How Are Isotropic and Anisotropic Processes Used to Improve Silicon Wet Etching?

How Are Isotropic and Anisotropic Processes Used to Improve Silicon Wet EtchingThe microscopic structures produced by silicon wet etching can be created with a high degree of precision by using both isotropic and anisotropic processes. Isotropic etching is faster but may etch under masks to create rounded shapes. Anisotropic etching can be controlled more precisely and can produce straight sides with exact dimensions. In each case, controlling the etch bath temperature and the etchant concentration is critical for successful micro-structure creation and for repeatability for subsequent batches.

How Isotropic and Anisotropic Etching Differ

Silicon wafers have a mono-crystalline lattice structure that repeats in all directions but is not equally dense in all directions. Vertical planes contain a different number of silicon atoms than diagonal planes. This means that etching with certain etchants is slower in the directions with more atoms while it progresses faster in the directions with fewer atoms.

Etchants used for isotropic etching, such as hydrofluoric acid, etch at the same speed in all directions, independently of silicon atom density. For etchants used for anisotropic etching, such as potassium hydroxide (KOH), the etching speed depends on the number of silicon atoms in a crystal lattice plane and therefore depends on the direction of the different planes.

The difference in anisotropic etching speeds allows a better control of shapes etched into the silicon wafers. With a corresponding orientation of the silicon wafer, etching can be timed to produce straight or angled sides and sharp corners. Etching under masks can be reduced.

How Isotropic and Anisotropic Etching Are Used in Semiconductor Manufacturing

Isotropic etching is harder to control than anisotropic etching but it is faster. In the initial stages of silicon wafer fabrication, large features are etched into the silicon. At this stage of manufacturing, etching speed is important for facility throughput. Isotropic etching is used to quickly create these large shapes with rounded sides and corners. Although process engineers and operators have less control over the shape of the feature being etched, accurate temperature and concentration control are still important to ensure that the rounded shapes being created are the same on wafers processed in different batches.

After the large shapes are etched with an isotropic process, the micro-structures and metal paths require better control of the details. Anisotropic etching provides this control as long as the lattice structure of the silicon wafer is oriented correctly. Anisotropic KOH etching is reliable and easily controlled. It can be used to create the precise, straight-sided shapes that are required in the final semiconductor product. Accurate control of the temperature and etchant concentration is even more important for anisotropic etching because these process parameters strongly influence the etching speeds in the various directions and therefore influence the final shapes that are etched.

Modutek Teflon Tanks Support Both Isotropic and Anisotropic Etching

For silicon wet etching processes in which the etch speed is temperature dependent, Modutek’s heated Teflon tanks provide rapid heating and tight temperature control. The tanks are either recirculating or static and they can be built into any new wet bench configuration. The tanks feature 360-degree overflow filtration and uniform heating throughout the bath. The heat-up rate is 2 to 3 degrees centigrade per minute and the temperature control accuracy is plus/minus 0.5 degree centigrade. The temperature controls of these tanks are ideally suited for both isotropic and anisotropic etching.

In terms of control of etchant concentration, Modutek can provide for the injection of de-ionized water into the tanks. Because etchant concentration affects the etch speed, accurate concentration control is important for final product quality and repeatability. Modutek can analyze customer requirements, find and build custom solutions and ensure that process control is precise enough to deliver the required results, both for isotropic and for anisotropic etching.

How Process Controls Improve Silicon Nitride Wet Etching Results

 How Process Controls Improve Silicon Nitride Wet Etching ResultsThe silicon nitride wet etching process uses a phosphoric acid solution in water to etch mask material quickly and reliably but the process is hard to control. Etching speed depends on the concentration of the solution and the bath temperature. Adding water to the solution to control the concentration is dangerous and, at the same time, it can change the temperature. Controlling such an unstable solution with two interdependent variables is difficult, but in the absence of reliable controls, the etching rate is not accurately maintained and the removal of silicon nitride is not precise.

How Silicon Nitride Etching With Phosphoric Acid Works

In the silicon nitride wet etching process, the silicon wafer is masked with a silicon nitride coating that has to be selectively etched. A solution of about 85 percent phosphoric acid and 15 percent de-ionized water is used to etch the silicon nitride at an optimized temperature of 165 degrees centigrade. To speed up etching, the phosphoric acid solution is heated to its boiling point. As the solution boils, water from the solution is lost as steam and the concentration of the solution rises. The boiling point of the solution rises as the concentration rises and the etch rate increases as both the temperature and the concentration increase.

