Metal contamination in a semiconductor manufacturing environment can greatly reduce wafer yield or create long term product reliability issues.  For these reasons’ manufacturers are constantly monitoring their tools for low level metal contamination.  Vapor Phase Decomposition Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectroscopy (VPD-ICPMS) is the preferred analytical technique to measure trace metals on silicon wafers.  VPD-ICPMS can measure levels of metals in the parts per billion and even parts per trillion range.  However, to do this the process requires class 1 cleanroom areas and strict protocols so the samples are not contaminated in the lab prior to analysis.

Appropriate handling prior to submitting the wafers to the lab is also very critical. Below are 6 very important rules to follow to prevent cross-contamination from sources such as an unfiltered environment or human contact.

  1. Always handle wafers with vacuum wands, never with hands (gloved or not) and on the opposite side of the wafer from which you want analyzed. Touching the wafer with a gloved hand can deposit calcium and zinc on the surface.
  2. Open wafer boxes and perform all wafer movements in a cleanroom or at least in a laminar flow hood.
  3. Ship wafers in a cleaned wafer box (cassette, FOUP (Front Opening Unified Pod or Front Opening Universal Pod) or FOSB (Front Opening Shipping Box)). In our experience analyzing 1000s of wafers, single wafer carriers (aka pucks or clamshells) are dirty and result in an increased level of metals on the wafer.
  4. Place wafers in the cassette with the side to be analyzed facing up. Automated wafer preparation tools are designed to run the top surface so there is no extra handling required.
  5. After wafers are loaded in the wafer cassette, tape the cassette closed to prevent accidental opening and contamination from the outside air. Outside air can contain significant amounts of aluminum, calcium and other elements that can deposit on unprotected wafers.
  6. Double bag the cassette with plastic and seal before placing in a box for shipping.

Improper wafer handling can lead to confusing and inaccurate data.  We take extreme measures to ensure our processes are clean. For the best results, however, the process starts at the customer site.  Following these simple steps will ensure your samples are not contaminated by secondary sources.