Chapter 1

Since the invention of integrated circuits many advancements in processing technologies have been achieved. Electronic devices are used daily and therefore they have enormously impacted our lives and life without them would be unfathomable. Thus, the reliability issues connected to newly developed devices are of great technical and economic interest.

1.1 Integrated Circuits

Integrated circuits (ICs) are an integral component of electronic devices such as computers, mobile phones, and other digital home appliances. ICs are simply very advanced electric circuits consisting of active and passive components. The most frequently implemented passive components are resistors and capacitors while the active components are diodes and transistors. Each component has a specific task to perform and they all have to work together to make the circuit perform as desired. Resistors are used to adjust signal levels, to limit current flow, bias active elements, and terminate transmission lines. Capacitors permit to temporarily store electrical energy in an electric field. Diodes allow current flow in only one direction and transistors are used to amplify or switch electronic signals and electrical power. These components are interconnected together by a single or multilevel metalization on a piece of single crystal silicon (Si) [4]. ICs range in complexity from simple logic modules to entire microcomputers, incorporating millions of components.

The first semiconductor-based electronic devices were constructed in 1947 for applications in medicine, military and other areas [456]. The first transistors were connected together with traces of metal that implemented different circuit functions. At that time these semiconductor devices could perform better than vacuum tubes or other electromechanical components. However, the real revolution was possible only with the development of the planar process which enabled the integration of multiple interconnect devices on one chip [46].

Since their invention in 1959, ICs had a fast evolution. The first IC was composed of a few devices per chip, whereas now a typical IC has billions devices per chip, fabricated with a geometry size measured in nanometers [7]. In 1965, Gordon Moore made the important empirical observation that the number of components which fit on a single IC has doubled every year since their invention [8]. Subsequently, in 1975, looking forward to the next decade, he changed his prediction to a doubling every two years [9]. This technology revolution was supported by the exponential improvements of all the digital components, from processing speed and storage capacity to networking bandwidth and speed. The device miniaturization became strongly dependent on the process technology. The process technology and the number of transistors employed during the years are presented in the Table 1.1 [1011].

Name Description YearNumber of transistors

SSI small-scale integration 1964 1 to 10
MSI medium-scale integration 1968 10 to 500
LSI large-scale integration 1971 500 to 20 000
VLSI very large-scale integration1980 20 000 to 1 000 000
ULSI ultra large-scale integration1984 1 000 000 and more

Table 1.1: Evolution in the number of transistors implemented within a single IC.

ICs are fabricated by chemically or physically modifying the surface of a circular single-crystal Si called substrate (wafer). The build area of the IC is defined as a die.

To reduce the fabrication costs a large number of dies are processed on a single substrate and subsequently diced (die cutting). When a single die is packaged, it is then referred to as a chip. A single-crystal Si wafer is generally used as the base of ICs. Si is used because of its excellent electrical and physical properties fundamental for microelectronic devices compared to other semiconductor materials [12].

The IC is built by applying different chemical and mechanical processing steps on desired areas of the wafer. The basic processes employed to construct a device are:

In ICs, the electrical devices (capacitors, transistors, resistors, etc.) are built by applying the above described processes. All these steps are employed during IC fabrication and they are repeated until all the IC is completed. The manufacturing of an IC can require hundreds of processing steps.

Two different fabrication stages during IC manufacturing are defined, referred to as the Front End Of the Line (FEOL) and the Back End Of the Line (BEOL) [13]. These two stages have a very significant difference and therefore the semiconductor industry uses this terminology as a way to differentiate the stages of semiconductor processing.

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Figure 1.1: Schematic representation of an IC. The FEOL indicates all those wafer processing steps since the wafer enters production. It includes all the films needed to form transistors, capacitors, resistors and local interconnects. BEOL are all those process steps used for forming global interconnections.

