Celebrating 30 Years at Cerium Laboratories

Celebrating 30 Years at Cerium Laboratories

We just recently celebrated our 30th anniversary and we could not be proud of how hard our team has worked and continues to work. You don’t make it three decades without being an industry leader, and we take pride in saying that’s what we are. We love what we do, and we’re proud of our final results. It’s been this way since the very beginning! 

Our Start in the 1990’s

It all began in the early 1990’s. In 1991, our lab was started as a support group to the Austin manufacturing facilities of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). The lab provided manufacturing and yield support for the three AMD semiconductor fabrication plants (fabs) in the Austin, TX area.  At that time of our original founding, AMD produced Eprom, Flash, Bi-Polar, and Logic microprocessors. Just a few years later, in 1994, AMD built their world class 200 mm fab in Austin. The lab was critical in supporting the startup and was also an integral part of the launch team for AMD’s K5® Processor. This exciting product was the first independently designed, socket-compatible x86 microprocessor. Over the next several years and throughout the 1990’s, the lab continued to support AMD’s manufacturing as they went on to open manufacturing facilities in Japan and Germany. 

The Early 2000’s

With the turn of the new millennium, exciting new changes came to our company. In 2004, we officially became Cerium Laboratories. With this change, we were now a wholly owned subsidiary of AMD, supporting many semiconductor OEMs. With the designation of being a brand new entity, Cerium Laboratories developed its own quality program. After rigorous planning, documenting, and validating, we became an ISO 17025 accredited testing lab. This is something which we still maintain today. 

Our Development From 2011 to Today

Even bigger changes happened in 2011. At that time, Cerium Laboratories spun off from AMD/Spansion and became a fully independent company. With over 20 years of hands-on involvement in the semiconductor industry, Cerium has gained valuable expertise in process engineering, quality control, and yield management.  

While we have greatly expanded over the last 30 years, we still hold onto the values and services that made us so successful in the first place. Many major semiconductor manufacturers use our services on a routine basis. We provide overflow support to these companies and serve as a backup when their internal labs are over capacity. They often need this support because they are unable to manage the volume of work or do not have the strict environmental controls necessary for ultra-pure testing. It’s a service we’re happy to provide to such an important industry! 

We haven’t forgotten about the little guy, just like we used to be! This is why in addition to large OEMs, we regularly provide services to manufacturing startups that do not have the analytical equipment in-house to fully characterize their products. Analytical tools and facilities are expensive to operate and maintain, something we know very well. For these fresh new companies, it is much more cost effective to outsource their lab needs to our team of experts. We have the expertise as well as the machinery needed to get the job done right! 

The Future of Cerium Laboratories 

Right now, we have a global customer base and service customers in a broad range of industries. We provide chemical analysis to many semi-chemical and raw material manufacturers. In addition, we have customers in: 

  • Alternative energy (lithium-ion battery production, fuel cell and solar technology)
  • III-V manufacturers
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Medical devices

Where are we going next? As we continue to grow our partnerships, we will be adding support for environmental testing and the oil and gas industry.  We’re excited to see where the next several years take us!

Contact Cerium Labs to be Apart of What we’re Doing

Are you ready to be a part of the future success at Cerium Laboratories? We want to hear from you! Contact us and let’s begin to discuss which of our services will meet your needs.

The History of Cerium Laboratories

The History of Cerium Laboratories

We’re so proud to announce that at Cerium Laboratories, we have hit 30 years and we’re looking forward to many more!

Who we are

Cerium Laboratories is a global, high growth, analytical services company that provides the highest quality, the quickest response time, and the best value to a diversified customer base. We have made a name for ourselves as leaders in the industry because we’ve been doing it now for three full decades.

How it all Began

Our lab was started in the 1990’s as a support group to Advanced Micro Devices’ Austin manufacturing facilities. Our lab provided manufacturing and yield support for the three Advanced Micro Devices’ semiconductor fabrication plants in Austin, TX.  At that time Advanced Micro Devices was producing Eprom, Flash, Bi-Polar, and Logic microprocessors. When Advanced Micro Devices built their world class 200 mm semiconductor fabrication plant in Austin in 1994, our lab was critical in supporting the startup. Our lab was also an integral part of the launch team for Advanced Micro Devices’ K5® Processor. This exciting development was the first independently designed, socket-compatible x86 microprocessor.  Over the next several years, the lab continued to support Advanced Micro Devices manufacturing and the startup of new semiconductor fabrication plants in Germany and Japan.

