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What’s Striking About Wolfspeed’s New Silicon Carbide Plant in Marcy, New York

By on July 24, 2022 0

I recently had the opportunity to tour Wolfspeed’s new silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductor facility in Marcy, New York. I’m a big fan of SiC, and with conventional silicon devices reaching their limits, SiC power semiconductors will play an increasingly critical role in future electric vehicles and anything that handles electric power. The factory is very different from those that manufacture logic chips. Still, for one who has visited many factories around the world, there are two things that make this one stand out: the use of automation and the support the company has received from New York State. .

The site sits atop a hill and includes a 500,000 foot2 building on four levels with a land of 120,000 ft2 Class 100 clean room for device production and an additional 10,000 square feet2 space dedicated to backend processes such as material grinding and gluing. This facility will produce SiC MOSFET devices in 200 mm diameter (eight-inch) wafers, which is a step up from the 150 mm or smaller sizes that have been used historically. A 200mm wafer contains 1.78 times more chips than a 150mm wafer, which, combined with tooling investments, will make Marcy the largest and most productive SiC device factory in the world.

SiC is a very difficult material to work with, and you have to do things like grow epitaxial layers, bake things, and build features using ion implantation. The company also grinds the chips during manufacturing, which is difficult because SiC is one of the hardest materials in the world. This means you have to grind with the hardest substance – the diamond, which is a messy process. As the predecessor company Cree (the company changed its name to Wolfspeed last year), it pioneered in innovations in device design and manufacturing processeswhich led to smaller chips for a given power rating, meaning more chips per wafer and higher device yields.

Logic chip makers like Intel
, TSMC and GlobalFoundries in Malta, NY switched to 300mm wafers long ago due to the need for much higher chip volumes. They all use extensive automation, moving batches of wafers into FOUPs (Front Opening Unified Pods) with overhead transport systems that move them between individual tools on the factory floor in the order dictated by the recipe. of the chip. But no one had yet done the automation work to enable 200mm. Here, the fab Marcy is the pioneer. The Wolfspeed team adapted some of the tools used for 300mm, like the airlift system, and worked with tool makers to develop automated loading ports. They will use more or less standard 200 mm SMIF (for Standard Mechanical Interface) pods to transport the wafers.

It will be a ‘lights out’ factory, which means that although around 600 people will be working on site, there will be no operators in the clean room, just occasional technicians to maintain the tools and robotics. . This should have a positive impact on yield, as humans moving through a cleanroom are a major source of particulate contamination and consequent yield loss. It also means that even when there is a major winter snowstorm (this part of upstate New York can get a lot of snow), production can still hum.

This brings me to the second striking thing about this fab. It looks like an industrial development project in Asia. The site is in the Marcy Nanocenter, atop a wooded hill adjacent to the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, just off the New York State Highway. New York State had been developing the site for some time, and Adam Milton, vice president of the Mohawk Valley Fab and my host for the tour, told me it was “plug and play, ready to go.” Jobs… water, pipes, sewers, electricity, everything you need to build a scalable, high-volume semiconductor factory was already there. The site is 434 acres and Wolfspeed occupies 55, so there’s room for more businesses. The state also helped expedite permit approvals and anything else the business needed.

The ability to hire labor is essential for a complex manufacturing operation like Marcy. “SUNY Poly already had pretty strong Electrical Engineering Technology and Mechanical Engineering Technology programs,” Milton explained. “It was exactly what we needed in terms of process engineers, device engineers, or industrial and mechanical engineers.” Additionally, during the construction of the factory, Wolfspeed sent a team of its engineers to the College of Nanoscale Engineering (CNSE) in Albany. As part of the New York State Incentive Program, CNSE provided cleanroom space and technical support to the company to first transfer a 150mm pilot process from its North Carolina plant. North, then set up a 200 mm full flow pilot line. “This type of prototyping is absolutely essential,” Milton added. “Because you really want to do it before you scale up. We were able to demonstrate the yields and reliability of this installation, which saves us a lot of time. »

In nearby Utica, NY, the company has partnered with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC) to help develop technicians. MVCC has developed a program aligned with business needs. “We can send them over there for a six-week course or a quarter-hour course to get the extra training they need,” Milton added. MVCC also had a lab space in downtown Utica where the Milton team was able to set up a complete prototyping automation line with all the software and hardware infrastructure they had planned for us. .e at Marky. “Once this building was done, we could basically take this automation work that was already done in the Utica lab and plug it right here into this building,” Milton explained. “It was another huge feather in our cap to really kick off with the start up of this plant.” By his estimate, all of these things took a year to build, equip, and operate the fab.

The construction of the Marcy factory is complete and all the tools have been moved. It is currently in the qualification phase and deliveries to customers are scheduled before the end of the year. The whole approach, and more importantly the speed, made it feel like an industrial development project in Taiwan, or maybe South Carolina.

The new Wolfspeed plant will establish Marcy, New York, as a major supply link in the energy transition. It could also be a model on how to do industrial development.