FEOL refers to all the wafer processing steps of the initial stages of the IC processing. In this stage transistors, capacitors, resistors, and local interconnects are manufactured. Local interconnects are simple metal conductors, but at this stage they are used only as local connectors between various devices; therefore, these processes do not include the deposition of metal interconnect layer necessary to connect all the devices of the FEOL process. On the other hand, BEOL are all the processing steps required for the formation of the metal interconnects where the electrical devices get interconnect wiring on the wafer (cf. Figure 1.1[13]. The first function of BEOL is to connect all the devices created during the FEOL processes. The components processed in the BEOL stage are contacts, insulating layers, metal levels, and bonding sites for chip-to-chip-package connections. Essentially, FEOL refers to the manipulation of the silicon wafer in order to generate all the desired devices, while BEOL refers to the addition of metal layers on top of the wafer, used to complete all necessary device connections.

FEOL and BEOL stages are intensively studied in order to increase and maintain the performance of the IC necessary to continue device development.

The final stage of IC fabrication is the packaging. This last step is necessary because the ICs are small, fragile, susceptible to environmental damage and difficult to handle by the users. Ceramic and plastic are most commonly used materials used for the packaging technology. Plastic materials are preferred due to the lower cost compared to ceramics. A wide variety of IC packages are available for different IC architectures. This stage is the last assembly process before testing and shipping devices to the customers.

1.2 Interconnect Structures

Because of the necessity to minimize the chip level features, the number of transistors per unit of area in IC continues to increase. All of the IC components must be electrically connected in order to provide the proper functionality. Over the years, different IC architectures were developed to maintain the miniaturization path.

Since the invention of the IC, the important role of the interconnects was already clear. With the increased complexity of the electronic devices the number of interconnects increased exponentially. At the beginning the connection of the electronic devices was difficult, expensive and unreliable. Through IC downscaling the transistor delay improved unlike the delay of caused by interconnect.

An evolution from two-dimensional (2D) to three-dimensional (3D) circuit fabrication was necessary in order to avoid efficiency problems [14] (c.f. Figure 1.2).

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Figure 1.2: Interconnect evolution: (a) The 2D interconnect structure (long interchip connections between logic and memory). (b) The SOC configuration (Larger die with issues regarding process, design and time to market). (c) The 3D stacked Si (Shortest interconnects between functions).

1.2.1 2D Integrated Circuit

The 2D IC approach consists of connecting different discrete devices with their packages using a printed circuit board (mechanical support with conductive tracks) (cf. Figure 1.3 (a)). The leading microelectronics companies always struggle to increase performance and to integrate most advanced technologies in order to increase competitiveness of their products. The 2D integration of different technologies is an advantage for the device performance, but a continued demand leads to the requirement of a large and bulky circuit board. In the circuit board, the signal propagation is slow due to the extra length of the circuit, thereby hindering the performance.

In 2D ICs the dies can also be directly connected by wire bonding (cf. Figure 1.2 (a)). This connection technology has significant limitations in terms of area and performance because it suffers from large interconnect lengths as well as an interconnect bandwidth bottleneck. To increase performance of 2D ICs continued research and development is a necessity [14].

The beginning of the 1990s was the time for the advent of Multi-Chip Modules (MCMs), where digital-only dies were mounted on the same package substrate [15].

The next step was the System-On-Chip (SOC) technology where all discrete devices were implemented on a single die [16]. This mixed-technology design was innovative but it lead to an increase in the chip area and as a consequence to transmission delays (cf. Figure 1.2 (b)). In addition the SOC technology needs different and complex process and these aspects have obviously fostered the development and success of a new architecture.

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Figure 1.3: In (a) different discrete devices with their own packages interconnected using a circuit board. (b) The SiP configuration, where multiple dies and/or CSP are all connected on a common substrate.

The System-in-Package (SiP) was the new technology available at the start of the 2000s (c.f. Figure 1.3 (b)) able to overcome the size problem of the SOC technology [17]. Here multiple dies and/or Chip-Scale Package (CSP) devices are mounted and are all connected on a common substrate. Therefore all the components are built in a single package. Unlike SOC technology, SiP permits analog, digital, and radio frequency dies to be included in the same package.

All the single dies can be fabricated using the most appropriate technology process and subsequently integrated in the package.

