In my last blog, I wrote about how protecting critical electrical supplies in semiconductor fabrication plants is vital to ensure continuous manufacturing operations. Quality chip manufacturing depends on a clean and continuous energy supply to meet supply chain requirements and avoid the heavy costs associated with downtime and lost production. In fact, electricity is perhaps the single most expensive operational expense in chip production.
According to industry forecasts by SEMI, demand for silicon is expected to continue to pick-up strongly during 2017 – 18, so production capacity must be maximized accordingly. At the same time, and in common with many other sectors, the semiconductor industry must find new ways to do more with less. One challenge the industry faces is that in boom times, energy conservation is a low priority which only becomes important when demand falls.
The Importance of Energy Efficiency in Semiconductor Fabrication
A report by the analyst McKinsey (Bringing energy efficiency to the fab) highlights that while the power consumption of devices has reduced significantly over the years, improvements in the energy used during the chip production process has lagged behind. Energy costs, says McKinsey, can account for 5 to 30 percent of fab operating expenses, depending on local electricity prices.
Cleanroom heating, ventilation, and air conditioning are typically major energy consuming operations, accounting for around 50% of the total energy used, while wafer processing tools account for 30-40%. To maintain the manufacturing status quo, much of this equipment is oversized and runs above specification, so, for example, chillers overcool water for the air conditioning systems.
Chip fabricators tend to focus on reliability as their primary and sometimes only consideration for electricity requirement from their utilities, and because of this prioritization and lack of measurement tools, efficiency gains have lagged behind those achieved in other industries. McKinsey highlights the problem, “… at many fabs there is only one power meter for the entire clean room… $20 million to $30 million flows through that meter each year, but engineers, plant managers and even fab executives often treat it as a free commodity.”
Getting a handle on energy use is the first step in building an energy efficiency program. Making energy consumption visible is one of the keys to identifying opportunities for potential savings. Schneider Electric recommends that Semiconductor Fabricators who wish to reduce their energy costs and/or carbon footprint, begin with a program that will monitor and measure essential activities.
For most, the process starts with implementing software for HVAC Control, Lighting Control, Energy Monitoring and Building Management Systems, but semiconductor manufacturers should also look to optimize the efficiency of the solutions they deploy for power distribution and protection. For example, Schneider Electric UPS for critical power applications can not only ensure clean power and continuous uptime, but also deliver up to 30 percent energy savings, an important step towards improving reliability while at the same time increasing productivity, profitability and meeting environmental goals and regulations.
Energy efficiency is not a common topic within the fab community, says McKinsey. However, “ratcheting up efficiency efforts and taking a 20 to 30 percent bite out of annual energy costs can offer competitive advantage and improve profit margins.” The EU recognized the impact of energy use on both company finances and the environment in its Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) – which sets out an ambitious plan to reduce energy use by 20% by 2020.
Access Semiconductor Fabrication Efficiency eGuide
To support companies in meeting reduction goals, “Innovative Power Solutions for Semiconductor Fabrication Efficiency” guide is a free download and offers best practices on how to recognize initiatives with the greatest potential to generate improvements and prioritize investments to increase energy efficiency.