To correct the etch rate, water has to be added to the bath to bring the concentration and the temperature back down. Adding water to boiling phosphoric acid is dangerous because it can reduce the temperature of the solution to below boiling. When the phosphoric acid solution is no longer boiling, the added water can form a thin film on top of the acid instead of mixing in continuously. Eventually the film will mix with the acid all at once and a “bump” can result from the exothermic reaction.

To make sure small amounts of water mix into the solution continuously, the solution has to be kept at its boiling point. Because the boiling point is variable, standard controls with a fixed temperature set point don’t work. Modutek has developed an innovative silicon nitride wet etching process control solution that features precise control of the temperature, concentration and etch rate while ensuring safe operation.

The Modutek Control Strategy Improves Etching Results

Modutek’s control concept uses an always-on heater to keep the 85 percent phosphoric acid solution at its boiling point. As water is lost to steam, the concentration of the solution starts to increase and the temperature starts to rise above the original value. A thermocouple senses the temperature rise and signals the system to add water. A small amount of water is added and is immediately mixed into the solution by the boiling action. The concentration is maintained at the original 85 percent phosphoric acid and 15 percent water and the temperature stays at the boiling point of 165 degrees centigrade with this concentration. The etch rate remains constant and the operation is safe.

Because the safety of the Modutek control strategy relies on the constant boiling of the phosphoric acid solution, an additional thermocouple is located above the hot acid to sense the presence of hot steam. Another thermocouple senses the temperature of the acid. If no steam is present or if the acid becomes too hot, the process is shut down. These emergency shut-downs don’t take effect during normal operation, but are an additional safety feature in case of equipment malfunction or operator error.

Modutek’s Control Strategy Delivers Improved Etching Performance

Modutek has tested and fine tuned their control strategy with their Nb Series silicon nitride wet etching baths for customers using manual, semi automated and fully automated wet bench stations. Customers that have been using the new equipment have achieved an average etch rate of 65 angstroms per minute while limiting oxide etch as the controls ensure safe operation at a consistent and optimum operating point.

A reliably-controlled and constant etch rate yields predictable etching and silicon nitride removal within product tolerances. When etching is not the same from batch to batch, product quality suffers and product lifespan can be reduced. Modutek manufactures a complete range of silicon wet etching equipment and with the company’s innovative control system, rejection rates are reduced and facility output is improved.


How Quartz Tanks Improve Wafer Manufacturing

The aggressive chemicals used in wet process wafer manufacturing have to be contained in process tanks that can resist etching and corrosion while remaining inert. Depending on the application, a process may require heating, filtration or the regular addition of chemicals. Quartz tanks from Modutek are made from semiconductor grade flame-polished quartz and are impervious to the acids and bases used in wafer processing. They minimize contamination of the wafers with particles and can be supplied in heated and re-circulating models. The high quality of the bath material along with advanced control strategies developed by Modutek help improve wafer manufacturing performance.

Cleaning Silicon Wafers Using Quartz Tanks

Wet bench processing of silicon wafers consists of fabrication steps such as etching and diffusion with cleaning required in between the steps. Wafers may be masked to etch specific parts of the wafer or to confine diffusion to certain target areas. After each process step is complete, the masking material has to be cleaned off.

Cleaning the wafers completely without contamination is critical because subsequent processing steps are affected if the wafer is not completely clean. With the microscopic architecture of semiconductor components becoming more tightly packed, even a single particle can result in a badly formed structure or conductor. When such malformations are incorporated into the final product, they can be the cause of defective or lower quality semiconductor components.

Specialized Process Controls Help Improve Wafer Manufacturing Results

Specialized quartz tanks from Modutek are based on over 30 years of experience and incorporate features to guarantee safe, reliable operation while delivering excellent wafer manufacturing results. Custom sizes, fast and even heating, reduced downtime and long vessel life help improve manufacturing facility performance and reduce costs. Quartz tank controls allow operators to program reproducible process environments and make sure temperatures and chemical concentrations are consistent. The three areas for which specialized control systems are useful are heating, chemical spiking and filtration.

