Most people don’t give too much thought to the tiny components which form such an integral part of almost all modern communication devices, from PCs to mobile phones.
Indeed, mobile chips get almost no public recognition in a world which seems to care more about screen size, shiny aluminum casings and apps – yet without powerful application processors, our handsets and devices would be nothing more than bricks.
Making chips, however, is no easy task, nor is it a cheap one, resulting in many firms choosing to outsource their manufacturing to dedicated “fabs” to feed the almost insatiable modern appetite for smaller, faster processors.
In Singapore recently, RCR was privileged to be able to get a glimpse behind the chipmaking curtain at GlobalFoundries’ fab 7, where wafer upon wafer of chips are churned out daily from within the impressive maze of cleanrooms.
GlobalFoundries’ expertise is in producing very small, very power efficient chips based on the ARM architecture and Fab 7 manufactures mobile products for many of the world’s largest wireless chip companies including Qualcomm, Broadom, Atheros and many others.
Getting a grand tour of the facility, VP of Fab 7 Peter Benyon explained the magic behind the process as well as the inherent paradoxes of balancing the need for increased performance with lower power and heat, larger die sizes at lower costs and how increased complexity can have a negative impact on wafer yields.
The process of making a wafer can take two to three months and involves a number of steps including film deposition (Oxidation, DCVD & PVD), chemical mechanical polishing (CMP), photolithography, etching, cleaning technology, implantation and diffusion. Each of these is a process in and of itself, and can be repeated several times in fixed order.