Microsoft takes step in IC-equipment industry

Mark LaPedus
Silicon Strategies
(01/12/2005 11:51 AM EST)

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — Hoping to jumpstart a new and emerging data-acquisition standard for semiconductor equipment, International Sematech and SEMI have enlisted help from an unlikely partner — Microsoft Corp.
Under the plan, Microsoft is taking a step into the semiconductor equipment world, by working with Sematech and SEMI to develop and provide software solutions for the new and emerging data-acquisition standard, dubbed Interface A.

The software giant hopes to tune and make its .NET product line as the underpinning technology for Interface A. Microsoft's .NET is a set of software technologies for connecting systems and devices, which apparently includes semiconductor equipment.

Interface A refers to the port on manufacturing equipment used to send data from the tool to the factory systems. The interface enables fabs to have access to detailed process, measurement and operational data from fab equipment.

The data from the Interface A port is parsed into an output data stream, which can be used by a fab's APC environment and other enterprises. Interface A is intended to replace and overcome deficiencies of the earlier SECS/GEM port on fab tools.

With its software technology, Microsoft is looking to help propel the adoption of the Interface A standard in the semiconductor industry, said John McCallum, industry manager for high tech at the software giant.

Microsoft is working with several groups and fab-equipment companies in the arena. "We are just getting started," he said.

The software giant is working to enable its .NET offering as the underpinning technology for the Interface A standard. Microsoft's existing .NET technology "enables a high level of software integration through the use of XML Web services — small, discrete, building-block applications — that connect to each other as well as to other, larger applications over the Internet," according to the company.

It includes the so-called .NET Framework 1.1 platform, which enables Web-based applications and XML Web services. It facilitates data and adheres to the specified inline simple object access protocol (SOAP 1.1) and hyper text transfer protocol (HTTP 1.1) using an Extensible Markup Language (XML).

Its technology is also aimed to one day enable e-diagnostics in semiconductor fabs, according to McCallum. E-diagnostics means the ability to troubleshoot semiconductor production equipment from afar, tapping the expertise of service and design engineers at an equipment vendor's headquarters to quickly fix a problem on fab lines around the world. Ideally, fab production employees would be able to fire off an e-mail or instant message to the vendor when troubles arise, and get a response with several potential fixes within hours -- minutes, maybe.

The Importance of IT Infrastructure

By Phil Danner
Semiconductor International

In today's rapidly changing global market, information technology (IT) infrastructure is more important than ever to semiconductor equipment suppliers and manufacturers. Newly emerging enterprise Ethernet infrastructures enable leading-edge productivity solutions like e-diagnostics and wireless networking.

The ability to leverage IT infrastructure-based solutions like these is crucial to success in today's market, allowing semiconductor equipment suppliers and manufacturers to increase productivity, lower costs, adapt quickly to evolving market conditions worldwide, and manage the semiconductor industry's rapid product lifecycles.

Traditional manufacturing IT anatomy

Manufacturing enterprises traditionally have been built upon an architecture of clearly defined device-level I/O, control, and business information networks. In a traditional architecture, information moves through the enterprise in the following manner:

  • Hardwired plant floor devices—such as sensors, valves, actuators and bar code readers—collect equipment and process data, and communicate this data to controllers, drives, HMIs and/or PC-based products via a proprietary field bus. Some I/O buses offer interoperability among devices and some diagnostics capabilities. Others give users the flexibility to mix and match products from multiple vendors. In either case, each device must be compatible with the standards of its respective network. Different networks are typically not interoperable, and expensive gateways are required to pass information among them.
  • Peer-to-peer communications among controls and production support systems have traditionally been achieved through proprietary networks developed by controls manufacturers. While these networks provide the reliability, scalability and determinism required for manufacturing, they are expensive and difficult to maintain and integrate with other enterprise networks and information systems.
  • Business information systems are networked predominantly via Ethernet TCP/IP (transmission control protocol/Internet protocol), which, prior to a few short years ago, was rarely used on the plant floor because of inherent performance limitations in its early forms. For this reason, integrating data from business information systems and the plant floor in real time was impossible, and information was often out of date by the time reports were compiled.

Using a traditional three-tiered infrastructure, each part of the manufacturing enterprise operates more like separate companies than a unified business.

Connecting with Ethernet

Today, Ethernet has evolved to be deterministic and robust enough to accommodate the timing and environmental demands of the plant floor. This is accomplished through proper network design and tools such as full-duplex switch gear, virtual local area networks (VLANs), routers and industrially hardened products. As manufacturers seek to connect previously disparate islands of automation and network plant floor data with enterprise information systems, they are increasingly leveraging the power of Ethernet. By connecting the entire enterprise through this open-standard networking technology, users can access real-time enterprise data and make more timely decisions, leading to better collaboration and higher productivity.

