Manufacturing ultra-pure electronic chemicals: A fusion of science and art
Opinion

Manufacturing ultra-pure electronic chemicals: A fusion of science and art

Producing ultra-pure electronic chemicals from industrial-grade materials is both a scientific endeavor and an art form

  • By Anand Kumar , Chief Manager - Business Development , Aarti Industries | May 28, 2024

The Global Electronic Chemicals (EC) Market, valued at approximately US$ 54 billion in FY22, is forecasted to double, reaching around 105 billion US dollars by 2030, split between 70% front end (Fab) and 30% backend (OSAT) chemicals. In parallel, the Indian EC market is expected to expand to 7 to 9 billion US dollars by 2030, with projections aligned with the growth trajectory of the Indian semiconductor market within the same timeframe.

Chip fabrication and packaging demands highly specialized chemicals, commonly referred to as Electronic Chemicals, renowned for their exceptional purity standards, often measured in parts per billion (ppb) or parts per trillion (ppt) levels of metal content and moisture. There are more than 250+ chemicals used in semiconductor manufacturing. Some of the most common and prominent chemicals used are Hydrochloric, Sulfuric acid, HF, Nitric acid, Acetone, Ethanol, Carbon black, Copper sulphate, Organic monomers for packaging substrate etc. While multinational corporations (MNCs) dominate the electronic chemicals manufacturing landscape, India boasts numerous specialty chemical manufacturers capable of meeting the stringent requirements of semiconductor manufacturing.

Up to now, the manufacturing of electronic chemicals in India has been minimal due to low demand. However, recent advancements in the semiconductor industry, coupled with new project announcements and government PLI schemes are poised to substantially boost the demand for electronic chemicals. The Indian chemical manufacturers should focus on upgrading their infrastructure and enhancing their skill set to cater to the growing demand for electronic chemicals.

Metal Content Control: Balancing Science and Art

Producing ultra-pure electronic chemicals from industrial-grade materials is both a scientific endeavor and an art form. With meticulous attention to detail and adherence to stringent quality standards, manufacturers navigate a complex process to ensure purity.

Controlling metal content in electronic chemicals is a multifaceted challenge that requires a combination of scientific expertise and cultural transformation within the workforce. By educating employees on the importance of metal content control and fostering a culture of continuous improvement, manufacturers strive to achieve the highest levels of quality and purity throughout the production process. Countries like Taiwan, Japan and South Korea inculcate the culture of chip manufacturing and production of high purity chemicals at the school level. And the Indian government has already started working on this with tie-ups with 100 institutions including shop floor training.

Raw Materials Management: Key to Metal Content Control

Raw materials form the foundation of electronic chemical manufacturing, and meticulous attention to metal content is essential at every stage. From specifying metal contents in raw materials to ensuring careful packing and handling, manufacturers take proactive measures to minimize contamination. Ion exchange filtration and precise measurement techniques are employed to achieve metal content control at the parts per trillion (ppt) to parts per billion (ppb) level, ensuring the purity of the final product.

Control Room Environment: Maintaining Optimal Conditions

Clean rooms are essential for electronic chemical manufacturing, maintaining product integrity by minimizing contamination risks. Operators follow strict protocols, including wearing appropriate attire. Air circulation is controlled using HEPA filtration systems. Manufacturers mitigate external factors, such as open environments and human contact, to uphold product purity.

Clean rooms are classified based on cleanliness levels, ranging from ISO Class 1 to ISO Class 9, with lower classes indicating higher cleanliness. This classification ensures tailored environmentsfor electronic chemical manufacturing, enabling precise quality control.

Guidelines for Control Room Environment: Ensuring Quality and Purity

Glass lining (GL) facilities and equipment are preferred for reactor vessels, providing an ideal environment for reaction and purification processes. Cleaning procedures utilize ultra-pure water, with ion-exchanged water or ultrapure water replacing industrial water whenever possible. Air circulation within clean rooms is carefully managed, with unidirectional flow minimizing the risk of contamination.

Need for Electronic Chemicals Qualification Labs

In India, major global players like SGS may have limited capabilities in their Indian subsidiaries, with their global arms typically possessing more advanced facilities. This highlights the importance of enhancing local capabilities and establishing authorized qualification labs to ensure the availability of high-quality electronic chemicals. Other key players in this field include Bureau Veritas, Intertek, Eurofins, TÜV SÜD, and ALS Limited. Collaboration between global companies and Indian stakeholders is essential to bridge this gap and meet global quality standards in the semiconductor industry.

Business model

At the outset, the Fab companies may initially engage with established and approved players recommended by their technology partners. However, in the medium to long term, they will aim to cultivate and develop local vendors. Vendor qualification typically spans 2 to 3 years, even if vendors have products meeting customer qualifications readily available. Additionally, the high cost associated with switching vendors for semiconductor manufacturers makes the vendor qualification process stringent. Established electronic chemical players such as DuPont, Sumitomo, and BASF may be inclined to invest in local manufacturing capabilities of electronic chemicals through partnerships with Indian counterparts.

Future Outlook: Challenges and Opportunities As the demand for semiconductor-grade chemicals continues to rise, India stands poised to play a significant role not only for the Indian market but for the global market too. While challenges remain, including the need for substantial investments and policy upgrades, India's chemicals/materials industry is making strides towards semiconductor-grade manufacturing infrastructure and customized packaging solutions. Collaboration between industry stakeholders and the establishment of qualification labs authorized by major global semiconductor companies will be crucial in ensuring the quality and purity of electronic chemicals for future generations of semiconductor manufacturing.

In conclusion, manufacturing ultra-pure electronic chemicals represents a delicate balance of scientific precision and cultural transformation. By embracing the principles of quality, education, and continuous improvement, manufacturers can meet the evolving demands of the semiconductor industry while ensuring the integrity and purity of their products.

Source: MEITY, IESA, SEMICON

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