How Thermoset Plastic Composites Change the Game in Semiconductors

Lightweight and strong, thermoset plastics composites are ideal for use in high-end applications where strength and stiffness are critical. These materials are more expensive than plastics that manufacturers typically use to make things like packaging and containers, so they’re not a cost-effective option for most manufacturers. Even so, their usage is growing as material scientists develop new formulations that meet the demanding requirements of semiconductor manufacturers. Thermoset plastics are traditionally made from epoxy resin or phenolic resin with glass reinforcement. These materials cannot be melted or reshaped like thermoplastics. After mixing them with different chemicals into a thermoset prepreg, manufacturers press the mixture into sheets or other shapes to create a finished product.

Why Are Thermoset Plastics Used in Semiconductors?

Semiconductor manufacturers use semiconductors to create the microchips that are so central to our modern world. These chips are used in a wide range of products, from smartphones to medical devices, communications systems, and more. The semiconductor industry has strict performance requirements that drive manufacturers to use high-end materials in their production processes. The materials must be strong enough to stand up to the forces of the cutting and shaping process and resist corrosion from exposure to chemicals and water. They also need to be lightweight so that finished devices are compact and energy-efficient. Since thermoset plastic composites have high strength and toughness and are corrosion resistant, they’re a good option for semiconductor manufacture.

Glass-Filled Thermoset Plastics

In semiconductor manufacturing, glass-filled thermoset plastics are used to make chemical-mechanical-polishing pads. In this process, semiconductor wafers are polished to remove defects and create flat, smooth surfaces. Glass-filled thermoset plastics are strong, lightweight, and chemically resistant. They also provide a smooth surface that resists loading and keeps defects from recurring.

Thermoset Composite Plastics in Process Chambers

In process chambers, where gases and liquids are heated to high temperatures, thermoset plastics are used as insulators. They’re also used for vibration dampening in vibration-sensitive equipment, like high-end cameras. Thermoset plastics are used in a wide range of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, including process chambers and load lock chambers, where semiconductor wafers are stored and transferred. They’re also used in other equipment, like vacuum pumps and heat exchangers.

Thermoset Composite Plastics in Chemical-mechanical-processing pads

Chemical-mechanical-processing (CMP) pads are made from thermoset composites to transfer wafers from one process to another. After chemical cleaning, they transfer the wafers to fresh silicon wafers. They protect them from scratches and provide a smooth, flat surface.

Other Uses for Thermoset Plastic Composites in Semiconductor Manufacturing

Thermoset plastics are also used in other critical semiconductor manufacturing equipment and materials. They’re used in end-of-line filters, which trap particulate matter and prevent contamination in the manufacturing environment. They’re also used in water-wash systems, which clean chemical processing equipment after each use. They’re also used in wafer handling equipment, like wafer carriers, load locks, and wafer baskets. They’re even used in the trays that hold the wafers in these processing tools.

Other thermoset composites used in semiconductor manufacturing

Carbon, graphite, and carbon fiber thermoset plastics are used in other critical applications in semiconductor manufacturing. They’re used in vibration-sensitive equipment, such as high-end cameras, and in equipment that experiences extreme temperatures. Carbon and graphite thermoset plastics are typically formulated with a resin matrix. Carbon fiber thermoset plastics are woven into fabrics that manufacturers weave into mats. Other materials used in semiconductor manufacturing include thermoset epoxies, phenolics, and phenolic resins. They’re used in a wide range of applications, including CMP pads, sealants and gaskets, and encapsulation.

Wrapping Up

Thermoset plastics are used in high-end semiconductor manufacturing applications, where strength, stiffness, and chemical resistance are critical. Lightweight and strong, these materials are ideal for these applications, but they’re more expensive than plastics that manufacturers typically use to make things like packaging and containers. Indeed, the cost of materials is a key challenge for the semiconductor industry. To keep costs down and make the most of the materials they have, manufacturers are using new formulations that meet their demanding requirements.