Merck teams for AI semiconductor process development

Merck teams for AI semiconductor process development

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

German materials giant Merck is forming a joint venture with Palantir Technologies to pool data and analytics on semiconductor manufacturing.

The company, Athinia, will be headquartered in the US with Laura Matz, chief science and technology officer of Merck, as CEO. It will use the combination of AI and big data to help solve semiconductor challenges for clients. The collaborative analytics platform will also improve supply chain transparency and help guarantee material supplies and prevent them impacting chip manufacturing.

Merck is making the move through its electronics materials subsidiary EMD Electronics. Matz declined to say how much capital is being put up to create Athinia nor whether the company has any chip makers, materials suppliers or research institutes signed up to the platform. “We are just starting the company now and will have first adopters in 2022,” she said.

The plan is for Athinia to bring multiple materials suppliers, including rivals to Merck, together with semiconductor manufacturers and have them share, aggregate, and analyze data to unlock efficiencies. The data will be kept private using Palantir’s big data expertise.

Palantir was founded in 2003 by Peter Thiel and others and is best known for its platforms called Gotham, Metropolis and Foundry. Palantir Gotham is used by counter-terrorism analysts with the US intelligence community and the US Department of Defense. Palantir Metropolis is used by banks and the financial community while Palantir Foundry is used by corporate clients including Merck, Airbus and Fiat-Chrysler, now part of Stellantis.

“Already materials suppliers and semiconductor makers are seeing an increasing impact on yield,” said Matz and said that at the leading-edge processes can be so sensitive that materials within nominal specification can produce variable yields. “Traditional parameters don’t necessarily predict the fab-process interaction,” she added. “A key aspect of the offer is privacy and Athinia will provide that by coding and anonymizing the data. The result of working with Athinia is that companies will get better data quicker.”

The Athinia platform is powered by Palantir Foundry, which enables users to structure and analyze data from disparate sources, generate powerful insights and support operational decisions, all while helping to ensure that sensitive data is processed in accordance with applicable data privacy rules, regulations and norms.

Next: Micron Technology

Merck and Palantir already have a similar joint venture on biomedical data called Syntropy. “We can leverage some of the resources and data systems already in place,” said Matz.

Micron Technology has direct one-to-one experience of working with Merck. “We worked with Merck to create a data sharing platform that enabled advanced predictive manufacturing for chemical mechanical polishing (CMP), a critical step in the semiconductor manufacturing process. Through this collaborative partnership, we implemented an AI-driven methodology to enable smart data collaboration that drove process and quality improvements. By extending this approach to the broader supply chain and enabling a data ecosystem, we believe advanced predictive manufacturing can be accelerated the broader semiconductor industry,” said Raj Narasimhan, corporate vice president responsible for global quality at Micron, in a statement issued by Merck.

Palantir Foundry is designed to provide security, access controls, partitioning, auditing and accountability functions to support responsible data use. Athinia acts independent from the Electronics business sector of Merck and enables data sharing only on codified and anonymized data and customers will retain full control of their data, including intelligent purpose-based access control management.

The secure data collaboration environment will provide continuous feedback through a holistic view and a common operating picture of in-fab performance that can help solve quality deviations.

Although no figure was given for the investment in Athinia, Merck’ subsidiary EMD Electronics has announced that over the next four years it will spend $2.5 billion in long-term fixed assets around the world to support semiconductor and display customers. Of that it will spend $1 billion in the US over the same period.

“The chip shortage needs industry-wide cooperation to resolve the supply chain issues consumers are currently facing. We are investing in the US to expand our production capacity and innovation footprint to support our customers’ ambitious growth plans,” said Kai Beckmann, member of the executive board of Merck KGaA and CEO of the electronics division.

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