Modutek high temperature re-circulating baths and constant temperature tanks heat up rapidly with a temperature rise of up to two degrees centigrade per minute. The operating temperature can range from 30 to 180 degrees centigrade and the temperature controller holds the temperature within plus or minus one degree centigrade. Quick heating helps improve throughput and accurate temperature control helps ensure high quality results.

For some chemical processes the concentration of chemicals can change during the process. Periodic spiking restores the chemical concentration to the desired level. Modutek has developed an innovative “bleed and feed” spiking method for the sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide (SPM) process.

The hydrogen peroxide of the SPM process decomposes and has to be replenished frequently. For traditional spiking, the mixture has an overall lifespan of only several hours. In Modutek’s clean tank/dirty tank using the “bleed and feed” spiking method, programmable amounts of mixture are drained from the dirty tank and transferred from the clean tank to the dirty tank. Programmable amounts of acid and peroxide are then added to the tanks. This method keeps the mixture fresh and increases the mixture’s lifespan to about one week.

In addition to controls for temperature and concentration, Modutek’s quartz tanks can reduce particle counts and wafer contamination. The quartz re-circulating tank can filter out particles down to 0.2 microns, improving output quality and reducing component failure rates.

Modutek’s quartz tanks are based on more than 30 years of experience and incorporate features to guarantee safe, reliable operation while delivering excellent wafer manufacturing results. Custom sizes, fast and even heating, reduced downtime and long vessel life help improve manufacturing facility performance and reduce costs.

Modutek continues to develop innovative techniques in the construction and use of quartz tanks for semiconductor manufacturing processing. The design of the quartz tanks and the associated advanced controls are a key factor in the production of semiconductor components of the highest quality. With extensive experience working with manufacturers in the development of advanced temperature, concentration and filtration controls, Modutek helps improve wafer manufacturing. Contact Modutek for a free consultation or quote on equipment designed to meet specialized manufacturing requirements.

Isotropic and Anisotropic Silicon Wet Etching Processes

The silicon wet etching of monocrystalline wafers produces microscopic structures that are used in micromechanical devices and semiconductor components. Areas of the silicon wafer not to be etched are protected by masks made of materials such as silicon dioxide or silicon nitride. The exposed areas of the silicon are etched when the wafer is immersed in a chemical bath.

In isotropic etching, an isotropic etchant such as hydrofluoric acid etches the silicon equally in all directions. This means that the wafer is etched directly downwards and also sideways under the mask. The resulting cavity has rounded corners and edges and is larger than the opening in the mask.

For anisotropic etching, the anisotropic etchant such as potassium hydroxide (KOH) etches with different speeds in different directions. This means that the etch rate in the downward direction can be faster than in the sideways directions under the mask. When properly designed, the anisotropic etch can produce cavities with straight sides and less undercutting of the mask.

More details on isotropic and anisotropic silicon wet etching can be found in the following documentation:

How Anisotropic Etching Works

In monocrystalline silicon wafers, the silicon atoms are arranged in a crystal lattice. The crystal has planes which have different atom densities. For example, the 111 plane in silicon is a diagonal plane that has a different atom density than the vertical 100 or 110 planes. As a result, the etching speed for certain etchants differs according to the plane of the silicon crystal through which etching takes place.

To design a successful anisotropic etching process, the etching speed of the etchant and the orientation of the crystal planes have to be coordinated. For example, if the aim is to etch a deep cavity with straight walls, the crystal planes with a slow etching speed have to be oriented along the cavity walls while the plane with a high etching speed should form the bottom. Rather than producing etched cavities with rounded walls and edges, anisotropic etching can create clearly defined straight-walled cavities along the silicon crystal planes.

Controlling the Etching Speed to Obtain Specific Structures

The silicon wafer masks define where etching can take place but the depth of the etched cavity and its shape can be determined by choosing the right etchant and controlling the etching rate. Isotropic etching is often used to create larger features in the initial stages of silicon wafer processing while anisotropic etching can produce straight-edged microstructures in the finishing stages.