1.2.2 2.5D and 3D Integrated Circuit

By using the third dimension, the large number of long interconnects, needed in 2D structures, are replaced by vertical interconnects which have maintained, and even increased, the performance of the device. The vertical direction is used to stack and connect the logic gates using Through Silicon Vias (TSVs) [141819]. The TSV is effectively a conductor connecting the top and bottom of a silicon substrate of the stacked dies. The conductor is electrically insulated from the substrate by a dielectric layer and its function is to connect the metal wires of the stacked dies. The dies are connected by employing solder bumps. Bumps are interconnections which enable the face-to-face electrical connection between two devices. TSVs and bumps are used in 2.5D and 3D IC architectures [1420].

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Figure 1.4: (a) Indicates the 2.5D IC architecture and (b) the 3D IC architecture.

To explain the 2.5D IC architecture we refer to the 2D IC/SiP. The main difference between these two configuration is that, for the 2.5D IC/SiP an interposer is used between the SiP substrate and the dies (c.f. Figure 1.4 (a)). TSVs are placed in the interposer connecting the metalization layers on its upper and lower surfaces. The interposer is an electrical interface used for the electrical routing one socket or connection to another and is composed of multiple wiring layers (redistribution layers) and TSVs. In the interposer the choice of the materials to use has to take into account the electrical, mechanical, thermal, and physical properties, as well as the cost of device. Glass, organic materials, and Si are widely used as interposer materials [14]. The 2.5D IC/SiP technology leads to an increase in capacity and performance, and thereby also to usage of smaller dies. A disadvantage of this integration is a significantly increased operation complexity. The idea behind the 3D IC/SiP architecture is to mount dies on top of each other (c.f. Figure 1.4 (b)). The individual die can theoretically be very thin and therefore it would be possible to mount large dies on top of each other. By employing TSVs the upper die can electrically communicate with the lower die and the SiP substrate.

The development of the 3D TSV architecture depends on the progress of several technologies. All 3D IC fabrication processes comprise three basic steps [1418]:

These three processing steps are described in more detail in Section 1.3.1.

A further distinction arises at the chip fabrication stage during which the via is formed. Three different approaches are industrially defined. In the Via First or Via Last technology the vias are fabricated before or after tier bonding, respectively, (tier is a structure comprising one or more IC die) and in the Via Middle technology, the vias are fabricated after the FEOL processes but before the BEOL interconnect metalization. The choice of approach depends on the device architecture. Via Middle is the preferred manufacturing approach for 3D IC applications because it is the least cost-intensive one. Via Last technology is mainly used for complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors and Via First technology has limitations mainly due to the via resistance [14]. In Figure 1.5 the three technologies are schematically depicted.

3D system integration is the key to the realization of the “More than Moore” system fabrication where SiP and vertical integrations enable heterogeneous integration of different technologies [21].

1.3 Through Silicon Vias

3D integration, which enhances the performance of the IC by reducing the chip area and reducing the RC delay is made possible by TSVs. Stacking ICs and densely interconnecting them vertically gives several benefits [18].

One benefit is due to the heterogeneous functionalities including processing, sensing, memory, and data transmission which can be incorporated in a single die using TSVs. This opens new opportunities for efficient system integration. Dies can be built in different process technologies from different vendors and can be bonded at the later stage by a third party.

A second benefit is the capability of integration of incompatible technologies, leading to advantages in performance and form factor. In particular, the trend of smart technologies, including smart-watches, phones, and tablets need increasing functionality in a decreasing amount of space. Only by stacking can this combination of dense packing and increased functionality be enabled.

A third benefit lies 3D structure geometry itself. In a 3D structure the average wiring length is shorter than in a 2D structure and therefore the signal paths between dies is shorter, making the circuit faster. This contributes to a power decrease and a faster data transmission.

Another important benefit is related to the production cost, the chip stacking enables more cost-efficient integration.

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Figure 1.5: Process steps for Via First, Via Middle, and Via Last. For Via First and Via Middle, the TSV etching proceeds from the top of the wafer, where BEOL devices are located. Only in the Via Last process does the TSV etching initiate from the back of the wafer and the FEOL metals are used as an etch-stop layer

1.3.1 TSV Fabrication

Stacking dies in 3D using TSVs as interconnects results in a variety of different advantages as detailed above. However, in order to fabricate 3D TSVs many separate processing steps are necessary. In the following, a simplified TSV fabrication procedure is described.

