The Perfect Marriage: How 3D Printing and Specialty Gases are Revolutionizing Chipmaking

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Specialty gases are set to revolutionize 3D printing (additive manufacturing or AM) and drive major innovations in semiconductor manufacturing.

“With the number of transistors doubling every two to three years, 3D printing perfectly captures and supports semiconductor innovation,” said Davy Orye, Head of Additive Minds at EOS, speaking at gasworld’s European Specialty Gas Summit 2024.

3D printing allows rapid innovation because there are no tools or long lead times. Producing a part takes days or weeks instead of weeks or months.

A key challenge in semiconductor manufacturing is the thermal management of critical equipment components like electrostatic chucks, which support ultra-thin semiconductor wafers during lithography—a process where complex transistor patterns are etched onto the wafer.

Davy Orye, speaking at gasworld’s European Specialty Gas Summit 2024.

3D printing shines in producing optimised manifolds and cooling channels for semiconductor manufacturing. Traditional methods restrict design, but 3D printing makes complex geometries possible, improving thermal management and uniformity.

“We’re talking about gas and printing—a perfect marriage because the semiconductor industry sees huge potential in manifolds,” says Orye. The main advantages include significant weight and size reductions due to 3D printing’s additive nature and potential cost savings.

Specialty gases used in AM

In additive manufacturing, argon and nitrogen create inert atmospheres, preventing oxidation and contamination during printing. Helium, valued for its thermal conductivity, aids in cooling and reducing thermal stress, while hydrogen controls oxidation in certain metal powder production processes.

“We call it additive manufacturing because we add material only where needed,” Orye explains. The technology can print cooling channels by removing material, unlike traditional methods like milling, where removing more material increases costs.

“With additive manufacturing, it’s the opposite. The less material you print, the cheaper it becomes, creating a win-win situation.”

The process can also enable more resilient supply chains by building parts close to where they’re needed, reducing the risk factor associated with increasingly unpredictable geopolitics.

Orye also claims that AM can reduce shipping and logistics costs, especially concerning spare parts.

EOS previously worked with pump manufacturer KSB, a company that needed to speed up its production and availability of spare parts.

‘Most of the pumps are traditionally cast,’ said Orye. ‘With casting, you have three to six to even nine months of lead time for a casting product, which is way too long if you talk about spare parts.’

By designing the part, optimizing the part, and producing it using AM, Orye said that KSB managed to reduce their lead time from six months to three weeks.

Using EOS technology, ArianeGroup managed to build the injector head of a rocket engine, reducing components from 248 to a single integrated design.

“We’re discussing the acceleration of innovation time, faster market readiness, assembly consolidation into one part, and improved performance for this specific component.”

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