Big changes happened in 2004. This was the year we officially became Cerium Laboratories, a wholly owned subsidiary of Advanced Micro Devices supporting many semiconductor OEMs in addition to Advanced Micro Devices and the newly formed Spansion, LLC. Spansion (now Cypress) manufactured flash memory in the Austin semiconductor fabrication plant. As an exciting, brand new entity, Cerium Laboratories developed its own quality program. Through rigorous planning, documenting, and validating, we became an ISO 17025 accredited testing lab. This is an accreditation in which we still maintain today. 

Further changes took place in 2011. This was the year in which Cerium Laboratories spun off from Spansion, LLC and became a fully independent company. At this point we had over 20 years of “hands-on” involvement in the semiconductor industry. During that time, Cerium had gained valuable expertise in process engineering, quality control, and yield management.  

Our Customers and Services

Many major semiconductor OEMs use Cerium Labs’ services on a routine basis. These large companies may have internal capability but are unable to manage the volume of work or do not have the strict environmental controls necessary for ultra-pure testing. That is where we come in! Cerium Laboratories provides overflow support to these companies and serves as a backup when their internal labs are over capacity. Additionally, with our experience we can provide services to manufacturing startups that do not have the analytical equipment in-house to fully characterize their products. Analytical tools and facilities are expensive to operate and maintain, so it is more cost effective for small companies to outsource their lab needs to Cerium.  

A lot has changed since the early days back in 1991. We now have a global customer base and are able to service customers in a broad range of industries.  We provide chemical analysis to many semi-chemical and raw material manufacturers. In addition, we have customers in alternative energy, Lithium-ion battery production, fuel cell and solar technology. Plus, we regularly work with III-V materials, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices. As we continue to grow our partnerships, we will be adding support for environmental testing and the oil and gas industry. This is something we are thrilled to see come to fruition and believe it is the next step in our journey.

Cheers to the Future!

Cerium’s team of scientists have over 30 years of experience working with a variety of industries. Are you ready to be a part of what we offer? We will work collaboratively with you, just like our other clients, to help you understand the data and its possible implications for your materials or processes. The only thing left to do now is contact us and speak to us directly about what we can do for you!

Learn More About TEM

Learn More About TEM

Scientists report the size of a SARS-CoV-2 particle to be between 50-140 nm (https://www.news-medical.net/health/The-Size-of-SARS-CoV-2-Compared-to-Other-Things.aspx). 

New microprocessor technology in devices from companies like Apple, Intel, and AMD produces chips with features as small as 5-10 nm. Shale rock that is mined for petroleum and natural gas contains a pore structure that can be as small as 5 nm.  Wow- that’s very, very small!

Virologists, Electrical Engineers, Petroleum Engineers and Geologists; these are all very different professions.  The one thing they have in common is the need to study things that are extremely small, nano-sized particles and materials.  It’s hard to imagine because this is smaller than anything we can see with only our eyes. As a quick refresher, a nanometer (nm) is one-billionth of a meter.  For reference a single human hair is ~50,000 nanometers in diameter.  Scientists and engineers who need to study nano-sized particles or structures require a unique microscope called a Transmission Electron Microscope, or TEM for short.

Before we go any further, we should take a step back and discuss a few basics of microscopy.  When we look through the eyepiece of a microscope, the magnified image we see is created by a series of lenses, each behaving like a magnifying glass.  Various lenses give us higher and higher magnification.  How well that magnified image can be resolved is dependent on the wavelength of the source used.  In a standard light microscope, the wavelength of the light is about 500 nm.  Thus, we can resolve objects that are about 250 nm or more apart.  Anything smaller than this is too fuzzy, and the objects are blurred together.  Secondly, in a light microscope the light reflects from the sample and is projected to our eyes or perhaps to a detector that generates a digital image.