The first processing step is the formation of a via hole through the Si wafer. The via is created by etching the Si until a desired depth is reached, usually marked by an etch-stop layer. Due to the vertical scheme of CMOS fabrication, the etching may need to proceed through different layers such as resist, oxide, or BEOL metals, prior to reaching the wafer surface. These layers can complicate the etching processes, resulting in the mechanical failure of the device. Most frequently the Si hole is realized using a Deep Reactive Ion Etching (DRIE) sequence, but other etching processes, such as ion-enhanced plasma etching, or laser drilling can also be used to generate deep holes inside silicon. During the via hole etching the control and regulation of different parameters such as sidewall tapering angle, sidewall roughness and scalloping, defect generation, etc. is necessary [2223]. The DRIE technique is frequently also referred to as the Bosh process due to its introduction by Bosch in the mid 1990s [24]. In this etching process the sidewall passivation deposition and an ion-enhanced chemical etch process are applied in sequence for several cycles, producing an anisotropic and highly vertical structure. During the passivation process, a polymer is deposited on the Si surface. Subsequently, during the etching process, the polymer at the bottom surface of the hole is easily removed using physical etching with accelerated ions, while the polymer at the via sidewall protects the hole sidewall. Unfortunately, this technique produces a particular local feature on the sidewall, made up of a series of small ridges, known as “scallops” which can lead to mechanical problems for the next deposition processes. The reduction of the sidewall roughness is required in order to enable a good coverage of the successive deposited materials; therefore, some companies are bringing to the market a TSV etch process referred to as scallop-free [14]. The polymers deposited during the passivation layer need to be carefully and fully removed before the next processing step can proceed.

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Figure 1.6: Simplified TSV fabrication steps. The first processing step is the hole generation through the Si, the second processing step is the TSV isolation line deposition, the third processing step is the building of the TSV barrier layer, and the fourth processing is the metal fill process for filled TSV (bottom) or the metal linear deposition (top). Further steps include wafer thinning and backside processing, not depicted here.

The second processing step is the deposition of an isolation liner. The TSV conductive metal layer requires an isolation from the Si because the TSV should exhibit low leakage current, sufficiently large breakdown voltage, and a low parasitic capacitance. There are several methods by which the isolation materials can be deposited, such as using spray spin coating. For Via Middle and Via Last technologies, the processing temperature during deposition is limited so as to not affect the reliability of the FEOL devices. Therefore, low to mid-temperature deposition processes must be used. The materials used most frequently for isolation liner are oxide or nitride, deposited by low temperature chemical vapor deposition (CVD) or physical vapor deposition (PVD) [22].

The third processing step is the deposition of the TSV barrier layer. A high quality pinhole-free barrier layer is required in order to avoid the migration of metal into the Si. Tantalum and titanium nitride (TiN) are frequently used as a barrier materials. These materials also aid in the adhesion between the TSV metal and the line layer. CVD and PVD are the frequently used deposition processes, while CVD is preferred for barrier layer deposition [22].

The fourth processing step is the metal deposition or fill process. In this process a conductive material is used to fill the via holes. The materials utilized for this step are described in Section 1.3.2. Two different approaches are possible: filled or lined (open) TSVs. The unfilled configuration is favored when, due to the thermal expansion between adjoining materials, the fabrication of the TSV can induce thermal stress which degrades the performance of the device. The unfilled configuration allows for the metal lining to expand towards the center of the TSV limiting critical stress in the structure [25]. An added reliability concern of filled TSV is copper pumping, which had adverse affects on the stress in the structure and its reliability in addition to the reliability of adjacent circuit elements, such as transistors [26].

The fifth and final processing step involves the deposition of the oxide and nitride passivation layers, followed by wafer thinning and backside processing.

Once the TSV fabrication is completed the dies or the interposer layer have to be bonded together in pairs. The bonding requires a perfect alignment, where TSVs must be correctly placed to establish the electrical connection between dies and/or interposer layer. Any offset may result in increased local stresses and degraded performance.

