Two years ago, I visited EV Group’s world headquarters in Schärding, Austria, and wrote about what they call their Triple I approach to success. Triple I stands for Invent, Innovate, Implement, and refers to EVG’s mission of getting into whatever market they target at the ground level, investing 20% of its revenue in R&D, and working alongside customers to bring new technologies to market. “I’m fully convinced that Triple I is the engine for our growth by being in the forefront of innovation. One of our strengths and engines for success is our huge investment in product support and product development, which gives us a clear advantage to providing the right capabilities and establishes the groundwork for future growth,” notes Hermann Waltl, executive sales & customer support director, EV Group.
The approach is clearly working for the company, as during my recent visit, Waltl reported that the company now dominates the market for wafer bonding. Indeed, in 2011, EVG introduced the world’s first 450mm SOI bonder, working in partnership with its customer, SOITEC.
Largely due to the explosion of the smartphone market, the company reports a 40% growth in revenue in 2011 with order intake representing strong growth in the MEMS, advanced packaging and 3D markets, particularly with temporary bond and debond systems. EVG’s core competencies in wafer bonding and lithography also make them well positioned in the compound semiconductor (LED) market, and they are focusing on providing high thoughput solutions for that market as well.
Waltl referred to 2009 as the “year of the Gemini” because that was the year the tool was introduced with a dedicated configuration for 300 mm fusion bonding. 2011 continued that as the tool, in all its versions, continued its very strong sales in the high volume manufacturing “HVM” environment. “70% of all equipment orders went into HVM surroundings,” said Waltl. “We know what customers are looking for and what we have to provide there.”
For 2012, the company is targeting 15% growth, noted Waltl. He said the bigger companies are entering the playing field in bonding area. “We can’t rest on their laurels. We need to be a major and big player, and invest in growth in all product areas.”
Double the Size, Double the Fun
With such a banner year under their belt, the promise of steady future growth, and the desire to ramp up the company’s status to that of a Tier 1 supplier, it was time to pull out the plans to expand the facility. According to Werner Thallner, Ph.D., advanced planning to design the expansion and secure government approval and building permits allowed for rapid implementation of the project once they pulled the trigger. “Literally, about one hour after I made the decision to ramp up and build the building, the builders arrived and started building the building. Within 4 ½ months – on December 1, we moved in and began production.” The newly constructed 4 story building with 2 story manufacturing floor doubled the size of the current manufacturing space and meets the cleanliness requirements of a Tier 1 manufacturer (class 100K.) Additionally, the building features an overhead train to make it easier for moving tools around, and hydraulic ramps to make it easier for technicians to work on the tools, thereby improving the working conditions. Thallner also said that integrated test rooms were built that can go down to Class 1K. With the test rooms, the concept was to separate testing from manufacturing to address the security needs of customers to split up technologies of different customers to prevent them from seeing what each other is doing.
Technology Drivers Fuel Future Growth
According to Markus Wimplinger, director, business technology development and IP, the recent successes at EVG and the more than 40% growth were driving the building expansion. From his perspective, the #1 behind-the-scenes growth driver that brought EVG to this point and will fuel future growth can be summed up in one word: Smartphones. Wimplinger ticked off the smartphone applications that are drivers for EVG’s process technologies including CMOS image sensors with backside illumination (BSI), wafer-level cameras, MEMS motion sensors, MEMS microphones, various filters, and LEDs.
As such, EVG sees huge opportunities for technology development in the areas of BSI CIS, particularly with Sony’s January 2012 announcement of its next generation, stacked back-illuminated CMOS image sensors. Wimplinger said this announcement marked “a great day for 3D”. The structure of this device involves layering the pixel section with BSI pixels onto IC chips for signal processing, rather than a side-by-side configuration of BSI pixels and circuitry mounted on a non-active supporting substrate. In this configuration, the supporting substrate is now functional. According to Sony, this configuration allows for larger scale signal processing for higher image quality and better functionality, a more compact CIS, higher image quality in the pixel area due to specialized manufacturing processes. Wimplinger says the key process features to achieving this next-generation stacked BSI CIS include sub-μ alignment accuracy, low distortion, and bonds that enable electrical connectivity; all of which are achievable using EVG’s bonding, mask aligner and metrology tools. Another focus area for EVG is in wafer-level optics, where its competencies in mask aligners, nano-imprint lithography, and nano-spray coating are uniquely suited to provide all the steps for achieving these devices.
The XT Platform
In anticipation of HVM manufacturing of 3D TSVs, particularly in the BSI CIS market and for 3D stacked memory, as well as in response to customer requests for increased throughput, which translates to lower cost of ownership, EVG launched a new platform for its product line to suit the needs of HVM customers. “Those companies in the lead are those who adapted process integration for available materials, as well as device platforms for applications going to volume production,” noted Paul Lindner, executive technology director, EV Group.
With what Lindner called “the world’s largest modular toolbox for 3D-IC processing”, the task was to rearrange these modules to have more on system while remaining compact, but have more work in progress and more buffer capabilities. Beginning with the EVG850 temporary bond and debond system, EVG addressed such issues as handling two wafers that become a bonded pair, continuous operation, and added inline metrology inspection for improved yields. The resulting XT Platform features a 4 FOUP EFEM – two for single wafers and a third to receive the bonded pair, a fourth load port, plus an overhead buffer to provide storage capacity. Faster robotics reduced wafer swap time to 3 seconds vs. 15-20 seconds. An overhead track allows for asynchronous delivery and pick up of FOUPs to and from the storage system. Overall, Lindner says faster robotics, local buffering, true continuous mode operation and moving in more modules equals increased throughput that drops the cost of ownership (CoO) by 50%. What previously cost 12 Euros for a bond and 16 Euros for debond has been reduced to 5 Euros for a bond and 8 Euros for a debond.
As previously mentioned, another critical improvement to the XT Platform specific to the temporary bond/debond system was the addition of an inline metrology system for inspecting carrier thickness and total thickness variation (TTV), adhesive thickness and TTV, total stack thickness and TTV, and bow and warp, in order to provide automatic pass/fail decisions of the wafer pair before final bond. This allows for the rework and repair of the temporary bonded wafers, to improve yields to 100%.
According to Wimplinger, the company plans to exceed 60 HVM installations for temporary bonding and debonding with the new XT Frame systems by the end of 2012.
Maintaining a Balance
While it may seem that EVG is investing in emerging technologies and the transition to 450mm wafer sizes, the company is acutely aware of the need to maintain a balance between what’s happening now and what’s to come. They do this by continuing to improve its tools in existing wafer sizes (200mm and 300mm) in current target markets. “At EVG, we have always looked at early development and sustainable organic growth in many areas,” noted Wimplinger. “Many of the technologies being used in 3D and manufacturing of 3D devices have their foundations in industries other than CMOS, so we have brought these technologies developed for MEMS and compound semiconductors to 300mm and refined them in terms of throughput and processes; developing stronger supply chains with dedicated materials. Those materials we can now bring back to the 200mm platforms for MEMS and compound semiconductors.” He added that the company didn’t discontinue development of its 200mm equipment platforms, and will continue development to supply the most advanced technical solutions to non-traditional CMOS markets such as MEMS and compound semiconductors for power amplifiers and LEDs.
Moving forward, EVG fully intends to continue with its core mission and strategy of Triple I, and will remain in the forefront of innovations. They know it’s critical to maintain a balanced focus between process development and customer support. “We are living the III concept; it financially works. We never forget about the invent portion, because it’s the business growth of the future,” noted Waltl. Additionally, diversity is the key, because staying diversified is a major requirement to support stable growth.