- Gauss Labs, an industrial AI startup SK hynix invested in, delivers an AI-based virtual metrology solution called “Panoptes VM” for high-volume manufacturing
- By predicting wafer process outcomes based on sensor data, Panoptes VM reduces process variability by 21.5% on average and ultimately improves the yield as well
- Panoptes VM has been utilized in SK hynix’s thin film deposition process since December 2022 and is expected to expand into other processes in the future
Looking to improve operational efficiency and yield in its semiconductor manufacturing process, SK hynix has turned to an artificial intelligence (AI) solution. Gauss Labs, an industrial AI startup SK hynix invested in, launched an AI-based virtual metrology (VM) solution software product called Panoptes VM in November 2022. Right after in December 2022, SK hynix began using Panoptes VM in its mass production fabs.
Panoptes VM predicts manufacturing process outcomes using sensor data. The product is named after Panoptes in Greek mythology, the all-seeing giant with 100 eyes. Accordingly, Panoptes VM is designed to monitor everything that happens during the manufacturing process.
Panoptes VM was first applied to thin film vapor deposition1, a crucial process that coats a thin film on a wafer. The thickness and refractive index of the thin film are key process outcomes that are directly related to the quality of a semiconductor chip. However, measuring these process outcomes for such a thin film would take a great deal of time and resources, so it is infeasible to make measurements for all wafers.
SK hynix now relies on Panoptes VM to resolve this problem. Combining prediction values generated by Panoptes VM with APC2, SK hynix reduced process variability3 by 21.5% on average, which also led to improvement in yield. SK hynix and Gauss Labs are considering plans to expand this technology to various processes beyond thin film vapor deposition.
1Thin Film Vapor Deposition: A process that coats the top of a wafer by forming a thin film — a very fine layer of material on a substrate surface, e.g., insulated semiconductor, glass, and ceramic — via a physical or chemical reaction such as vacuum deposition or sputtering.
2APC (Advanced Process Control): A solution that finds optimal process conditions for equipment during a manufacturing process.
3Process Variability: The amount of fluctuation in the quality of manufactured products in respective processes. As the probability of defects falls when the fluctuation decreases, the process variability should be managed within a certain level.
Analyzing the real sensor data with AI technology, prediction models by Panoptes VM achieve a high level of accuracy comparable to physical metrology equipment. Consequently, virtual metrology allows manufacturers to monitor essentially all wafers and opens up endless possibilities through predicted values.
Mike Kim, CEO of Gauss Labs, said: “Gauss Labs is solving the most challenging problems in manufacturing by using state-of-the-art AI technology and creating real impact and values in practice. With Panoptes VM at the forefront, we will continue to develop products that will lead innovation in manufacturing.”
Regarding the adoption of Panoptes VM, Young-sik Kim, EVP of Manufacturing/Technology at SK hynix, said: “SK hynix is making concerted efforts with Gauss Labs to realize smart factories with a next level of intelligence. We will continue to maintain our technological edge by incorporating AI technology into all stages of semiconductor manufacturing. The arrival of Panoptes VM is just the beginning.”