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Samsung gets by with non-Japanese etching gas

Sept 05,2019
Samsung Electronics has managed to use locally-produced hydrogen fluoride in place of Japan-sourced products in the making of semiconductors, the company said Wednesday.

Two months ago, Japan tightened export procedures for three high-tech materials used in the making of chips and displays: photoresists, fluorinated polyimide and hydrogen fluoride, or etching gas. Samsung was vague on which company had substituted Japan’s material, but local reports said among them were Korean companies.

“After testing hydrogen fluoride from different countries and companies, we found products that can be used for procedures for which we used Japanese hydrogen fluoride in the past,” said a Samsung spokesperson. “We’re still hoping for cooperation with Japan, but we are trying out material from other manufacturers to diversify supply.”

The newly sourced hydrogen fluoride is initially being used in processes that don’t require high purity hydrogen fluoride. Samsung plans to gradually expand its use into other processes. It did not confirm whether the newly sourced materials match the purity of Japanese materials.

In chip manufacturing, hydrogen fluoride is used in the etching process of carving circuits and cleaning them. Before the restrictions, roughly 45 percent of Korea’s hydrogen fluoride imports came from Japan.

That dependence went up to 95 percent for etching gas of 99.999 percent purity. Such a level of purity is a must for sophisticated nano-level manufacturing procedures for high-performance chips.

Both Samsung and SK Hynix have been looking for local supplies since mid-July after Japan instituted the export restrictions. But industry analysts expected it to take more than six months to find them and put them to use on the production line. Samsung beat those projections, and SK Hynix is reportedly close to using newly sourced hydrogen fluoride.

Earlier this month, LG Display was reported by local media to have started using local hydrogen fluoride on its LCD and OLED production lines. The company refused to confirm those reports, but its vice president told local reporters in July that he didn’t think hydrogen fluoride supply would be a big issue.

In displays, etching gas is used to produce thin-film transistors that control pixels. But hydrogen fluoride is less critical for display manufacturing, and its purity doesn’t have to be as high.

Local companies known to be working with the chipmakers to supply fluoride hydrogen are Soulbrain, ENF Technology and Ram Technology.

“They don’t necessarily have to have the exact same purity as Japanese materials to replace them - as long as chipmakers can obtain the same output by adjusting other procedures,” said a chip industry source.

In late August, Japan allowed the first shipment of hydrogen fluoride to Korea since the restrictions went into effect in July, following two allowances of photoresists.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]