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Posted: May 10, 2010
Environmental Metrology Puts Breakthrough Electro-Chemical Residue Sensor and Associated Patents Up For Sale
(Nanowerk News) After more than seven years of commercial development and testing, Tucson-based Environmental Metrology Corporation (EMC) is putting up for sale its breakthrough electro-chemical residue sensor (ECRS) for semiconductor manufacturing, along with associated intellectual property that includes three issued patents and another that is pending.
The technology, based on science developed at the University of Arizona, has been thoroughly tested at the facilities of two major semiconductor manufacturers and allows optimization of the wafer rinsing process that can result in annual savings of up to 50% compared to conventional rinsing. Testing at these facilities has also proven that the ECRS can detect very small quantities of impurity left after an incomplete cleaning procedure. As a result of the strong advocacy of its customers, EMC was awarded a 2009 Editors' Choice Best Product Award from Semiconductor International.
"We've invested heavily and worked hand-in-hand with semiconductor manufacturing customers to prove the efficacy of the technology and quantify its benefits," says Doug Goodman, Chairman of EMC. "With the semiconductor industry beginning to rebound (industry research firm Gartner, Inc. predicts a 20.9% increase in 2010 capital spending to $29.4 billion), we believe it's an optimum time to seek a buyer for this technology that can sell and support ECRS on a broad international scale as an integral part of the semiconductor manufacturing process."
ECRS is considered an industry breakthrough because it provides an accurate means of process control in a key stage of semiconductor manufacturing. A wafer is typically cleaned and rinsed approximately 400 times, consuming large quantities of chemicals and ultra-pure water.
"You can't optimize what you can't measure, and ECRS is the first tool the industry can use that performs in situ and real-time measurement of cleanliness inside high-aspect-ratio features while the wafer is being cleaned, rinsed or dried," says Goodman. "This leads to significant savings in water and energy usage, while increasing manufacturing throughput and yield."
He also points out that conservation is becoming a major concern for semiconductor manufacturers with respect to resource availability, cost reduction and waste disposal. "Manufacturing sustainability based on resource usage is becoming more critical as the technology scales to smaller features and approaches nano size, because the use of resources rapidly increases as device sizes decrease."
So far, the path to market for the ECRS has been a model of collaboration. The fundamental science was developed at the University of Arizona's Engineering Research Center for Environmentally Benign Semiconductor Manufacturing with support and mentoring from the Semiconductor Research Corporation. Spun out from the center in 2003 as EMC, a prototype was designed, built and tested under the National Science Foundation's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Later, supported by private investment, a commercial version of the sensor was developed to undergo successful testing in real-world semiconductor manufacturing facilities.
Currently, a wireless version of the sensor is being jointly developed by EMC and the ConnectionOne Industry-University Research Center located at Arizona State University.