Godzilla-like Substrate Sizes—A Huge Challenge for Equipment Suppliers

Godzilla-like Substrate Sizes— a Huge Challenge for Equipment Suppliers

Gen 10/11 Fabs Force Equipment Suppliers to “Think Outside the Box”

By John Boyd

Currently, the Sharp-Sony joint-venture TFT-LCD Gen 10 fab is under construction in Sakai City, near Osaka in Western Japan. The fab is slated to start up in spring 2010—just about the time that Samsung Electronics says it could begin construction on its Gen 11 plant. Global economic downturn or not, size still matters in the flat panel industry.

The US$ 3.8 billion (Y380 billion) Sakai fab is expected to initially roll out 36,000 10th-generation glass substrates monthly, eventually ramping up to 72,000 when reaching full capacity. Sharp, the originator of the project, is taking two-thirds of the output, while Sony, which announced earlier this year it intended to partner with Sharp, will use the remainder—though the joint-venture is still awaiting final confirmation from both parties. A single substrate will measure a mammoth 2,850 x 3,050 mm, a 60% jump in area over Sharp’s current largest substrates produced in its G8 Kamiyama plant near Nagoya.

“That’s an upscale of 1.6 times—something we have not experienced before,” says In Doo Kang, general manager and corporate vice president of AKT America Inc. AKT is the flat panel manufacturing equipment arm of Applied Materials, which is supplying some of the core production equipment, including a plasma-enhanced CVD system, to the Sakai plant. “It’s also an area increase of about 45 times since the Gen 2 days,” according to Kang.

Generation Size Step-Ups: Not So Incremental

In the past, typical area step-ups in size between generations have been incremental, on the order of 20% bite sizes that can be managed more or less comfortably. A 60% increase has given AKT quite a lot to deal with. The new PECVD system, which clusters five process chambers around a triple-slot load lock chamber and a robot transfer chamber, now takes up a piece of real estate covering approximately 14 x 14 meters. This represents a 30% expansion in area in both length and width over the Gen 8 system currently in operation. But it is the doubling in weight that is surprising— up from the current 112 tons to a jumbo 228 tons.

Add to this a 13.0 x 5.7 meter electron-beam array tester weighing 60 tons and a color filter PVD system and an array PVD system (dimensions of both currently unspecified) that AKT is also supplying to Saka. Then the manufacturing and logistics tasks in outfitting a 10th-generation fab take on Godzilla-like proportions.

Competing with the Space Shuttle for Machine Shops

“The G10 system gives us several major challenges to deal with,” says Naoyuki Sato, a product-marketing engineer with AKT. “Just acquiring the raw materials to build the 220-ton PECVD system is a challenge, as is finding a machine shop with the facilities and tools to machine parts like the process chambers.” The number of such companies with these kinds of capability “is limited,” he adds “so we find ourselves in competition (for their services) with Boeing, Air Bus and the Space Shuttle.”

Boeing 747 Too Small for G10 Machinery

Another hurdle to overcome is the logistics of it all. Up to G8, AKT used to air transport its assembled and tested CVD systems from the United States to customers in Asia, including the use of a Boeing 747-400 to ship its current systems. But now the even the sliding doors of a 747 Jumbo freighter can’t handle the G10 machinery. And while a U.S. Air Force C-5 or Russian Antonov An cargo plane could be so accommodating, the shipping costs are not.

To deal with this transportation conundrum, AKT had to do some thinking “outside the box,” or “outside the plane,” in this case, to come up with a workable answer.

“Previously all our CVD beta development, assembly and testing was done in Santa Clara, California,” says Tak Tanaka, a senior director in AKT’s global marketing. “The customer would come to the U.S. to inspect it, then we’d ship, followed by module integration, installation and debugging. But this is no longer practical, given the need for new facilities, logistic costs and the time taken to assemble the system.”

Tak Tanaka, AKT

Process Examined and Revamped

The components that make up the G10 PECVD system, for instance, are made in the U.S., Europe and Asia. So to send, say, heavy vacuum chambers manufactured in Japan to the U.S., a container ship would have to be employed. After assembly the same chambers would then be shipped back to Japan as part of the finished system in another container ship if the traditional assembly method were to be employed. It was calculated this shipping back and forth would add two months to the overall schedule.

“After analyzing the situation we decided to outsource space closer to our customers—here, the customer happens to be Japanese, so we’re doing the assembly and prototyping in Japan,” says Tanaka. “In the case of a Korean customer or a Taiwan customer, we would plan to do the final assembly and prototyping in those countries.”

Though some large key components must still be freighted from the U.S. by container ship or by air to Japan—the process chambers, for example—these are one-way voyages only.

“This was the first time for us to do it this way,” says Tanaka. “And while we did not reduce the lead time (compared to assembling and prototyping in the old way) we save two months over doing the G10 assembly in California.”

Upscaling the Plasma-Enhanced CVD Process

Another challenge came in upscaling the plasma-enhanced CVD process itself, so that it performs optimally in the enlarged process chamber needed to hold the new substrate. CVD process techniques can vary from panel maker to panel maker, making the topic off-limits for any kind of detailed discussion. Still, some idea of the task can be gauged when Tanaka says maintaining film uniformity is not achieved simply by scaling up everything in proportion to the new substrate size. The behavior of the deposition can change according to such variables as the size of the process chamber and the temperature employed in it, the amount of gas-flow used and the amount of RF power used to generate a plasma discharge. “In fact, we’re still fine-tuning the process,” Tanaka adds.

When all your customers are located in the same general region (Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China), one obvious way to way to cure logistics headaches is to move closer to them— something that AKT is undertaking— at least in part. A company in Taiwan is already manufacturing AKT’s electron beam-array testers, and color filter PVD systems have been manufactured in AKT’s Tainan facility in Taiwan, which is part of the parent company Applied Materials’ Tainan Manufacturing Center. In July 2008, Applied Materials announced it was investing some $17 million in expanding the center to provide it with more options in manufacturing equipment for both thin-film solar and LCDs.

More Asia-Centric is Part of the Solution

“So we’re shifting some part of our operations to Taiwan to be more Asia-centric,” says Tanaka. “Ground breaking on the extension began in July and we expect it to be completed next year, around Q2 or Q3.” The idea, he explains, is that besides using the new facility for assembling and testing equipment, should CVD manufacturing capacity in the U.S. become constrained, then the Tainan extension can be tapped to take up manufacturing additional orders.

Meanwhile, Won-Kie Chang, executive vice president of Samsung Electronics, during his keynote speech at FPD International in Yokohama, Japan this October, revealed that Samsung has “…now secured the land to construct an G11 plant.” Construction, he added, could begin “as early as 2010 or 2011,” while the substrate size will be 3,000 x 3,200 mm, representing an area upscaling of 1.8 times compared to the company’s current Gen 8 substrates.

Equipment suppliers like AKT have already donned their thinking caps, as they try to figure out how they are going to deal with the challenges that these even larger dimensions will create.

For more information on SEMI involvement in the flat panel display industry, please visit FPD Today at www.fpdtoday.com. For FPD-related standards, please visit: www.semi.org/standards. For EHS issues, visit www.semi.org/ehs.

John Boyd is a business and technology writer covering Japan and Asia. His email is: boyd@gol.com

Posted Nov 10, 2008