion of data and digitization, 50 to 70 of the elements are used, with even more under scrutiny.

Materials are also an integral part of innovation, and using the right materials in solving critical challenges to develop new products can lead to new breakthroughs. As an example, integrating materials solutions can help solve critical challenges such as pattern transfer, 3D scaling, and atomic scale processing and integration.

With a broader range of materials being used to produce semiconductor products, the ability to integrate and package these materials to streamline the manufacturing process is increasingly critical.

EMD opinion chip probe
A key to improving supply chain efficiency is to collaborate and share data with sub–suppliers to provide more transparency to customers and mitigate risk in quality and supply. 

This is an area in which EMD Electronics, a business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, is involved. The focus is on providing material solutions across all steps of the manufacturing process to help solve these challenges with a commitment to data analysis and management. As a result, best practices can be identified for companies to expedite innovation, enhance product quality, manage supply chain, and ultimately help solve customers’ pain points.

Below are steps companies can take to use data and accelerate the development of new products:

  • Test and develop material process conditions rapidly and iteratively for specific problems and scenarios. For example, Intermolecular, a business of EMD Electronics, delivers advanced applications insight and testing capabilities. Its combinatorial technology allows materials with many different compositions and combinations to be placed on a single wafer. A holistic view of materials and data–driven insights can be used to ensure product quality and purity standards while speeding the process from R&D to commercialization.
  • Use AI and machine–learning techniques to understand correlations and predict how a material change could impact the customer’s process. We have seen the ability to solve issues in less than four weeks using these tools.
  • Gain learnings from using the right technology or system, and then adapt and scale. Learnings from R&D to production can set the standards for collecting the right data during product and process development. This helps to accelerate new material development in the future by using the data in the early stage of the asset lifecycle.
  • Proactively identify the parameters beyond the certificate of analysis that matter for fab performance before a deviation occurs. Better control of newly identified parameters improves the materials’ performance in their fabs, contributing to yield optimization. Use your findings in R&D for new material innovation to accelerate the ramp–up of next–generation technology nodes.
  • Collaborate and share data with sub–suppliers to provide more transparency to customers and mitigate risk in quality and supply. By tapping into an industry–wide data ecosystem, you can aggregate and analyze data across multiple fabs and material suppliers in the semiconductor industry. This will improve material quality, increase transparency into supply chains, and accelerate time to market.
  • Take the organization on a digitalization journey to educate and embed the digital culture, and most importantly to provide hands on tools for different departments to optimize their current processes and adapt best in class digital solutions. This data office should ultimately be integrated into the business to ensure a data–driven approach. In total, the integration of three different relationships must be addressed in the digitalization journey for organizations: (1) minds and machines, (2) products and platforms, and (3) the ‘core’ and the crowd. Evolving a centralized data office into a deeply woven guiding force for the businesses addresses point (3), i.e. integrating the so–called ‘core’ — otherwise known as the business — with the crowd.

The demand for more materials  has never been greater, and it’s only been exacerbated by the chip shortage and supply chain issues. Digitalization can be a company’s differentiation factor to stay ahead of the competition. To be successful in today’s digital landscape, companies need to rethink how to acquire and work with materials they need and collaborate across the industry.

Mastering data analytics is at the center of this and will be key to driving future semiconductor innovation. Adopting new digital technologies and collaboration tools will enable companies to manage the data explosion with the right materials. This will help companies innovate faster, optimize production, and achieve greater supply chain transparency.

This article was originally published on EE Times.

Anand Nambiar is an executive vice president and the head of semiconductor materials at EMD Electronics, a business of Merck KgaA, Darmstadt, Germany.


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