Beyond the choice of the type of etching used, the etch rate depends on the concentration of the etchant and the etching solution temperature. Once the etch rate is determined for an etchant concentration at a specific temperature, the masked wafer is immersed in the etchant just long enough to produce the size of cavity required. In each case the precise concentration has to be mixed and the temperature has to be maintained at the target level. Subsequent wafers can be processed exactly the same way for reproducible results.

Differences between Isotropic and Anisotropic Silicon Wet Etching

While isotropic etching is harder to control precisely and hydrofluoric acid is difficult to handle, isotropic etching is faster than anisotropic etching. As a result it is often used for large geometries for which etching speed is an important factor. Anisotropic KOH etching is more precise but it depends on the orientation of the silicon crystal planes. If the wafer crystal orientation doesn’t match the requirements of the process, the resulting cavity will not have the desired characteristics.

Silicon wet etching equipment such as Modutek’s Teflon tanks support both types of processes and they come in temperature controlled and ambient versions. For processes dependent on temperature for controlling etch rate, the tank temperature controllers provide rapid and accurate heating. Concentration can be maintained through supplementation of de-ionized water and custom tank sizes are available if needed. For a free consultation or quote on selecting the right silicon wet etching equipment for your etching process contact Modutek at 866-803-1533.


Safely Controlling the Silicon Nitride Etching Process

Safely controlling the Silicon Nitride Etching ProcessSilicon nitride etch removes silicon nitride from silicon wafers during the fabrication process of semiconductor components. A solution of phosphoric acid in water etches silicon nitride rapidly and consistently as long as the temperature of the solution and the concentration of phosphoric acid are kept constant. Maintaining consistent process conditions during the silicon nitride wet etching process is difficult because adding water to phosphoric acid can result in an energetic explosive reaction. The accurate monitoring of the solution is extremely important for safe control of the process.

The Silicon Nitride Wet Etching Process

Silicon nitride is used as a mask to produce micro-structures and connections in semiconductor manufacturing. In most etching applications, the etch rate can be varied by changing the temperature or chemical concentration, but silicon nitride etch is best controlled at its boiling point and at a concentration of 85 percent phosphoric acid in a de-ionized water solution.

The phosphoric acid etching solution is a viscous liquid that is heated until it boils at about 160 degrees centigrade. The high temperature means some of the water will boil off and be lost as steam, increasing the acid concentration of the remaining liquid. As the concentration increases, the boiling point of the solution rises and water has to be added to keep the process variables constant.

The addition of water to the solution is dangerous because, if too much water is added at once, the solution stops boiling and the added water collects as a film above the viscous acid. As the temperature rises again and the acid starts boiling, the large quantity of water from the film mixes with the acid and may cause an explosive reaction.

Instead, the control system has to ensure that only small amounts of water are added at a time and these small amounts are immediately mixed with the remaining acid solution. Such a control strategy results in constant process characteristics, a safe operation and a high quality output.

How Modutek’s Nb Series Wet Etching Baths Ensure Safe Operation

Modutek has developed a bath control system that combines consistency with safe operation. For the Nb series etching baths, the phosphoric acid solution is kept boiling with a constantly-on heater that maintains the solution at its boiling point. As water evaporates and the acid concentration rises, the boiling point increases and the solution temperature goes up. The temperature rise is detected by a thermocouple and a small amount of water is added to the solution to bring the concentration back down.

Because the solution is constantly boiling, the small amount of water is immediately mixed in with the rest of the acid. The amount of water is too little to stop the solution from boiling and the heater is powerful enough to always maintain a vigorous boiling condition. To ensure that water is added only when the solution is boiling, a second thermocouple senses the presence of steam above the bath liquid and blocks the addition of water when no steam is present. A third thermocouple monitors the bath temperature to switch off the heater if the liquid overheats.

The Benefits of the Modutek Silicon Nitride Etch Bath

The advanced control system of Modutek’s Nb series baths allows semiconductor manufacturers and research labs to safely implement the silicon nitride wet etching process to achieve optimum consistency characteristics. The temperature and concentration of the etching bath remain within tight limits due to the two-level control, monitoring the temperature to correct the acid concentration.

Modutek offers the Nb series baths in their fully automatic, semi-automatic and manual wet bench stations as part of its complete line of wet process equipment. The company constantly works with customers to continuously develop improvements in wet process technology. Contact Modutek for a free consultation to discuss your specific process requirements.

