How to manage semiconductor tool obsolescence

October 09, 2017 // By Owen Tangney
When it comes to semiconductor manufacturing equipment obsolescence, there’s no good way to avoid the issue. With the significant expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) and MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) markets as well as the continuation of More than Moore (MtM), the demand for devices on legacy equipment is increasing.

Semiconductor fabs using this legacy equipment will inevitably lose part of their supply lines to obsolescence every year. Many Integrated Device Manufacturers (IDMs) put off dealing with the issues until it is too late, but there are significant drawbacks to this approach. In many cases, waiting until obsolescence becomes a problem can have serious consequences. These include extended system downtime, lost production and potential yield loss when replacement parts are not fully engineered and tested with urgency to get the systems back to production.

Semiconductor manufacturing equipment parts become obsolete when the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) discontinues making the part or servicing the systems in which is it used. This commonly occurs when the demand for such devices drops to a level that makes it unsustainable for the OEM to continue manufacturing it. Oftentimes they may also be getting pressure through the supply chain for the sub-assemblies that make up the part in question.

As the devices we use become smaller and we are ever more connected through IoT and MEMS Devices, the entire supply chain that serves semiconductor manufacturers is affected, especially the systems used in 150mm and 200mm tech nodes.

 

The reactive approach to obsolescence management

Manufacturers typically have about 6-12 months to react to an end-of-life announcement on critical components. This leads to a last time buy process in which they try to bulk up on inventory to extend the life of their production lines, but this is a temporary solution at best. In many cases the amount of inventory needed to extend equipment lifetime is simply unavailable. According to research on obsolescence challenges faced by IDMs, “a typical end of life announcement generates product orders to the Original Component Manufacturer (OCM) that cover only 60 percent of future demand for that specific part.”