The TSV geometry differ slightly for 3D IC and 2.5D interposer applications. Usually, for 3D IC applications TSVs have a small dimension, 1-5 μm in diameter and 10-50 μm in depth. For Si interposers, TSVs are bigger with diameters of 10 μm or more and depths of 50-100 μm or more [14].

In Figure 1.6 the process steps are illustrated.

1.3.2 TSV Metalization

Copper (Cu) and tungsten (W) are the materials most frequently employed as metalization in the TSV structures. For Via First technology poly-silicon can be employed as well. The frequently used materials with their features are listed below:

The choice of material also depends on the geometric dimensions of the TSV. The coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) mismatch between the TSV metalization and the surrounding Si is a cause of thermal stress in the surrounding Si, causing reliability issues for the TSV structure and surrounding devices, when subject to different thermal loads. Since TSV stresses increase as the TSV diameter increases, the choice of the metal for TSVs can be determined by the required depth and aspect ratio of TSVs demanded for a specific architecture.

1.3.3 Current and Future TSV Applications

The application of TSVs can be split into two main areas [18]:

  1. The first application area is where the device form factor is required and the 3D IC technology can also bring advantage in performance.
  2. The second application area is where high performance computing is required, and therefore 3D TSV technology permits higher clock rates, lower power dissipation, and higher integration technology. TSVs are used as components for CMOS image sensors, dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) and negative AND (NAND), processors, and other logic devices.

CMOS image sensors are the one of the first devices to use 3D integration in high volume manufacturing. Since 2007-2008, Toshiba, Aptina, ST Microelectronics, and other companies have commercialized CMOS image sensors which implement TSVs. The use of TSVs resulted in an increased lateral compactness permitting the design of miniature devices [30]. This advantage led to a wide implementation of CMOS image sensors in cellular phones and tablets. Usually, a Via Last technology is used for the processing of TSVs within the fabrication of CMOS image sensors. An Austrian sensors manufacturer, ams AG developed Open TSV structure for CMOS image sensors. This open TSV technology allowed for an electrical connection between a thinned wafer on top and a CMOS image sensor, bonded to the bottom [29]. The bottom and top wafers are electrically connected by TSVs. In this application the use of open TSVs results an improved thermal behavior compared to filled TSVs.

In order to increase the performance of DRAM a shrinking of the dimensions while maintaining a sufficient amount of capacitance in a memory cell and low level of leakage current is required. In 2014 Samsung started the mass production of double data rate-4 (DDR4) registered dual n-line memory modules which use the 3D TSV packaging technology [30]. In the future, Samsung plans to continue to work on improving 3D TSV technologies in order to create even higher density DRAM modules supporting the transition from DDR3 to DDR4.

In 2015 Toshiba announced the development of the first stacked NAND flash memories utilizing TSVs [31]. NAND are flash memories which enable the largest bit density among solid-state memory devices. The application of TSV technology in this device produces an increase in the speed of reading and writing data while reducing the power consumption.

Micron Technology (memory manufacturer) and Intel (CPU manufacturer) have jointly built a new breed of integrated architectures based on 3D chip packaging [30]. TSVs are used in order to resolve many problems regarding the mismatch in the clock speed between CPUs and memory.

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) can also incorporate TSVs. MEMS are mainly used for microsensors and microactuators where piezo-capacitive components are used to measure a physical phenomenon and convert it to an electrical signal. Usually the signal level is low and noise sensitive TSVs can be employed to reduce the parasitic capacitance. Since 2011, ST Microelectronics began to replace traditional wiring with short TSVs in MEMS devices such as smart sensors and multi-axis inertial modules [30].

The continued demand for electronic devices having a more compact form factor, more versatility, higher performance and lower power consumption will lead to further innovation and continues development of 3D technology.