How Quick Dump Rinsers Improve Silicon Wet Etching Results

Manufacturing lines in semiconductor fabrication facilities and research labs use corrosive chemicals to clean and etch silicon wafers. Depending on the semiconductor product, a silicon wafer may undergo multiple steps in baths containing chemicals such as hydrochloric acid or hydrogen peroxide. When the cleaning or etching process in a particular fabrication step is complete, the chemicals must be rinsed from the wafer before the silicon wafer can be processed further. Quick Dump Rinsers provide a quick and effective way of thoroughly rinsing the wafers without introducing new contaminants.

How Quick Dump Rinsers Work

Once wafers are placed into the rinser, powerful jets spray de-ionized water over the wafers to remove all traces of chemicals. As the rinse tank fills up, chemical residue and contaminating particles are flushed out and rise to the surface. A nitrogen gas bubbler system serves to agitate the de-ionized water further, removing additional contaminants from the surface of the wafers. An overflow weir allows the surface water to flush the chemicals and particles out of the tank. When the rinsing process is complete, the quick dump door at the bottom of the tank opens and the water drains out in a matter of seconds.

The key characteristics of a Quick Dump Rinser are rapid operation, complete removal of contaminants and avoiding the addition of new contamination. Rapid operation helps reduce the use of de-ionized water and saves process time. If traces of chemicals are not completely removed, etching of the wafer might continue and result in defective or low quality products. The same is true if particles are not eliminated or are added during the rinse. Since rinsing has to be carried out at the end of many process steps, Rinser performance is critical for product output quality.

Modutek’s DR Series Quick Dump Rinser Features

Modutek’s Quick Dumps Rinsers are designed to meet the needs of advanced semiconductor fabrication. Wet process semiconductor manufacturing facilities and research labs can use the Modutek rinsers as stand-alone units or integrated into a wet process manufacturing line. The rinsers work quickly and deliver completely clean wafers. They incorporate the following features:

  • Contoured vessel design
  • Nitrogen bubbler on all models
  • Natural polypropylene or PVDF (option) tanks, nozzles and fittings
  • Large machined dump door without gaskets or seals
  • 360 degree overflow weir

Modutek’s design minimizes de-ionized water consumption and reduces rinse times while ensuring effective rinsing. The tanks require a de-ionized water supply, a source of pressurized nitrogen and a 120 or 24 V AC power supply. Options include a reclaim system, Teflon nozzles, fittings and valves, and special process cover configurations. The rinsers are available in a variety of sizes.

How Modutek’s DR Series Rinsers Improve Silicon Etching Results

Semiconductor manufacturing makes use of ever smaller microstructures and circuit connections. During wet etching of the silicon wafers, even a tiny particle can block a circuit path or deform microstructure design. Modutek’s rinsers are designed and constructed to avoid particle contamination.

The contoured vessel and machined trap door avoid entrapment of particles in corners or in cracks around seals and gaskets. The nitrogen bubbler helps dislodge any particles remaining on the surfaces of the silicon wafers. The 360 degree overflow weir gets rid of contaminants in the surface water quickly and the polypropylene material avoids the addition of metallic particles from fittings.

Modutek’s DR Series Quick Dump Rinsers are state-of-the-art process rinsing modules that work quickly and rinse completely. Used together with wet bench stations from Modutek’s extensive line of silicon wet etching equipment they can deliver exceptional performance for semiconductor manufacturing facilities and research labs. Contact Modutek for a free consultation on selecting the best equipment that will meet your manufacturing requirements.

Why High Temperature Quartz Baths Are Required for Silicon Wafer Cleaning

Silicon wafers undergo many process steps during the manufacture of semiconductor components and cleaning the wafers properly is an important factor in successful fabrication. Process steps include etching and diffusion, both of which involve coating the wafer with masking material to guide the etching chemicals or diffusion targets. Once a step is completed, the masking chemicals have to be completely removed. If traces remain or if other impurities are introduced, the quality of the final semiconductor product will be affected.

Silicon wafers are cleaned with aggressive chemicals to remove organic masking material and other possible contaminants. As a result, the cleaning solution container has to be able to resist the action of corrosive chemicals while remaining inert without becoming a source of contamination itself. Baths made of quartz are highly stable, resist corrosion and can be designed and built to avoid contamination. Quartz baths are an ideal solution to the challenges of silicon wafer cleaning and the maintaining of high levels of wafer cleanliness.

