It’s a good story that’s been 30 years in the making. From its founding by Erich and Aya Maria Thallner in 1980 and subsequent launch of the world’s first double-sided mask aligner for the emerging MEMS market five years later; to its most recent industry-first launch of a fully-automated wafer bonding system for high-brightness light emitting diode (HB-LED) manufacturing; EV Group has adhered strictly to its central mission of participating in emerging technologies from proof of concept through volume manufacturing.
With a goal of providing end-to-end value-chain solutions to emerging technology markets such as 3D, MEMS, silicon on insulator (SOI), and compound semiconductors, EV Group manufactures wafer bonders, aligners, coaters/developers, temporary bonder/debonders for thin wafers, cleaners, and nano-imprint systems. “We support so many markets,” notes Thorsten Matthias, business development director. “It takes a lot of effort to sustain such a broad range of technologies.”
EV Group sums up its philosophy and mission in three words: “Invent, Innovate, Implement”. Whatever market EVG enters into, the company’s goal is to be the first to explore new techniques and serve next-generation applications of micro and nano fabrication technologies. The list of industry firsts supporting this is long and includes such notable achievements as the developing the first backside lithography system for MEMS, the first wafer bonding systems that would set the industry standard, the first nanoimprint system, and the first automated SOI bonding system. As Hermann Waltl, executive sales and customer support director, pointed out, the “Triple I” philosophy isn’t merely a marketing tagline – at EVG it’s a way of life and the company’s secret to success.
A Vertical Approach
Critical to EVG’s mission is its vertically integrated approach to tool manufacturing. Leaving nothing to chance and to help accelerate the process from concept to completion, the world headquarters in St. Florian, Austria, houses everything from a machine shop for custom-tooled components, to a 15,000 square meter clean manufacturing area, and class 100 and 10 clean rooms equipped for R&D, running customer processes and even a low-volume 300mm pilot line. “We want to be sure to deliver what we have sold.” notes Waltl, citing such full ISO certification and quality management practices in place to support the effort. In addition to its world headquarters in St. Florian, Austria, EVG’s global customer support is evident through its subsidiaries in Tempe, AZ; Albany, NY; Yokohama, Japan; Seoul, Korea; and a joint venture in Taiwan.
But there’s more to it than supplying the right equipment. Waltl says ultimately, the goal is not to only be an equipment supplier, but rather provide total solutions together with the equipment, convincing the customer that the solution to their new process requirement can be delivered by EVG. To that end, EVG is committed to supporting process and equipment development from R&D through full volume manufacturing. “We want to grow with the application,” notes Waltl. As such, tool modules are developed with an eye on the process, and are suited to the R&D environment. Later, it’s simply a matter of adding automation and increasing the modules based on volume. The recipe remains the same. Of EVG’s approximately 450 employees worldwide, 26% work in R&D, with a total of 25% revenue spent in R&D.
EVG sees its position as a privately held company as its key advantage over larger, publicly held competitors. One freedom is the ability to make long-term investments. Shareholders do not dictate the company’s direction. The main responsibility is always to the customer, notes Waltl. Larger companies don’t have the luxury of a long term approach, and often have to wait for a market to emerge before investing in it.
Admittedly, investing in emerging markets at ground level can be risky; not all EVG’s ventures have made it to high volume manufacturing yet. Nanoimprint lithography, for example, is still a niche market application. But in executive technology director Paul Lindner’s opinion, it’s riskier to try to enter into an established market once it hits main stream.
With the 3D integration market, EVG hit pay dirt by getting in on the ground floor. In 1999, they introduced the SmartView face-to-face precise alignment system for wafer-level packaging (WLP) and 3D interconnect. Since then there’s been a steady rollout of processes and tools targeting 3D TSV manufacturing back-end steps including the IQ Aligner for bond alignment, Gemini 300mm production system for wafer-to-wafer (W2W) integration, and the EV40 NT 40 alignment inspection module for chip-to-wafer (C2W) and wafer –to-wafer (W2W) integration.
EV Group introduced the first temporary bonding and debonding systems, which enable thin wafer processing in volume manufacturing, as early as 2001, notes Markus Wimplinger, director, business unit technology development and IP. EVG has tackled temporary bond/debond processes for ultrathin wafer handling – one of the remaining roadblocks to full market adoption for TSVS – by combined efforts with Brewer Science to develop the Thermoslide process. Next items on the agenda include developing a room temperature debonding process that Wimplinger says will further up the process window for existing solutions; and addressing the accuracy vs. throughput issues currently limiting C2W stacking. The latter is in collaboration with Datacon, and is a 2 step, placement-followed-by-collective-bond approach.
In an effort to spread the word about 3D throughout the industry, EVG collaborated with value chain partners to establish EMC3D, an open consortium of equipment and material suppliers and research institutes with a combined goal to develop cost-efficient TSV process flows for both via-last and via-mid approaches. “EMC3D was instrumental in spreading the message,” noted Wimplinger. “We also have a fruitful collaboration at the technical level.” He explained that 3D integration is a complex process and requires participation of entire process chain so that those developing solutions could see how they impacted one another. Beyond its involvement in EMC3D, EVG has partnered with five out of six R&D institutes currently running 3D integration programs including IMEC, Leti, SEMATECH, IME, and the Fraunhofer IZM ASSID.
While the rest of the industry was hit hard by the downturn in 2009, EVG experienced a growth year, thanks to its day-one involvement in TSV processes for 3D integration. “What kept us growing during the downturn were business drivers like memory and CMOS images sensors (CIS) – including the most advanced variety with backside illumination.” Says Wimplinger. When CMOS image sensors went into full volume production in 2009, EVG was ready with the fully-automated Gemini 300. Waltl says sales of the tool accounted for 42% of EVG’s revenue in 2009, thereby proving that the implementation of “Triple i” clearly works.