Semiconductor device fabrication

Semiconductor device fabrication is the process used to manufacture semiconductor devices, typically the metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) devices used in the integrated circuit (IC) chips that are present in everyday electrical and electronic devices. It is a multiple-step sequence of photolithographic and chemical processing steps (such as surface passivation, thermal oxidation, planar diffusion and junction isolation) during which electronic circuits are gradually created on a wafer made of pure semiconducting material. Silicon is almost always used, but various compound semiconductors are used for specialized applications.

The entire manufacturing process, from start to packaged chips ready for shipment, takes six to eight weeks and is performed in highly specialized facilities referred to as foundries or fabs.[1] In more advanced semiconductor devices, such as modern 14/10/7 nm nodes, fabrication can take up to 15 weeks (about 4 months) with 11–13 weeks (3 to 4 months) being the industry average.[2] Production in advanced fabrication facilities is completely automated, and carried out in a hermetically sealed, nitrogen environment to improve yield (number of working microchips vs the number of microchips made in a wafer) with FOUPs and automated material handling systems taking care of the transport of wafers from machine to machine.

By industry standard, each generation of the semiconductor manufacturing process, also known as technology node, is designated by the process’s minimum feature size. Technology nodes, also known as "process technologies" or simply "nodes", are typically indicated by the size in nanometers (or historically micrometers) of the process's gate length.


20th century

The first MOSFET (metal-oxide-silicon field-effect transistor) semiconductor devices were fabricated by Egyptian engineer Mohamed M. Atalla and Korean engineer Dawon Kahng at Bell Labs between 1959 and 1960.[3] There were originally two types of MOSFET technology, PMOS (p-type MOS) and NMOS (n-type MOS).[4] Both types were developed by Atalla and Kahng when they originally invented the MOSFET, fabricating both PMOS and NMOS devices at 20 µm[3] and 10 µm scales.[5]

An improved type of MOSFET technology, CMOS, was developed by Chih-Tang Sah and Frank Wanlass at Fairchild Semiconductor in 1963.[6][7] CMOS was commercialised by RCA in the late 1960s.[6] RCA commercially used CMOS for its 4000-series integrated circuits in 1968, starting with a 20 µm process before gradually scaling to a 10 µm process over the next several years.[8]

Semiconductor device manufacturing has since spread from Texas and California in the 1960s to the rest of the world, including Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

21st century

The semiconductor industry is a global business today. The leading semiconductor manufacturers typically have facilities all over the world. Samsung Electronics, the world's largest manufacturer of semiconductors, has facilities in South Korea and the US. Intel, the second largest manufacturer, has facilities in Europe and Asia as well as the US. TSMC, the world's largest pure play foundry, has facilities in Taiwan, China, Singapore, and the US. Qualcomm and Broadcom are among the biggest fabless semiconductor companies, outsourcing their production to companies like TSMC.[9] They also have facilities spread in different countries.

Since 2009, "node" has become a commercial name for marketing purposes that indicates new generations of process technologies, without any relation to gate length, metal pitch or gate pitch.[10][11][12] For example, GlobalFoundries' 7 nm process is similar to Intel's 10 nm process, thus the conventional notion of a process node has become blurred.[13] Additionally, TSMC and Samsung's 10 nm processes are only slightly denser than Intel's 14 nm in transistor density. They are actually much closer to Intel's 14 nm process than they are to Intel's 10 nm process (e.g. Samsung's 10 nm processes' fin pitch is the exact same as that of Intel's 14 nm process: 42 nm).[14][15]

As of 2019, 14 nanometer and 10 nanometer chips are in mass production by Intel, UMC, TSMC, Samsung, Micron, SK Hynix, Toshiba Memory and GlobalFoundries, with 7 nanometer process chips in mass production by TSMC and Samsung, although their 7 nanometer node definition is similar to Intel's 10 nanometer process. The 5 nanometer process began being produced by Samsung in 2018.[16] As of 2019, the node with the highest transistor density is TSMC's 5 nanometer N5 node,[17] with a density of 171.3 million transistors per square millimeter.[18] In 2019, Samsung and TSMC announced plans to produce 3 nanometer nodes. GlobalFoundries has decided to stop development of new nodes beyond 12 nanometers in order to save resources, as it has determined that setting up a new fab would be beyond the company's financial abilities.[19] As of 2019, Samsung is the industry leader in advanced semiconductor scaling, followed by TSMC and then Intel.[20]

List of steps

This is a list of processing techniques that are employed numerous times throughout the construction of a modern electronic device; this list does not necessarily imply a specific order. Equipment for carrying out these processes is made by a handful of companies. All equipment needs to be tested before a semiconductor fabrication plant is started. [21]

Prevention of contamination and defects

When feature widths were far greater than about 10 micrometres, semiconductor purity was not as big of an issue as it is today in device manufacturing. As devices became more integrated, cleanrooms must become even cleaner. Today, fabrication plants are pressurized with filtered air to remove even the smallest particles, which could come to rest on the wafers and contribute to defects. The workers in a semiconductor fabrication facility are required to wear cleanroom suits to protect the devices from human contamination. To prevent oxidation and to increase yield, FOUPs and semiconductor capital equipment may have a pure nitrogen environment with ISO class 1 levels of dust.