1.4 Reliability of Interconnect Structures

In microelectronics, interconnect structures bear the task of electrically connecting several components of an IC. It is evident that, along with the reliability of the device themselves, the reliability of the interconnect structures must be thoroughly investigated in order to limit the probability of IC or chip failure. By definition, reliability is the probability that a device, operating under defined conditions, will continue to operate under those conditions for a defined period of time [32]. On the other hand, failure can be defined as any condition that causes a device or circuit to cease to operate in a desired manner [32]. A failure can appear instantly after a shock or grow slowly and decrease the device functionality over time until arriving at a failure condition. Each failure mode is the result of a certain failure mechanism in which specific combinations of material properties and the surrounding environment act together.

Interconnects can mechanically fail due to three main mechanisms [32]: tensile rupture (fracture due to mechanical overloading), creep failure (damage caused by a long-lasting permanent load or stress), and fatigue (damage caused by cyclical loads or stresses). These mechanisms affect the interconnection simultaneously. The thermomechanical stress is the main source of mechanical failure (fatigue, delamination, creep, etc.). However other factors can also affect the failure of a device, such as electrical and chemical actions. Interconnections exposed to high electrical current densities are subject to electromigration-induced voiding. Corrosion phenomena metals can accelerate fatigue and delamination failure. In the list below the most frequent mechanisms leading to failure in devices are outlined [33]:

1.5 FEM Approach for Reliability

The finite element method (FEM) (also called finite element analysis (FEA)) is a numerical method for solving a system of partial differential equations (PDEs). Most physical problems (fatigue, electromigration, thermally induced failure mechanism, delamination, etc.) can be described using a set of PDEs. FEM is employed to solve these PDEs and obtain an accurate analysis of many different physical problems [32].

In a continuum problem of any dimensions an unknown field variable (displacement, potential, etc.) has infinitely many values because it is a continuous function of generic points in the body that generates an infinite number of unknowns. The main idea of FEM is to discretize a domain into a finite number of elements in a way that the entire domain is approximated by the union of these discrete elements (cf. Figure 1.12). The discretization procedure permits the study of a field variable by reducing a problem to a finite number of unknowns field variables.

The unknown field variable is expressed by assuming approximating functions (interpolation functions) within each element. At specified nodes or nodal points of the domain, the approximating functions are defined in terms of values of the field variables which are the fundamental unknowns. Nodes are usually located on the element boundaries, where adjacent elements are connected (cf. Figure 1.12). The behavior of the field variable within the elements is described by the nodal values of the field variable and the interpolation functions. The nodal values of the field variable are the new unknowns and they represent the finite element problem. When these unknowns are obtained, the interpolation functions define the field variable throughout the aggregated elements. Thus, the solutions are initially formulated for individual elements and subsequently assembled to represent the entire problem geometry [34].

Figure 1.12: Discretized domain and the corresponding elements and nodes.

FEM is widely employed in microelectronics. A multitude of different physical phenomena can be handled by choosing the desired geometry and using the material data required. The FEM tool permits the determination or prediction of the stress limits, or the lifetime of specific configurations, fundamental for the reliability study.

1.6 Outline of the Thesis

In this document a detailed analysis of the mechanical failure of open TSV is presented. Finite element simulations are employed to investigate the possible causes which lead to mechanical failure. Different simulation schemes, material, and mechanical models are applied. By means of simulations, different scenarios are studied leading to a comprehensive analysis of the mechanical behavior of TSVs. The goal of this work is to improve and analyze the reliability of the TSV interconnections and thus of the entire device leading to a deeper understanding of TSVs. The study can help developers to improve their processes.

The dissertation is divided into six chapters, including this introductory chapter, Chapter 1. In Chapter 2 the elements of the linear elasticity theory are explained, followed by the description of the FEM theory. Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5 present the physical models employed and implemented to investigate the failure sources and mechanisms in open TSVs. The stress evolution in an open TSV during 3D IC stacking is analyzed in Chapter 3. The results presented in the Chapter 3 provide description of the critical stress areas in an open TSV due to an external force. In these critical areas a high probability of delamination failure is expected and therefore a study of the delamination between these specific material layers in TSVs is presented in Chapter 4. The probability of delamination is high in material films with high residual stress. In Chapter 5 the generation of the intrinsic stress inside the metal films is investigated. Chapter 6 summarizes the entire work and presents an outlook for further studies.