How Quartz Baths Clean Silicon Wafers

Quartz baths provide a clean and safe container for the chemical reactions that are used in silicon wafer cleaning. Depending on the materials used, the quartz bath may simply hold the wafers and the cleaning chemicals, but some processes require heating, circulating the solution or the addition of chemicals. In each case, the control actions must be accurate, reliable and easily duplicated.

For example, materials such as hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide may be used for cleaning the silicon wafers. Quartz is impervious to these strong chemicals and the quartz tanks remain unaffected while the acids clean the silicon wafers. With SPM clean, sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide are mixed and maintained at a constant temperature of about 130 degrees centigrade. Periodic spiking with hydrogen peroxide is necessary because it decomposes in the solution. The mixture cleans wafers rapidly but can’t attack the quartz bath container.

Using bath containers that are inert and don’t contaminate is important because the electrical and physical structures making up modern semiconductor components are extremely sensitive to contaminating particles. As these structures become smaller and more tightly packed on a wafer, even a single particle can interfere with the etching or the diffusion process. Such interference from particles reduces the yield of semiconductor components and affects the productivity of the semiconductor manufacturing facility.

The Benefits of Using Modutek’s Quartz Baths

Modutek has over 30 years experience in quartz bath design and manufacture so that the company’s baths fulfill all the basic requirements for semiconductor processing and deliver additional benefits. Modutek can provide standard units where they satisfy customer requirements but can also design and build custom systems for special applications.

Modutek’s QFa series high temperature re-circulating quartz baths are safe and reliable with a low total cost of ownership. The semiconductor grade quartz of the baths is flame polished to reduce contamination and the vessels are designed for an especially long service life. Particle addition from re-circulating flow is kept to a minimum and remote control is available. Tank sizes range from an inner measurement of 7.75 x 7.75 inches and 9 inches high to 21.5 x 11.5 inches and 10.5 inches high. Custom sizes are available as well.

The QFa baths have an integrated heater that provides an operating range of 30 to 180 degrees centigrade. The heaters produce a temperature rise of 2 degrees per minute and control accuracy is plus/minus 1 degree centigrade, these variables depending on the operating conditions. The wide temperature range, fast thermal response and accurate temperature control make the Modutek quartz baths ideal for silicon wafer cleaning. The high precision guarantees excellent repeatability of the process between batches and the fast heating rate reduces process times. Overall, Modutek’s quartz baths can help improve the semiconductor production performance of manufacturing facilities and research labs. For a free quote or consultation on selecting the right equipment for your manufacturing process contact Modutek at 866-803-1533.

Reviewed and Approved by Douglas Wagner
President & CEO, Modutek Corporation

Selecting Silicon Wet Etching Equipment for Your Application

Silicon wet etching equipment is required in the manufacture of semiconductor components and selecting the right equipment is essential for maintaining facility performance and excellent product quality. The products produced from these facilities range from relatively simple electronic parts to complex components with intricate microstructures and an electronic/physical structure interaction. These varying requirements mean that most systems have to be customized for the specific application.

Selecting wet etching equipment along with related accessories and controls may require expert help because the system parts have to be closely integrated and seamlessly take the silicon wafers through many fabrication steps. Precision dosages, accurate temperature control and exact timing are important for consistency. Manufacturers who assemble their own equipment and program their own software will be able to give the most useful advice on system selection.

Getting the Right Tanks and Baths

Tanks made of different materials and with different options support different chemical processes. Quartz baths are used for cleaning with processes such as RCA and SPM while Teflon tanks are used for etching applications such as KOH and TMAH. Stainless steel tanks are for solvent baths and all the tanks have to be made from high-quality materials that reduce contamination.

Tank features that are specific to various processes can include heating, cooling and re-circulating. Chemicals are heated to speed up etching and cleaning but the temperature has to be tightly controlled to ensure etching is precise and repeatable. Sub-ambient filtered etch baths are used with buffered oxide etch (BOE) and can operate in a 10 to 60 degree Celsius temperature range. Recirculation keeps the temperature constant and can include filtering.