A typical wafer is made out of extremely pure silicon that is grown into mono-crystalline cylindrical ingots (boules) up to 300 mm (slightly less than 12 inches) in diameter using the Czochralski process. These ingots are then sliced into wafers about 0.75 mm thick and polished to obtain a very regular and flat surface.


In semiconductor device fabrication, the various processing steps fall into four general categories: deposition, removal, patterning, and modification of electrical properties.

Modern chips have up to eleven metal levels produced in over 300 sequenced processing steps.

Front-end-of-line (FEOL) processing

FEOL processing refers to the formation of the transistors directly in the silicon. The raw wafer is engineered by the growth of an ultrapure, virtually defect-free silicon layer through epitaxy. In the most advanced logic devices, prior to the silicon epitaxy step, tricks are performed to improve the performance of the transistors to be built. One method involves introducing a straining step wherein a silicon variant such as silicon-germanium (SiGe) is deposited. Once the epitaxial silicon is deposited, the crystal lattice becomes stretched somewhat, resulting in improved electronic mobility. Another method, called silicon on insulator technology involves the insertion of an insulating layer between the raw silicon wafer and the thin layer of subsequent silicon epitaxy. This method results in the creation of transistors with reduced parasitic effects.

Gate oxide and implants

Front-end surface engineering is followed by growth of the gate dielectric (traditionally silicon dioxide), patterning of the gate, patterning of the source and drain regions, and subsequent implantation or diffusion of dopants to obtain the desired complementary electrical properties. In dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) devices, storage capacitors are also fabricated at this time, typically stacked above the access transistor (the now defunct DRAM manufacturer Qimonda implemented these capacitors with trenches etched deep into the silicon surface).

Back-end-of-line (BEOL) processing

Metal layers

Once the various semiconductor devices have been created, they must be interconnected to form the desired electrical circuits. This occurs in a series of wafer processing steps collectively referred to as BEOL (not to be confused with back end of chip fabrication, which refers to the packaging and testing stages). BEOL processing involves creating metal interconnecting wires that are isolated by dielectric layers. The insulating material has traditionally been a form of SiO2 or a silicate glass, but recently new low dielectric constant materials are being used (such as silicon oxycarbide), typically providing dielectric constants around 2.7 (compared to 3.82 for SiO2), although materials with constants as low as 2.2 are being offered to chipmakers.


Historically, the metal wires have been composed of aluminum. In this approach to wiring (often called subtractive aluminum), blanket films of aluminum are deposited first, patterned, and then etched, leaving isolated wires. Dielectric material is then deposited over the exposed wires. The various metal layers are interconnected by etching holes (called "vias") in the insulating material and then depositing tungsten in them with a CVD technique; this approach is still used in the fabrication of many memory chips such as dynamic random-access memory (DRAM), because the number of interconnect levels is small (currently no more than four).

More recently, as the number of interconnect levels for logic has substantially increased due to the large number of transistors that are now interconnected in a modern microprocessor, the timing delay in the wiring has become so significant as to prompt a change in wiring material (from aluminum to copper interconnect layer) and a change in dielectric material (from silicon dioxides to newer low-K insulators). This performance enhancement also comes at a reduced cost via damascene processing, which eliminates processing steps. As the number of interconnect levels increases, planarization of the previous layers is required to ensure a flat surface prior to subsequent lithography. Without it, the levels would become increasingly crooked, extending outside the depth of focus of available lithography, and thus interfering with the ability to pattern. CMP (chemical-mechanical planarization) is the primary processing method to achieve such planarization, although dry etch back is still sometimes employed when the number of interconnect levels is no more than three.

