Work involving semiconductors requires sensitive processes and a highly controlled environment. While the right cleanroom can help achieve this control and minimize risks, there are still a number of factors that threaten semiconductor cleanrooms.
Let’s take a look at how these factors affect the semiconductor industry and how to design cleanrooms to defend against them.
3 Biggest Threats to Semiconductor Cleanrooms
Humidity, static electricity, and human contamination. Although they may seem harmless when encountered in day-to-day life, in semiconductor cleanrooms, these three factors can pose significant threats to productivity, products, and staff.
#1 Humidity in Semiconductor Cleanrooms
Many products developed, manufactured, and tested in semiconductor cleanrooms are sensitive to moisture, so control of relative humidity (RH) is crucial. Most semiconductor cleanrooms must maintain RH at 35-65% in addition to temperatures at 70 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
Even within that range, fluctuating humidity can present many threats — both to productivity and product quality — from inconsistent bake-out times, evaporation of solvents, surface swelling and corrosion, and generally control during production.
To control and maintain RH, semiconductor cleanrooms require powerful HVAC systems to treat the air before it’s filtered into the space. These HVAC systems are often independently dedicated to the cleanroom to minimize risk of contamination.
#2 Static Electricity in Semiconductor Cleanrooms
Static electricity on a microscopic level is a leading cause for defects of silicon wafers and semiconductors. Static corrupts materials by drawing and adhering fine particles to the products’ surface, which can cause product rejection or failure.
Electrostatic discharge (ESD) can also pose a serious threat to worker safety. When static charges are allowed to build up, they can release suddenly in an uncontrolled manner and harm employees — either through electric shock or involuntary movement.
Preventing static buildup starts with cleanroom design. Conductive materials are often more effective than insulative materials in sensitive applications like semiconductor cleanrooms. Conductive materials allow electrons to flow quickly away from areas where they could build up and direct them safely to ground.
#3 Human Contamination in Semiconductor Cleanrooms
Maybe the biggest threat to semiconductor cleanrooms is the human factor. From generating ESD to the tendency to shed contaminating particles, controlling humans in the cleanroom is one of the most challenging aspects of cleanroom design, yet also one of the most essential.
Gowns, gloves, hearing protection, and other PPE work to protect semiconductor processes from the human element, but they also protect workers from dangers in the cleanroom setting in accordance with ANSI and OSHA requirements. These threats include chemical exposure, fumes, static charges, and more.
Even with a thorough gowning protocol, semiconductor cleanrooms require extra protection against airborne contamination. In addition to powerful HEPA filters in ceiling units, semiconductor cleanrooms may require ULPA filters to capture more and smaller particles, as well as the placement of filters in the make-up air handler and return air handler.
Semiconductor Cleanroom Design Considerations
The manufacturing and development of semiconductors and related products is highly sensitive and requires every system in the cleanroom to work together in order to comply with strict standards of cleanliness. Most semiconductor cleanrooms fall within ISO Class 5 or cleaner requirements, which means they have some of the most stringent particle count requirements of any other industry.
As factors like humidity, static electricity, and human contamination continue to threaten cleanroom processes and personnel, semiconductor cleanroom design must be able to address each one: using a powerful HVAC system, multi-stage filtration system, and antistatic and conductive materials.
No matter the environmental factors you need to control, Angstrom Technology can engineer the ideal cleanroom for your application. Let us use our extensive industry experience to guide you through the design process. We can deliver the turnkey cleanroom solution you’ve been searching for. Give our team a call to get started.