Semiconductor Ultra-High Purity Gas Analysis

Ultra-high purity (UHP) gases are the lifeblood of the semiconductor industry. As unprecedented demand and global supply chain disruptions push the prices of UHP gases higher, new semiconductor design and manufacturing practices are raising the required level of contamination control. For semiconductor manufacturers, being able to ensure the purity of UHP gases is more important than ever before.

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The Importance of Ultra-High Purity Gases in the Semiconductor Industry

Ultra-high purity (UHP) gases are absolutely vital in modern semiconductor manufacturing.

One of the primary applications of UHP gases is inerting: where a UHP gas is used to provide a protective atmosphere around semiconductor components, thus shielding them from the harmful effects of moisture, oxygen and other contaminants in our atmosphere. However, inerting is just one of many different functions that gases perform in the semiconductor industry. From primary plasma gases to the reactive gases used in etching and annealing, UHP gases are used for many different purposes and are essential throughout the entire semiconductor supply chain.

Some of the “core” gases in the semiconductor industry include nitrogen (used as a general-purpose purging and inerting gas), argon (used as a primary plasma gas in etching and deposition reactions), helium (as an inerting gas with special heat-transfer properties) and hydrogen (which plays a variety of roles in annealing, deposition, epitaxy and plasma cleaning).

As semiconductor technology has developed and changed, so too have the gases used in the manufacturing process. Today, semiconductor fabs make use of a whole spectrum of gases, ranging from noble gases like krypton and neon to reactive species such as nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), tungsten hexafluoride (WF6).

An Increasing Need for Purity

Since the invention of the first commercial microchip, the world has seen the performance of semiconductor devices increase at a staggering near-exponential rate.1 Over the last five decades, one of the most reliable ways of achieving this performance improvement has been through “dimensional scaling”: decreasing the critical dimensions of existing chip architectures in order to squeeze more transistors into a given space. Alongside this, development of new chip architectures and the use of cutting-edge materials have produced leaps in device performance.

Today, the critical dimensions of cutting-edge semiconductors are now so small that dimensional scaling is no longer a viable approach for improving device performance.2,3 Instead, semiconductor researchers are looking for solutions in the form of novel materials and 3D chip architectures.4

Decades of relentless re-engineering mean that today’s semiconductor devices are far more powerful than the microchips of old – but they’re also much more fragile. The advent of 300 mm wafer manufacturing technology is heightening the level of impurity control required in semiconductor manufacturing.5 Even the most minuscule levels of contamination (especially in rare or inert gases) during manufacturing can lead to catastrophic device failure – so gas purity is more important now than ever before.

For a typical semiconductor fabrication plant, ultra-high purity gases are already the largest material expense after silicon itself. With demand for semiconductors surging to new heights, these costs are only expected to increase.6,7 Events in Europe are causing additional disruption to the strained UHP gas market. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of high purity neon; and the Russian invasion means that supplies of this rare gas are being throttled. This in turn is causing shortages and price hikes of other noble gases such as krypton and xenon.8

Overcoming Challenges in UHP Gas Supply with APIX Electronic Gas Analyzers from Thermo Scientific

Ultra-high purity gases are an increasingly precious commodity for semiconductor manufacturers. When every liter of gas counts, UHP gas analyzers enable manufacturers to verify the purity of bulk gases.

The APIX δQ and APIX Quattro™ UHP gas analyzers offer unparalleled precision in gas purity analysis. Using atmospheric pressure ionization mass spectrometry (API-MS), the APIX series can provide continuous online monitoring of impurities in bulk gas down to single-digit parts-per-trillion (ppt) levels – up to 100 times better than competing technologies.9

APIX δQ and APIX Quattro™ Features:

  • Under 2-minute analysis cycle time means rapid online measurements. Faster than gas chromatography, APIX gas analyzers enable an immediate response to problems with gas supply.
  • Complete analysis of impurities at <10ppt levels, including H2, CO2, H2O, O2, CH­4, Kr and Xe (with detection of other impurities available).
  • With four independent mass spectrometers, APIX Quattro™ provides fully integrated contamination detection for up to four UHP gas streams.
  • Integrated gas blender provides easy automatic calibration at ppb or ppt levels using standard ppm cylinders.
  • Integrated Thermo Scientific™ GasWorks® software provides an intuitive window into mass spectrometer operation.

With higher requirements for purity than ever before – and with UHP gases in scarcer supply – only API-MS offers the speed and precision required by the semiconductor industry. Suitable for analysis of UHP nitrogen, UHP argon, UHP helium and UHP hydrogen; the APIX series of gas analyzers from Thermo Fisher is tailored to the requirements of the semiconductor and electronics industry.

To find out more about the APIX δQ and APIX Quattro™, read the product specification here or get in touch with Thermo Scientific today. 

References and Further Reading

  1. Roser, M. & Ritchie, H. Technological Progress. Our World in Data (2013).
  2. Blank, S. The End of More — The Death of Moore’s Law. Medium (2020).
  3. We’re not prepared for the end of Moore’s Law. MIT Technology Review
  4. Orji, N. G. et al. Metrology for the next generation of semiconductor devices. Nat Electron 1, 532–547 (2018).
  5. Power Semiconductors on 300-Millimeter Wafers | Infineon.
  6. Clark, D. ‘It’s a Roller-Coaster Ride’: Global Chip Shortage Is Making Industries Sweat. The New York Times (2021).
  7. Sparkes, M. There’s a global shortage of computer chips – what’s causing it? New Scientist
  8. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine adds to pressure on chip supply chain. Financial Times (2022).
  9. APIX Ultra-High Purity Electronic Gas Analyzer | Product Specifications | Thermo Scientific.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Thermo Fisher Scientific – Environmental and Process Monitoring Instruments.

For more information on this source, please visit Thermo Fisher Scientific – Environmental and Process Monitoring Instruments.


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