Wafer test

The highly serialized nature of wafer processing has increased the demand for metrology in between the various processing steps. For example, thin film metrology based on ellipsometry or reflectometry is used to tightly control the thickness of gate oxide, as well as the thickness, refractive index and extinction coefficient of photoresist and other coatings. Wafer test metrology equipment is used to verify that the wafers haven't been damaged by previous processing steps up until testing; if too many dies on one wafer have failed, the entire wafer is scrapped to avoid the costs of further processing. Virtual metrology has been used to predict wafer properties based on statistical methods without performing the physical measurement itself.[1]

Device test

Once the front-end process has been completed, the semiconductor devices are subjected to a variety of electrical tests to determine if they function properly. The proportion of devices on the wafer found to perform properly is referred to as the yield. Manufacturers are typically secretive about their yields, but it can be as low as 30%. Process variation is one among many reasons for low yield.[28]

The fab tests the chips on the wafer with an electronic tester that presses tiny probes against the chip. The machine marks each bad chip with a drop of dye. Currently, electronic dye marking is possible if wafer test data is logged into a central computer database and chips are "binned" (i.e. sorted into virtual bins) according to the predetermined test limits. The resulting binning data can be graphed, or logged, on a wafer map to trace manufacturing defects and mark bad chips. This map can also be used during wafer assembly and packaging.

Chips are also tested again after packaging, as the bond wires may be missing, or analog performance may be altered by the package. This is referred to as the "final test".

Usually, the fab charges for testing time, with prices in the order of cents per second. Testing times vary from a few milliseconds to a couple of seconds, and the test software is optimized for reduced testing time. Multiple chip (multi-site) testing is also possible, because many testers have the resources to perform most or all of the tests in parallel.

Chips are often designed with "testability features" such as scan chains or a "built-in self-test" to speed testing, and reduce testing costs. In certain designs that use specialized analog fab processes, wafers are also laser-trimmed during testing, in order to achieve tightly-distributed resistance values as specified by the design.

Good designs try to test and statistically manage corners (extremes of silicon behavior caused by a high operating temperature combined with the extremes of fab processing steps). Most designs cope with at least 64 corners.

Die preparation

Once tested, a wafer is typically reduced in thickness in a process also known as "backlap",[29] "backfinish" or "wafer thinning"[30] before the wafer is scored and then broken into individual dice, a process known as wafer dicing. Only the good, unmarked chips are packaged.


Plastic or ceramic packaging involves mounting the die, connecting the die pads to the pins on the package, and sealing the die. Tiny wires are used to connect the pads to the pins. In the old days, wires were attached by hand, but now specialized machines perform the task. Traditionally, these wires have been composed of gold, leading to a lead frame (pronounced "leed frame") of solder-plated copper; lead is poisonous, so lead-free "lead frames" are now mandated by RoHS.

Chip scale package (CSP) is another packaging technology. A plastic dual in-line package, like most packages, is many times larger than the actual die hidden inside, whereas CSP chips are nearly the size of the die; a CSP can be constructed for each die before the wafer is diced.

The packaged chips are retested to ensure that they were not damaged during packaging and that the die-to-pin interconnect operation was performed correctly. A laser then etches the chip's name and numbers on the package.

Hazardous materials

Many toxic materials are used in the fabrication process.[31] These include:

It is vital that workers should not be directly exposed to these dangerous substances. The high degree of automation common in the IC fabrication industry helps to reduce the risks of exposure. Most fabrication facilities employ exhaust management systems, such as wet scrubbers, combustors, heated absorber cartridges, etc., to control the risk to workers and to the environment.

