This article is the first in a series highlighting the vital importance of SEMI Standards to commemorate the publication of the 1000th SEMI Standard in July 2019. Find the entire series here.
More than 40 years after establishing the SEMI International Standards program, SEMI recently announced its 1000th SEMI Standard – a safety guideline for handling energetic materials. Creating a resource for unpredictable changes in materials is the type of challenge the SEMI International Standards program is often called upon to tackle – where the standard is merely the end of the beginning.
The semiconductor industry has learned to expertly control its facilities, equipment and components. The next logical step is materials. It’s common knowledge that the industry drives innovation with new process materials and enabling safer material exploration is critical to the industry’s success.
The 1000th SEMI Standard provides three classifications of energetic materials and byproducts based on three criteria:
- Hazardously exothermic (large amount of heat released following a trigger event such as heating or a physical shock)
- Pyrophoric (self-igniting upon air exposure)
- Water-reactive (releasing a large amount of energy or flammable gas upon contact with water)
Unsafe handling of any of these byproducts can, to put it mildly, result in a bad day for a fab or lab.
The leader of the Energetic Materials Task Force and an expert in process and equipment risk assessment at his company Safety Guru, Eric Sklar recounted one of the stranger incidents. A cleaning crew detached a pipe from a piece of equipment associated with a process recipe that used no energetic materials. The team set it in a sink, sprayed some water to begin cleaning it, and the pipe ignited in flames. Remarkably, although the initial materials weren’t energetic, the process created new byproducts that were very much so.
Standardizing on Shifting Ground
Energetic materials are new ground for standards and that ground is shifting, with much more material innovation to come. The upshot is that it is particularly important that the energetic materials standard is dynamic. By design, all SEMI Standards are malleable – continuously shaped by the demands they aim to meet. The release of this document is nowhere near the end of the work, as the standard will evolve to keep pace with continuing materials innovation.
Creating a Robust Materials Supply Chain
SEMI Standards create the conditions for a more robust materials supply chain and sustain the needs of business. If the standards safeguards are too burdensome, they will never be adopted. Conversely, without protections, people and equipment are unnecessarily put in harm’s way and innovation slows.
SEMI’s Energetic Materials Task Force members realized early on that the industry needed a standard that would be practical to implement and flexible enough to be optimized over time.
They understood that collaboration and compromise, while time-consuming, are also essential for standards’ creation. They determined roles and responsibilities across the supply chain, and they struck delicate balances between sharing no information about the intended uses of potentially dangerous materials and sharing everything about proprietary process recipes.
The sheer scope of this standard necessitated a multi-year timeline. “The effort began with SEMATECH assembling its members’ views about energetic materials safety,” said Eric Sklar. “It then required years of effort from SEMI to bring the key industry participants together to create pragmatic guidelines that address the challenges around energetic materials in the supply chain.”
Only Getting Started
Despite all the work, one certainty is that the standard isn’t perfect for the present and can’t reflect future demands. This is why the energetic materials standard is not a static document, but a living process that is in its germinal stages. Key players continue to shape the standard, and that’s fundamental to enabling future materials innovation and ultimately reducing the number of unexpected energetic materials reactions in fabs.
The variables in standards development are numerous and ever-changing. Energetic materials only magnifies the need for the broad collaboration that SEMI has facilitated for more than 40 years. While the risks posed by energetic materials are substantial, the criticality for continued innovation is undisputed. Now, with its adoption, the work of adapting and modifying this 1000th SEMI Standard is only about to begin.
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Heidi Hoffman is senior director of technology communities marketing at SEMI. Hoffman and her team shine a spotlight on the work of the more than 20 technology communities under the SEMI electronics manufacturing supply chain collaboration platform. Actively engaging community members in marketing programs that showcase their unique value, Hoffman’s team helps companies grow and prosper through the power of connection, collaboration and innovation.