Ethernet is a primary enabler for the Web-based technologies that are at the core of today's successful businesses. Most Ethernet-based networks use the TCP/IP communications protocol and standard application protocol family (e.g. HTTP, SNMP, etc.) and thus facilitate the use of key Internet tools such as browsers, Web servers and e-mail servers. Using TCP/IP over an industrial Ethernet network, companies can better exploit applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), vendor-managed inventory (VMI), and e-diagnostics via a standard Internet browser.

Ethernet and other IP-based networks offer a variety of additional benefits, including: 1) scalability to accommodate the growth needs of manufacturers; 2) high-speed data transmission rates; 3) cost-effective installation and maintenance; 4) a range of network management capabilities; and 5) choice of cabling types, or wireless deployment for greater mobility.

The potential productivity improvements and return on investment (ROI) to semiconductor equipment suppliers and manufacturers alike from new Ethernet-enabled solutions is enormous. Today, one of the solutions from which the semiconductor industry stands to gain the most ise-diagnostics.


E-diagnostics defined

E-diagnostics, also known as remote monitoring and diagnostics (RM&D), allows semiconductor equipment suppliers and maintenance personnel to connect to remote sites, share information, and collaborate to solve problems. It also enables equipment suppliers and manufacturers to work remotely in real time, with real-time data, as if they were on site together. E-diagnostics solutions can be implemented on various levels, based on current and future end-user needs and resources. Using e-diagnostics, equipment suppliers can monitor their installed base from anywhere in the world at any time, pinpoint fault sources, immediately resolve the problem or dispatch expert service, and return equipment to production quickly. At the highest level, e-diagnostics positions organizations to achieve new productivity levels by enabling functionality such as statistical comparison of different sites in real time and predictive maintenance (see "SEMATECH Model ").

Whether the solution is basic or advanced, e-diagnostics is transforming semiconductor manufacturing by reducing operational costs, increasing productivity, allowing preventive maintenance of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, and enabling better collaboration among manufacturers and equipment suppliers. Building a robust, secure and reliable Ethernet-based e-diagnostics network infrastructure is essential to achieving these and the many other benefits of e-diagnostics.

Addressing security issues

One of the most important elements of an e-diagnostics implementation is security. Security is a highly involved, multi-tiered issue that is best handled by a qualified e-diagnostics infrastructure partner. Security involves far more than just keeping hackers at bay. A proper solution allows only authenticated and authorized parties to penetrate the manufacturer's firewalls to access data, while ensuring that the data is secure not only from hackers but also from "best intention" attacks. A "best intention" attack is a non-malicious attack upon system resources or data that occurs when users have incorrect authorization. For example, while authorized suppliers should have access to select data from the manufacturer, they should not be able to access data from other suppliers. If unauthorized access is allowed, the consequences — which include inadvertently deleting other parties' data — can be disastrous.

Authorization and authentication must extend not only to the network but also to the data level. This enables manufacturers to give suppliers access to only a subset of data about a specific process while blocking access to other data about the same process. During a repair, for example, chipmakers may wish to exclude recipe data from external access but allow other diagnostic data to be viewed.

Other key components of network security include encryption of in-transit as well as stored data, intrusion detection (actively looking for breaks), and accounting (logging of all activity).

The importance of infrastructure

A robust, secure and reliable IT-based infrastructure designed and commissioned by an objective third party enables real-time communication and collaboration among semiconductor suppliers and manufacturers. The IT infrastructure is a critical prerequisite for enabling effective communications from the shop floor to the top floor. Connectivity is, in fact, the key to reaping the many rewards of e-diagnostics and other leading-edge productivity solutions.



As outlined in the International SEMATECH (ISMT) model for e-diagnostic capability levels, e-diagnostics can be deployed on several levels:

Level 0: Access and Remote Collaboration — Provides users throughout an enterprise with remote connectivity to share information and collaborate on operations data. Off-site experts and end users, for example, can solve equipment or process problems or commission new equipment.

Level 1: Collection and Control — Takes the networking technology that was implemented in Level 0 a step further, enabling remote retrieval of real-time data directly from machines to troubleshoot and repair fault situations in real time.

Level 2: Analysis — Unlocks powerful productivity improvements for end users by adding automated reporting and analysis functionality such as statistical process control (SPC) and visualization software.

Level 3: Prediction — Builds on Level 2 functionality with algorithms that perform automated diagnosis and notification, allowing predictive maintenance and greatly simplifying the fault resolution process.

About us | Products | Services | Partners | Customers | News room| Contact us| Sitemap   
Copyright 2005 SiGlaz. All rights reserved.