Timeline of MOSFET demonstrations


MOSFET (PMOS and NMOS) demonstrations
Date Channel length Oxide thickness[32] MOSFET logic Researcher(s) Organization Ref
June 1960 20,000 nm 100 nm PMOS Mohamed M. Atalla, Dawon Kahng Bell Telephone Laboratories [33][34]
10,000 nm 100 nm PMOS Mohamed M. Atalla, Dawon Kahng Bell Telephone Laboratories [35]
May 1965 8,000 nm 150 nm NMOS Chih-Tang Sah, Otto Leistiko, A.S. Grove Fairchild Semiconductor [36]
5,000 nm 170 nm PMOS
December 1972 1,000 nm ? PMOS Robert H. Dennard, Fritz H. Gaensslen, Hwa-Nien Yu IBM T.J. Watson Research Center [37][38][39]
1973 7,500 nm ? NMOS Sohichi Suzuki NEC [40][41]
6,000 nm ? PMOS ? Toshiba [42][43]
October 1974 1,000 nm 35 nm NMOS Robert H. Dennard, Fritz H. Gaensslen, Hwa-Nien Yu IBM T.J. Watson Research Center [44]
500 nm
September 1975 1,500 nm 20 nm NMOS Ryoichi Hori, Hiroo Masuda, Osamu Minato Hitachi [38][45]
March 1976 3,000 nm ? NMOS ? Intel [46]
April 1979 1,000 nm 25 nm NMOS William R. Hunter, L. M. Ephrath, Alice Cramer IBM T.J. Watson Research Center [47]
December 1984 100 nm 5 nm NMOS Toshio Kobayashi, Seiji Horiguchi, K. Kiuchi Nippon Telegraph and Telephone [48]
December 1985 150 nm 2.5 nm NMOS Toshio Kobayashi, Seiji Horiguchi, M. Miyake, M. Oda Nippon Telegraph and Telephone [49]
75 nm ? NMOS Stephen Y. Chou, Henry I. Smith, Dimitri A. Antoniadis MIT [50]
January 1986 60 nm ? NMOS Stephen Y. Chou, Henry I. Smith, Dimitri A. Antoniadis MIT [51]
June 1987 200 nm 3.5 nm PMOS Toshio Kobayashi, M. Miyake, K. Deguchi Nippon Telegraph and Telephone [52]
December 1993 40 nm ? NMOS Mizuki Ono, Masanobu Saito, Takashi Yoshitomi Toshiba [53]
September 1996 16 nm ? PMOS Hisao Kawaura, Toshitsugu Sakamoto, Toshio Baba NEC [54]
June 1998 50 nm 1.3 nm NMOS Khaled Z. Ahmed, Effiong E. Ibok, Miryeong Song Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) [55][56]
December 2002 6 nm ? PMOS Bruce Doris, Omer Dokumaci, Meikei Ieong IBM [57][58][59]
December 2003 3 nm ? PMOS Hitoshi Wakabayashi, Shigeharu Yamagami NEC [60][58]

CMOS (single-gate)

Complementary MOSFET (CMOS) demonstrations (single-gate)
Date Channel length Oxide thickness[32] Researcher(s) Organization Ref
February 1963 ? ? Chih-Tang Sah, Frank Wanlass Fairchild Semiconductor [6][61]
1968 20,000 nm 100 nm ? RCA Laboratories [8]
1970 10,000 nm 100 nm ? RCA Laboratories [8]
December 1976 2,000 nm ? A. Aitken, R.G. Poulsen, A.T.P. MacArthur, J.J. White Mitel Semiconductor [62]
February 1978 3,000 nm ? Toshiaki Masuhara, Osamu Minato, Toshio Sasaki, Yoshio Sakai Hitachi Central Research Laboratory [63][64][65]
February 1983 1,200 nm 25 nm R.J.C. Chwang, M. Choi, D. Creek, S. Stern, P.H. Pelley Intel [66][67]
900 nm 15 nm Tsuneo Mano, J. Yamada, Junichi Inoue, S. Nakajima Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) [66][68]
December 1983 1,000 nm 22.5 nm G.J. Hu, Yuan Taur, Robert H. Dennard, Chung-Yu Ting IBM T.J. Watson Research Center [69]
February 1987 800 nm 17 nm T. Sumi, Tsuneo Taniguchi, Mikio Kishimoto, Hiroshige Hirano Matsushita [66][70]
700 nm 12 nm Tsuneo Mano, J. Yamada, Junichi Inoue, S. Nakajima Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) [66][71]
September 1987 500 nm 12.5 nm Hussein I. Hanafi, Robert H. Dennard, Yuan Taur, Nadim F. Haddad IBM T.J. Watson Research Center [72]
December 1987 250 nm ? Naoki Kasai, Nobuhiro Endo, Hiroshi Kitajima NEC [73]
February 1988 400 nm 10 nm M. Inoue, H. Kotani, T. Yamada, Hiroyuki Yamauchi Matsushita [66][74]
December 1990 100 nm ? Ghavam G. Shahidi, Bijan Davari, Yuan Taur, James D. Warnock IBM T.J. Watson Research Center [75]
1993 350 nm ? ? Sony [76]
1996 150 nm ? ? Mitsubishi Electric
1998 180 nm ? ? TSMC [77]
December 2003 5 nm ? Hitoshi Wakabayashi, Shigeharu Yamagami, Nobuyuki Ikezawa NEC [60][78]

Multi-gate MOSFET (MuGFET)