To see smaller objects with clarity we need to use a source with a wavelength less than that of visible light.  This is where electrons come in! The benefit of the electron source is that the wavelength of the electrons in the beam is only a few picometers, 1 picometer = 1000 nanometers. With the electron beam as the source of the object being viewed, it can be magnified even more and the details of a material or cell that are only 0.5 or 0.25 nanometer can be seen clearly.  

As the name indicates, in a TEM the electrons are transmitted through the sample.  Fundamentally, the TEM is analogous to a slide projector.  In a slide projector, a light bulb is used as the “source.”  The beam of light is collimated and passed through a photographic slide that is transparent. Then the beam is focused and projected onto a screen.  If you grew up in the 1970s this is how you captured all your family memories and replayed them.  In a TEM the electron source replaces the light bulb, the beam of electrons is focused with a series of lenses and passed through a very thin (100 nm or less) sample of the material being studied. The electrons change a little as they pass through the sample and thus when they are focused and projected onto a special screen, they produce a picture of the object.  Below is an example of a TEM image of carbon nanotubes.  In the image you can see the details of the sub-nanometer layers that make up multi-walled tubes!

Scientists at Cerium Laboratories use TEM daily to investigate a variety of samples for our customers.  We evaluate the internal structures of microprocessors that operate your cell phone, laptop and car.  We evaluate devices used for generating solar power.  We look at geological formations to help scientists better understand where natural gas and oil deposits are located.  

We analyze the finest details that are so minute but are so critical! We have a team with extensive experience in material characterization and research and development programs, including TEM but certainly not limited to it. If you’re ready to find out exactly what we can do for you, we want to hear from you!

6 Steps to Ensure Valid Metals Analysis

6 Steps to Ensure Valid Metals Analysis

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.

VPD-ICPMS vs TXRF

VPD-ICPMS vs TXRF

There is a bit of a battle in the analytical arena when it comes to the best method for measuring trace contaminants on the surface of a silicon wafer.  We described the analysis of trace metals on silicon wafers by Vapor Phase Decomposition – Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectroscopy (VPD-ICPMS) in a previous blog post.  TXRF or Total Reflection X-Ray Fluorescence is another technique that is often used in semiconductor manufacturing to monitor contamination.  Where VPD-ICPMS collects the contaminants in a droplet that is then analyzed by mass spectroscopy, the TXRF instrument uses an x-ray beam to excite the wafer surface.   Elements fluoresce after being excited, the fluorescence is then measured to determine what elements are present and in what amounts.  There is considerable overlap between the two techniques, but each has its own unique features.

VPD-ICPMS on one hand is a very well-defined process and provides analysis of the top surface of the wafer, about 20 Angstroms.  Whereas TXRF is more versatile and can be used on different wafer surfaces.  Below is a comparison of the two techniques.

VPD-ICPMS TXRF
Contaminants from the entire wafer surface are collected and analyzed. Only the area excited by the X-Ray beam (~2cm spot) is analyzed.  To do the entire wafer multiple spots are required e.g., a 300 mm wafer will need 350 spot analyses to cover the full surface of the wafer.
Results are cumulative for the wafer surface, no spatial information is available. TXRF can produce maps showing the impurity distribution on the wafer surface.
10-100X greater sensitivity.
Detects light elements like Li, Na and Mg where TXRF cannot. Detects non-metals like Cl, and Ar where VPD-ICPMS cannot.
Considered destructive analysis Non-destructive analysis.
Wafer can only be analyzed 1x. Wafer can be reanalyzed as needed.
Analyzes ~20 Angstroms or thickness of oxide film. X-Ray beam penetrates ~ 500 Angstroms.
Can only analyze bare Si or Si with SiO2 films. Will analyze oxide and any amorphous or crystalline film beneath it.

VPD-ICPMS and TXRF use very different methods to analyze for contamination on wafer surfaces.  These different mechanisms however provide certain benefits for each.  In fact, chemists and engineers realized the advantages and now many semiconductor fabrication facilities use an integrated VPD-TXRF system to monitor contamination.