Monitoring Airborne Molecular Contaminants in Cleanrooms
Airborne Molecular Contaminants in Cleanrooms
The dust-free and controlled environment of a cleanroom is vital to prevent product failure in semiconductor manufacturing but controlling particulates in cleanrooms is not nearly sufficient to protect semiconductor devices that feature structural sizes on a molecular level. Micro-particles are the main source of physical contamination, but modern filtration systems for air supply, cleanroom attire and specialized surface materials have been successful in keeping particle contamination under control.
There are, however, molecular contaminants, which can range from small inorganic molecules like acids and bases, to more complex organic species like VOCs. These molecules are known to cause chemical contamination (i.e. they react with the materials and surfaces of the semiconductor devices to cause oxidation, unintended doping, dislocations, and more).
This class of contaminants is collectively known as Airborne Molecular Contaminants (AMCs). They are harder to control than particles. Firstly, the molecules are much smaller than particles and require more advanced chemical filtration of the cleanroom air. Secondly and more importantly, however, many AMCs are created within the cleanroom itself. For instance, HF is used for wafer cleaning within the process, and NH3 is emitted naturally by any person present in the cleanroom. As feature sizes have decreased over the decades, both devices and equipment became more and more susceptible to significant damage from AMCs. They can have various detrimental effects: Acids, such as HF or HCl, can cause micro-corrosion and accelerate oxidation. Bases, such as NH3, can cause hazing and attack coatings on the optics of UV lithography equipment. Hydrides, such as AsH3, PH3, or B2H6, can cause unintended doping, which can dramatically impact a devices functionality.
Monitoring AMCs is Key to Contamination Prevention
Because many AMCs are generated within the cleanroom, they cannot be completely avoided, even though wafers are shielded as much as possible from exposure nowadays, e.g., by transporting them in closed pods (FOUPs) between process steps. Precise monitoring of the cleanroom environment for these molecules has emerged as a key for semi fabs to further mitigate the threat of AMCs. By immediately detecting the presence of harmful molecules, engineering controls can be implemented to protect devices and processes from exposure.
Due to the low concentration of AMCs and the need for fast detection, measurement instruments have to fulfill stringent requirements. As a result, ultra-sensitive laser-based analyzers have emerged as the primary class of instrument used to detect small AMCs, such as HF, HCl or NH3. Semiconductor fabs require all of these molecules to be measured at levels below 1 part per billion (ppb) with a response of 1-3 minutes to any presence of molecules. More importantly, the instruments readings have to return to baseline as fast as possible after the molecules’ presence is eliminated to minimize delays in the manufacturing process. The International Roadmap for Devices and Systems (IRDS) even calls out detection requirements below 0.1 ppb as part of the future technological challenges.
Introducing our NEW T-I Max Next-Generation AMC Monitors
To address this challenge, Process Insights manufacturers the TIGER OPTICS™ T-I Max™ series of cleanroom analyzers for detecting AMCs like HF, HCl, and NH3 with unprecedented speed and sensitivity. The T-I Max uses powerful Cavity Ring-Down Spectroscopy (CRDS) Technology but uses an all-new electronic and optical platform that enables lower measurement noise and up to ten times faster measurement rate. This platform takes CRDS to the next level and dramatically lowers detection limits compared to previous generation analyzers.