Silicon 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.
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.