Mask Pattern Transfer Defects


Below are some common defects encountered in pattern transfer processes during wafer fabrication.


1) Dimensional Variations. Variations in the dimensions of the layer patterns, such as the widths of the lines, may occur due to limitations in the photographic process used or improper control of the exposure time.  This defect becomes critical when it is found in very long and narrow cuts, since discontinuities may occur and result in problems such as open metal lines.  Dimensional variations can also be due to resist swelling during resist processing.


2) Undercutting of the Resist. Poor adhesion of the resist to the masking film can lead to undercutting during the wet etching process, causing windows or features that are larger in size than intended.  Undercutting, or the unwanted exposure and etching of a material beyond its defined limits, is a phenomenon caused by the capillary action of the wet chemicals used for etching. Larger windows caused by undercutting can cause adjacent metal lines to become short-circuited. 


3) Insufficient Registration.  Registration is the process of aligning two images or features on a pattern correctly.  Poor registration is caused by mask alignment error, and can result in altered device configurations. Extreme cases that affect the active n- and p- regions of the circuit can cause severe degradations in the device's electrical characteristics or even result in electrical failure.


4) Pinholes. Pinholes are very small holes that, if present in the resist, can result in undesired windows in the underlying layer to open. Needless to say, the criticality of this problem becomes magnified as the packing density of the components in the circuit increases.


5) Dust Particles. The presence of dust particles in a clean room can lead to pattern delineation issues.  Dust particles that are opaque, such as carbon or metallic particles, can cause holes in layers (negative resist) or prevent windows from opening up (positive resist).  Dust particles that are transparent, on the other hand, can cause diffraction effects that result in similar pattern delineation problems.


6) Scratches and Tears. Rough handling of the wafers during the wafer fabrication process can scratch the delicate metallization patterns on the wafer.  A scratch that decreases the effective width of a metal line can cause large current densities in the affected area, leading to hot spots and premature occurrence of electromigration.  Tearing of the metallization, on the other hand, may occur when the resist is removed. Metal tearing can also reduce metal line widths and lead to the same issues as metal scratches.  


7) Inadequate Step Coverage. A step, just like a stair step, is a feature on the pattern formed as a lower-level layer meets a higher-level layer on the wafer.  The vertical wall of a step is more difficult to cover with material, and naturally receives a thinner coating that horizontal surfaces. If an excessively thin resist layer goes over a step, this resist can fail during a subsequent etching process, resulting in etching defects. Poor step coverage can also cause electrical failures, such as breakdowns of excessively thin oxides between intersecting metal lines during ESD events.


Primary Reference:  Sorab K. Ghandhi, VLSI Fabrication Principles, Wiley-Interscience


See Also:  Lithography / EtchWet EtchingDry EtchingMetallization  




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