Improving Silicon Wafer Cleaning with the Piranha Etch Process

The Piranha etch process removes organic material from silicon wafers rapidly and completely. Semiconductor manufacturing involves the repeated etching and cleaning of the silicon wafers and the Piranha mixture is a favorite method for the resist strip of wafers to prepare them for further processing. Modutek can provide high temperature re-circulating and constant temperature quartz baths and the company has developed a new “bleed and feed” control method to improve the silicon wafer cleaning process.

Modutek Quartz Baths for Piranha Etch

Modutek quartz baths are based on extensive experience and the use of the highest quality materials. The baths themselves are made of virgin boron-free fused quartz in a flame-retardant polypropylene housing. The QFa series is a high temperature re-circulating bath with a temperature range of 30 to 180 degrees centigrade while the Qa series is a constant temperature bath with the same temperature range.

Both bath series are temperature controlled to plus/minus 1 degree centigrade with a heat-up rate of 2 degrees centigrade per minute. Process control can be fully automated, semi-automatic or manual. The baths are available in a variety of sizes and Modutek will construct custom units as required. The units are ideal for Piranha etch applications because of their quick and even heating, accurate temperature control and extended vessel life.

Improving Piranha Process Control

The Piranha process uses an aggressive mixture of sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide to dissolve organic residue on the silicon wafers. The mixture is heated to about 130 degrees centigrade to improve the strip speed. Control of the cleaning is difficult because mixing sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide is exothermic and heats up the solution when the mixture is first prepared. As the mixture cools, it has to be heated to maintain its temperature and the strip rate.

The hydrogen peroxide in the mixture is unstable and decomposes to form water, diluting the mixture and slowing the strip rate. Heating the mixture increases the rate of decomposition of the hydrogen peroxide. To keep the concentration and the strip rate constant, the sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide mixture is periodically spiked with extra hydrogen peroxide. This addition keeps the strip rate elevated but the overall process is hard to control and the mixture has to be replaced completely about once per day. To improve the Piranha process and silicon wafer cleaning, the concentration and temperature variation issues have to be addressed.

The Modutek “Bleed and Feed” Process Control Method

Modutek has developed a method of improving control of the Piranha process by using a two tank system with a clean and a dirty tank. When the concentration of hydrogen peroxide goes down, a small amount of mixture from the dirty tank is drained and discarded. The drained amount is replaced from the clean tank. The stripping process can continue and the concentration is maintained at the desired level. The clean tank has its sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide replenished. All “feed and bleed” amounts are programmable to match specific process variables.

Benefits of the Process Change

The “bleed and feed” control method can be fully automated and the frequent addition of small amounts of sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide mixture keeps the strip rate constant and allows for continuous use of the mixture over an extended period of time. The benefits include:

  • Savings of chemicals can reach 75 percent while chemical purchase and disposal costs are correspondingly lower.
  • Process efficiency is increased due to less downtime for replacement of the chemicals.
  • Process results are improved due to a more constant strip rate.

As a leading semiconductor equipment manufacturer, Modutek provides customers with high quality equipment that offers the highest degree of process control. Modutek supports the new “bleed and feed” process change for Piranha strip in the company’s new wet bench stations. Call for a free consultation to discuss your specific process requirements.