Silicon nitride wet etching is a special case because the baths need a two-tier control system that avoids temperature bumps from the addition of water to the phosphoric acid used in the process. Control measures are needed to maintain the water acid ratio by adding small amounts of water while ensuring that the water immediately mixes with the acid. If an application requires nitride etch, this type of control feature is essential.

Automation Can Improve Throughput and Yield

Automation of different process steps can make the process run exactly as desired and allows operators to program variables with excellent results for subsequent batches. Wet benches can be operated manually, semi-automatically or with full automation. Manual control lets operators set process parameters and calculate chemical doses before starting and monitoring the process. In semi-automatic operation, many of the process steps are carried out robotically but still under the control of the operator. Full automation runs the entire process.

Automation impacts the performance of silicon wet etching equipment in several ways, including the following:

  • Reduced human error.
  • Reduced chemical use
  • Increased etching accuracy
  • Improved etch rates

These factors become especially important with semiconductor products in which components are densely packed or which have intricate microstructures. Better control of temperatures, dosages and timing means product defects are fewer, yields are higher and product quality is improved. Running the same automated program again results in excellent repeatability. Reducing operator interaction with harmful chemicals increases safety and employee job satisfaction.

Modutek Provides Industry-Leading Silicon Wet Etching Equipment

Modutek can provide silicon wet etching equipment for all common wet bench processes and has the expertise to customize systems for specific customer applications. All equipment is assembled in house at the San Jose, California facility and the software is designed and programmed by the company’s specialists. Modutek has extensive experience in semiconductor manufacturing equipment and can help customers select the best silicon wet etching systems to satisfy their requirements.

Reviewed and Approved by Douglas Wagner
President & CEO, Modutek Corporation

Advantages of Using the KOH Etching Process

Advantages of Using the KOH Etching Process for Silicon EtchingThe KOH etching process uses a potassium hydroxide solution to etch silicon wafers and produce microscopic structures in the silicon. In subsequent semiconductor fabrication steps, the micro structures are used in the manufacture of integrated circuits, processors and other electronic devices.

Compared to other etching processes KOH etching is comparatively safe, etches silicon rapidly and can be tightly controlled. These characteristics are especially important for batch processing when a process step has to be reproduced precisely many times. While other chemical processes are required for specific semiconductor cleaning and etching steps, industrial plants and research facilities prefer the KOH process for general silicon etching.

How the KOH Etching Process Works

The KOH solution is prepared by adding KOH to water in an etching tank made of material impervious to aggressive chemicals. Silicon wafers are masked with silicon nitride or silicon dioxide, substances that the KOH solution does not etch. When the wafers are immersed in the KOH solution, silicon is removed from the areas that are not masked by the chemical action of the KOH etching solution.

The etch rate can be controlled by changing the concentration of the solution and by changing the temperature. The concentration is fixed once the process is established and is usually around a 30% solution by weight, but may be as low as 10% and as high as 50%. Typically the solution temperature is about 60 to 80 degrees centigrade and the etch rate increase is very sensitive to an increase in temperature.

Other factors influencing the etch rate are the crystal lattice planes of the silicon and the presence of boron doping. Different crystal lattice orientations are etched at different rates so that the crystal lattice planes influence the design of the masks and their placement. Boron doping can be used to stop the etching in a specific direction. Taken together, all the ways the etch rate can be controlled allow the creation of complex shapes in the silicon.

Controlling KOH Etching

Obtaining the desired etching results from the KOH process can be divided into two groups of control measures. The concentration, doping and lattice orientation are determined initially before the process starts and establishes itself. At that point, temperature control can still change the etching rate. The initial control measures can be put in place with the required precision, concentration and other characteristics but the temperature of the etching solution must be controlled accurately on a continuing basis.

Because the KOH etching process is very temperature sensitive, maintaining the temperature at the exact set point is important. The temperature controller must be accurate during the process and also from one batch to the next. Tight control during the etching process ensures that the etch rate remains constant while precisely keeping the same temperature for a given set point from one batch to the next ensures accurate reproducibility of process conditions and identical output across different batches.

Modutek’s Teflon Silicon Etch Tanks

Using Modutek’s Teflon tanks allows operators to fully benefit from the advantages of KOH etching. The tanks are designed with KOH etching in mind and feature a wide temperature range, tight temperature control and rapid heating. Custom sizes are available and custom installations can be designed to fit any new or existing wet bench application.

