Recently, I traveled to Lehi, Utah with a select group of media and industry analysts for a tour of IM Flash Technologies, the fabrication facility where we make our NAND flash memory. Together with some colleagues from Intel, we enjoyed a rare opportunity to see the inner workings of this state-of-the-art fab.
This was the first time Micron has ever allowed media and analysts inside the fab – an experience that many reported was well worth it. Just ask Allyn Malventano from PC Perspectives: “Getting a first-hand look at the bleeding edge of chip fabrication is something I know I’ll be talking about for years to come.”
To be honest, this was also my first time inside the fab. Sure, as a PR professional, I can wax poetic about the products we make, but understanding the behind-the-scenes process that goes into manufacturing the technology is a different story. I learned that the tiny memory devices in my smartphone—storing hours of tunes from Jay-Z to Lady Antebellum, countless family pictures and videos, and voice recordings from media interviews—are not easy to make.
Here I am striking a pose. How else would you hold a wafer?
Maybe you’ve already seen some of the slideshows compiled by the media who were given exclusive access inside the fab, but that only paints part of the picture. Don’t worry, I’m not going to geek-out on you and talk about how cutting-edge the process is (even though it is…). Instead, I’m going to tell you about my experience and the sights and sounds that left an impression.
Au Naturel Before entering the fab, I was given strict instructions to come “au naturel.” I had to be rinsed of all potential wafer toxins— no make-up, no hair product, no deodorant. I’m fine without the make-up or hair product, but I laughed to myself about going deodorant free. I’m fairly certain the lack of deodorant after a 12-hour shift in a bunny suit could become quite toxic.
Group shot. Don’t we look like a fun bunch?
The tour began in the gowning room, where we hopped—pun intended—into bunny suits. Bunny suits are special full-body coveralls that prevent any contaminants (e.g., sneezes, lint, hairs, etc.) from being shed into the clean room environment and could potentially damage the wafers. Only our eyes were exposed. It was kind of mysterious. I was surrounded by some of the smartest people in the world, working on the most advanced semiconductor processes, yet I couldn’t tell who anyone was.
Zooming Robots As we entered the fab, I saw—and heard—tracks with “zooming robots” overhead continuously transporting wafers throughout the plant in a Jetson-esque fashion. The robots, known as the AMHS (Automated Material Handling System), traverse through approximately four miles of track throughout the fab, tirelessly moving pods of wafers to their next phase in the manufacturing process. The whole process was remarkable.
Inside the photolithography area where they use the yellow “tanning” lights.
Yellow Lights Did you know that the yellow lights inside the photolithography rooms are no longer necessary? Originally, when the manufacturing process was more manual, the lighting was controlled to prevent any possible adverse effects exposure to bright lights could have on the wafers. And now, because much of the process is done inside the large machinery and the wafers no longer appear out in the open, the yellow lights aren’t really necessary. But, IMFT continues to use them out of tradition. Personally, I like the yellow lights. If I can’t wear make-up in the fab, at least the yellow lights add a golden “touched by the sun” hue to the small part of my face that people could see.
The 50-yard line, and the zooming robots (AKA automated material handling system) overhead.
Massive Scale The sheer size of the fab was amazing, filled with gleaming tools and machinery. One could easily get lost inside this facility and I was thankful I had a guide. Just for reference, the building is roughly the size of three football fields. In fact, keeping up with the football analogies, inside the fab there is a corridor that they dubbed the 50-yard line, separating the fab into two equal spaces.
Talking to my colleagues afterwards we all agreed that this kind of peek inside a world-class fab was an amazing experience. I have a new appreciation for the people and the process that goes into making these little memory devices that I get to write and talk about everyday. Maybe some of you have your own experiences and memories inside the fab? If so, don’t be shy, post a comment and let us know what it was like for you.