Multi-gate MOSFET (MuGFET) demonstrations
Date Channel length MuGFET type Researcher(s) Organization Ref
August 1984 ? DGMOS Toshihiro Sekigawa, Yutaka Hayashi Electrotechnical Laboratory (ETL) [79]
1987 2,000 nm DGMOS Toshihiro Sekigawa Electrotechnical Laboratory (ETL) [80]
December 1988 250 nm DGMOS Bijan Davari, Wen-Hsing Chang, Matthew R. Wordeman, C.S. Oh IBM T.J. Watson Research Center [81][82]
180 nm
? GAAFET Fujio Masuoka, Hiroshi Takato, Kazumasa Sunouchi, N. Okabe Toshiba [83][84][85]
December 1989 200 nm FinFET Digh Hisamoto, Toru Kaga, Yoshifumi Kawamoto, Eiji Takeda Hitachi Central Research Laboratory [86][87][88]
December 1998 17 nm FinFET Digh Hisamoto, Chenming Hu, Tsu-Jae King Liu, Jeffrey Bokor University of California (Berkeley) [89][90]
2001 15 nm FinFET Chenming Hu, Yang‐Kyu Choi, Nick Lindert, Tsu-Jae King Liu University of California (Berkeley) [89][91]
December 2002 10 nm FinFET Shibly Ahmed, Scott Bell, Cyrus Tabery, Jeffrey Bokor University of California (Berkeley) [89][92]
June 2006 3 nm GAAFET Hyunjin Lee, Yang-kyu Choi, Lee-Eun Yu, Seong-Wan Ryu KAIST [93][94]

Other types of MOSFET

MOSFET demonstrations (other types)
Date Channel length Oxide thickness[32] MOSFET type Researcher(s) Organization Ref
October 1962 ? ? TFT Paul K. Weimer RCA Laboratories [95][96]
1965 ? ? GaAs H. Becke, R. Hall, J. White RCA Laboratories [97]
October 1966 100,000 nm 100 nm TFT T.P. Brody, H.E. Kunig Westinghouse Electric [98][99]
August 1967 ? ? FGMOS Dawon Kahng, Simon Min Sze Bell Telephone Laboratories [100]
October 1967 ? ? MNOS H.A. Richard Wegener, A.J. Lincoln, H.C. Pao Sperry Corporation [101]
July 1968 ? ? BiMOS Hung-Chang Lin, Ramachandra R. Iyer Westinghouse Electric [102][103]
October 1968 ? ? BiCMOS Hung-Chang Lin, Ramachandra R. Iyer, C.T. Ho Westinghouse Electric [104][103]
1969 ? ? VMOS ? Hitachi [105][106]
September 1969 ? ? DMOS Y. Tarui, Y. Hayashi, Toshihiro Sekigawa Electrotechnical Laboratory (ETL) [107][108]
October 1970 ? ? ISFET Piet Bergveld University of Twente [109][110]
October 1970 1,000 nm ? DMOS Y. Tarui, Y. Hayashi, Toshihiro Sekigawa Electrotechnical Laboratory (ETL) [111]
1977 ? ? VDMOS John Louis Moll HP Labs [105]
? ? LDMOS ? Hitachi [112]
July 1979 ? ? IGBT Bantval Jayant Baliga, Margaret Lazeri General Electric [113]
December 1984 2,000 nm ? BiCMOS H. Higuchi, Goro Kitsukawa, Takahide Ikeda, Y. Nishio Hitachi [114]
May 1985 300 nm ? ? K. Deguchi, Kazuhiko Komatsu, M. Miyake, H. Namatsu Nippon Telegraph and Telephone [115]
February 1985 1,000 nm ? BiCMOS H. Momose, Hideki Shibata, S. Saitoh, Jun-ichi Miyamoto Toshiba [116]
November 1986 90 nm 8.3 nm ? Han-Sheng Lee, L.C. Puzio General Motors [117]
December 1986 60 nm ? ? Ghavam G. Shahidi, Dimitri A. Antoniadis, Henry I. Smith MIT [118][51]
May 1987 ? 10 nm ? Bijan Davari, Chung-Yu Ting, Kie Y. Ahn, S. Basavaiah IBM T.J. Watson Research Center [119]
December 1987 800 nm ? BiCMOS Robert H. Havemann, R. E. Eklund, Hiep V. Tran Texas Instruments [120]
June 1997 30 nm ? EJ-MOSFET Hisao Kawaura, Toshitsugu Sakamoto, Toshio Baba NEC [121]
1998 32 nm ? ? ? NEC [58]
1999 8 nm
April 2000 8 nm ? EJ-MOSFET Hisao Kawaura, Toshitsugu Sakamoto, Toshio Baba NEC [122]

Timeline of commercial MOSFET nodes

See also


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Further reading

  • Kaeslin, Hubert (2008), Digital Integrated Circuit Design, from VLSI Architectures to CMOS Fabrication, Cambridge University Press, section 14.2.
  • Wiki related to Chip Technology
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