Heating in Modutek’s Teflon tanks is either in line or through an immersion heater in the overflow weir. Temperatures can be controlled to plus/minus 0.5 degrees centigrade and the temperature range is 30 to 100 degrees centigrade. The heating rate is 2 to 3 degrees per minute, depending on the size of the system, and heating is even throughout the bath. Since temperature control is a key requirement for successful KOH etching, these system characteristics allow for excellent reproducibility between batches and for the precise control needed for high quality output.

Apart from excellent temperature controls, Modutek’s Teflon tanks feature all TFA Teflon with advanced manufacturing techniques designed to minimize contamination. Options such as an auto lid feature or a condensing refluxor are available if needed. Modutek Teflon tanks are an ideal solution for KOH etching applications and the company can help select the model and options that best satisfy specific customer needs. Contact Modutek for a free consultation on selecting the right equipment for specific process requirements.

Reviewed and Approved by Douglas Wagner
President & CEO, Modutek Corporation


How New Equipment Has Improved the Silicon Nitride Wet Etching Process

how-new-equipment-has-improved-the-silicon-nitride-wet-etching-processThe silicon nitride wet etching process is difficult to control safely but is a key component of semiconductor wafer manufacturing. The process uses phosphoric acid to remove silicon nitride masks from silicon wafers to allow the clean wafers to undergo further fabrication steps. The hot phosphoric acid and water mixture is unstable and requires periodic addition of small quantities of water, but adding water to phosphoric acid may produce a bump. Modutek has developed a new approach to control the nitride etching process safely and accurately while achieving high etching rates.

How the Silicon Nitride Wet Etching Process Works

The etching of silicon nitride masks with phosphoric acid is optimized at a temperature of 160 degrees centigrade for a mixture of 85 percent acid and 15 percent deionized water. At this temperature, the mixture boils and some water is lost as steam. The lost water has to periodically be replaced, but adding water to phosphoric acid can be dangerous. The water may not immediately mix with the acid, instead forming a film on top of the mixture. If the film suddenly mixes with the acid, introducing a large amount of water into the mixture at once, a bump can result.

In order to optimize etching performance small amounts of water are added periodically which immediately mix with the acid to maintain the temperature at the ideal 160 degrees centigrade. If too much water is added, the temperature of the mixture may drop and the mixture may stop boiling, allowing the water film to form and create a dangerous situation. If too little water is added, the temperature of the mixture will increase and even more water will be lost. Modutek has new equipment provides an innovative control strategy that addresses these issues and delivers excellent etching performance.

Modutek’s Nb Series Silicon Nitride Wet Etching Bath

Modutek’s new Nb series bath provides tight control of the bath temperature while ensuring a safe operation and superior etching of the silicon nitride masks. In addition to the new control strategy, the series Nb baths offer additional safety features that make sure the dangerous condition in which large amounts of water are mixed with hot phosphoric acid is avoided.

In their new silicon nitride wet etching equipment, Modutek uses the acid mixture concentration as a reference value for adding small amounts of deionized water. At normal operation, the bath heater is on and the mixture is always boiling at the normal mixture boiling point of 160 degrees centigrade.

The boiling point of the mixture varies with the concentration. As water is lost and the mixture concentration rises, the boiling point increases as well and the mixture temperature starts to rise above 160 degrees centigrade. This rise triggers the addition of a small amount of deionized water. Since the mixture is always boiling because the heater is always on, the deionized water is immediately mixed in with the boiling acid, the concentration of the acid is reduced and the mixture boiling point decreases back down to 160 degrees centigrade.

To guard against the addition of water when the mixture is not boiling, a thermocouple sensor above the boiling mixture detects the presence of steam and closes the water valve when no steam is present. This additional safety feature ensures that a dangerous water film cannot form even under abnormal conditions such as heather failure.

Modutek has been testing and fine tuning the new system with Nb silicon nitride wet etching baths to customers in manual, semi automated and fully automated wet bench stations. Semiconductor fabrication facilities and research centers using the new equipment have achieved an average etch rate of 65 angstroms per minute while limiting oxide etch as the controls ensure safe operation at a consistent and optimum operating point.