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How are Semiconductors fabricated? | Explained


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: What are semiconductors?

Mains level: Current state of semiconductor fabrication and Semiconductor manufacturing process

Why in the news? 

The binary revolution (0s and 1s) constantly shape the way we interact with technology and with each other daily and the beating heart of this binary revolution is the semiconductor device.

What are semiconductors?

Semiconductors are materials that possess properties intermediate between those of conductors and insulators. They can conduct electricity under certain conditions but not as effectively as conductors, nor do they block it entirely like insulators.

How are semiconductors made?

  • Silicon Wafer Selection: Engineers begin by selecting a silicon wafer as the foundation for the semiconductor.
  • Purification of Silicon: Silicon, sourced from sand, undergoes meticulous purification to achieve ultra-pure levels with impurity levels as low as a few parts per billion.
  • Photolithography Process: A crucial step where the circuit pattern is carved on the wafer using photolithography. The wafer is coated with a light-sensitive material (photoresist), and a mask with small gaps in the circuit pattern shape is used to shine light onto the wafer, eroding parts of the photoresist to acquire the pattern.
  • Chemical and Physical Techniques: After photolithography, engineers use chemical and/or physical techniques to remove uncarved parts of the photoresist, leaving behind the circuit’s structure on the silicon substrate.
  • Doping of Semiconductor: Impurities are deliberately added to specific parts of the semiconductor to alter its electrical properties.
  • Deposition of Thin Layers: Thin layers of materials such as metals or insulators are deposited onto the wafer’s surface to form electrical connections or insulate components.
  • Packaging and Testing: The resulting product undergoes packaging, where individual chips are separated, encapsulated, and tested to ensure functionality and reliability.Finally, the semiconductor chips are integrated into electronic devices.

Need Expertise

    • Need high precision and diverse scientific principle-Each step in semiconductor fabrication demands ultra-high precision and harnesses a blend of diverse scientific principles. For example, to make the most advanced transistors, the photolithography process requires a light source emitting electromagnetic radiation at a wavelength of 13.5 nm.
    • Specializing in specific domains-The semiconductor manufacturing process is characterised by specialisation, leading to an oligopoly controlled by companies specializing in specific domains. For example ASML, a spin-off of Philips, is in fact the sole provider of photolithography machines for cutting-edge semiconductor technology worldwide

Status of India in fabrication – 

    • Bengaluru serves as a hub for chip design, showcasing India’s leading role in this field.Despite its prowess in chip design, India lacks ownership of the intellectual property rights (IPR) necessary to execute these designs.
    • Most IPR for chip designs is retained by parent companies or Arm, limiting India’s autonomy to being a mere user of their products.The situation resembles the McDonald’s business model, where India hosts outlets but lacks ownership of the recipe and supply chain, controlled by a parent company elsewhere.

Significance of semiconductors:

  • Ubiquitous Influence: Semiconductors power various technologies beyond smartphones and computers, including smart air-conditioners, space telescopes, and more.
  • Critical Solutions for Crises: Semiconductors are crucial for addressing 21st-century challenges like artificial intelligence, electric vehicles, space exploration, and personalized healthcare, highlighting their significance for human survival and progress.
  • Innovation and Job Creation: Semiconductor technology facilities foster innovation, create high-paying jobs, and nurture deep-tech start-ups, contributing to advancements in various fields like materials science, computer engineering, and chip design.
  • Geopolitical Significance: Semiconductors have become a focal point of geopolitical interest, with nations competing to establish fabrication facilities and imposing sanctions on others to control access to advanced technology, driving efforts to bolster domestic semiconductor production capabilities.

Challenges related to semiconductor manufacturing in India:

  • Intellectual Property Rights (IPR): India faces limitations due to a lack of ownership of IPR necessary for chip fabrication.
  • Technology Transfer: Despite advancements in chip design, India struggles with technology transfer issues.
  • Infrastructure: Developing semiconductor manufacturing facilities requires significant investment in infrastructure
  • Skilled Workforce: The semiconductor industry demands highly skilled professionals proficient in various aspects of chip design, fabrication, and testing.
  • Regulatory Environment: India’s regulatory environment, including policies related to intellectual property, taxation, and investment, may not be conducive to attracting semiconductor manufacturing investments.

Measures to address challenges related to semiconductor manufacturing in India:

  • Education and training programs:  Offer specialized courses and certifications to equip individuals with the necessary skills for the industry.
  • Policy reforms: Implement policy reforms to create a conducive regulatory environment for semiconductor manufacturing sector.
  • Diversification of suppliers: Encourage diversification of semiconductor supply chains by supporting domestic suppliers and fostering partnerships with global manufacturers
  • Government grants and incentives: Provide financial support and incentives for semiconductor R&D projects
  • Strategic partnerships: Forge strategic partnerships with leading semiconductor-producing countries and organizations to leverage their expertise, share best practices, and facilitate technology transfer and knowledge exchange.

Conclusion: Addressing challenges in semiconductor manufacturing in India requires collaborative efforts, investment in infrastructure and education, regulatory reforms, and strategic partnerships. These measures are vital for India to strengthen its position in the global semiconductor industry.

Mains PYQ-

Q- Account for the present location of iron and steel industries away from the source of raw material, by giving examples. ( 2020 ) 

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