On April 28-29, TECHCET, the electronic materials advisory firm providing business and technology information, held its highly successful and well-attended 2022 7th Annual Critical Materials Council (CMC) Conference in Chandler, AZ.

This was an appropriate location with major semiconductor manufacturers Intel and TSMC building manufacturing facilities in the area.

Over 300 attendees and speakers participated in the event to hear about and discuss semiconductor material issues and trends that are critical to the entire semiconductor industry supply chain – now and in the future. The theme was Mission Critical Materials Keeping Pace with Chip Supply & Demand.

Challenged supply chains

The anticipation of finally getting back to business as usual was reflected in this year’s live CMC Conference, as it was previously held virtually during Covid. The CMC kicked off with the Welcome Reception sponsored by Okmetic, which gave attendees and speakers the chance to network and catch up with old friends.

The Critical Materials Council (CMC) Conference is a technical event, providing actionable information on materials and supply chains for current and future semiconductor manufacturing. Unlike other conferences, the CMC conference focuses on issues relating to the use and manufacture of materials as applied to semiconductor and related device manufacturing. This includes business and technology trends and challenges.

I attended this conference to learn about and discuss the impact Covid and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has had on the supply of critical rare gases used in semiconductor manufacturing – neon, krypton, xenon and helium. The latter had its challenges beginning in early 2022 when a series of negative events hampered its supply, putting the business into a lack of sufficient supply to satisfy demand and causing most industrial gas companies to put customers on allocations and driving prices higher.

This year, the CMC Conference featured The Future Challenges of Equipment & Component Materials in their new Session III. As stated by TECHCET’s President and CEO Lita Shon-Roy, “Consumable components and materials, used in OEM equipment, generate billions of dollars of revenues. These are all challenged by supply chain problems and increasingly difficult material purity requirements. We have organized a powerful line-up of speakers that will be addressing these critical issues.”

The first day addressed Business Trends and Global Issues (Session I). The second half of the first day had the next two sessions run concurrently – Immediate Challenges of Materials and Manufacturing (Session II) and Future Challenges for Equipment and Component Materials (Session III). The second day’s sessions also ran concurrently and covered Emerging Materials and Processes (Session IV) and Materials for Advanced Packaging and Heterogeneous Integration (Session IV). Each Session included 7–9 sub-session talks.

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On the first day at the start of Session I, the Keynote speech was given by John Whitman (pictured), Corporate Vice-President, Operations Central Teams & Procurement at Micron Technology, the fourth-largest semiconductor company in the world. Micron, headquartered in Boise, ID, is a world leader in innovative memory solutions, a producer of computer memory and computer data storage with 11 manufacturing locations across the globe and annual 2021 revenues of $27.7bn.

The title of Whitman’s talk was Supply Assurance in a Post-Covid World. The semiconductor market overall in 2022 is $639bn, with the memory market share at $195bn. 

The general material content for a typical 3D flash memory chip includes 27% chemicals, 24% gases, 21% silicon, and 17% consumables, slurries, and metals. The supply chain of gases is clearly critical to chip manufacturing, and Whitman pointed out that Covid and geopolitical influences such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine have all affected the materials supply chain. With Ukraine being the major producer of rare (noble) gases (xenon, krypton, and neon) and where Russia planned to be a major supplier of helium through its Amur plant, the industry is faced with a rare gas shortage with no end in sight.

Whitman feels the solution for the industry is to create more regional supply to support manufacturing, and to reduce this risk in the future. He also discussed how just-in-time (JIT) procurement has lessened as a procurement priority, and now manufacturers focus on supply chain stability.

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Shon-Roy also addressed the materials supply chain in Session I with her talk, The Achilles Heel to the Rapidly Expanding Chip Industry – Materials. She talked about what is going wrong with the materials supply chains, which materials are at highest risk of interruption, and what can be done to remedy this problem. Shon-Roy explained that the upsurge in US chemical demand growth from 2020–2025, anywhere from 37% to 49% depending on the chemical, is two times that of historical rates. If US and European local investment is not made, imports will have to increase which can drive up risk because more containers, means more lead-time issues and increased logistics problems in a system already strained from Covid.

For the US, Shon-Roy feels the real game-changer or remedy to support semiconductor materials in the West are the Chips Acts. The US Chips Act with $52bn has been approved and the Europe Chips Act with $49bn is in the proposal phase. She concluded by stating that the highest risk materials are chemicals and gases. 

Discussion held with various attendees and speakers emphasized that the concern for rare gases and helium supply is real and the industry and their suppliers are doing their best to keep manufacturing on-track.