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Intel coughs up for something other than stock buybacks: Avoiding wafer spoilage

Defect-detecting Swiss biz inhales a cool $14 mill

A Swiss-based startup focused on cutting particle contamination in semiconductor manufacturing has raised $14 million in seed funding with Intel's venture capital arm leading the round.

Unisers develops tech that is able to identify sources of contamination that cause defects in semiconductor materials during production, which can lead to chips or entire wafers being ruined. The funding is expected to enable the company to deliver the first systems to semiconductor industry customers.

According to the Unisers, it is developing on-wafer analysis techniques capable of identifying the source of any defect-causing pollutant, helping fabrication plant operators to take steps to eliminate it in the shortest possible time.

Particle contamination during semiconductor manufacturing can lead to losses worth billions of dollars, according to Intel Capital, and so any reliable method for combating this would quickly pay for itself. Existing methods for finding the source of such contaminants are costly and time-consuming.

The particle monitoring technology developed by Unisers uses surface-enhanced Raman scattering to identify the source of contamination, which enables it to detect the size, concentration and composition of particles with greater sensitivity than was previously possible, we're told.

"Unisers is drastically reducing the time it takes to find the source of contamination by detecting particles that were previously undetectable, unlocking new opportunities to conserve our chip supply through better contamination identification capabilities," said Intel Capital's director and head of Investment Operations Jennifer Ard.

As well as Intel, which understandably has an interest in the success of the technology, the seed funding round saw participation from M Ventures, RSBG Ventures and Swisscom Ventures.

"The newest [process] nodes will require tools to characterize increasingly smaller particles, not just in the semiconductor fab, but across the entire supply chain, including all process chemicals that feed into chip manufacturing," said M Ventures boss Owen Lozman.

For this reason, Unisers claimed its technology will be able to locate the source of the problem, whether that is in the fab or from material supplier by one of the fab’s vendors.

Kioxia and WD famously had production at their joint 3D NAND fabrication facilities in Japan disrupted by chemical contamination, with at least 6.5 exabytes of capacity lost, in February last year.

The contaminated chemical substance and its supplier were never publicly identified.

CEO and founder Ali Altun said Unisers was pleased to have closed this funding round, and they naturally believe the technology will become a must-have solution for contamination control along the semiconductor manufacturing supply chain.

Delivery of commercial products to semiconductor customers is expected sometime during 2023. ®

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