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Quality assurance as an elementary component of production processes, for example in semiconductor manufacturing or surface finishing processes, has so far rarely met the desired requirements. This often manifests itself in merely random inspections in the form of elaborate subjective visual checks or even in the complete abandonment of quality assurance measures due to the lack of adequate technologies. However, this could soon change, because a measuring system developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS should enable the precise and reliable analysis of flat high-tech coatings in the future. In this context, a team of researchers from the Dresden institute is setting up a company to commercialise this promising technology for an industrial application. The start-up is now also providing a deeper insight into the matter at HANNOVER MESSE 2023 as part of futureSAX, the innovation platform of the Free State of Saxony in Hall 17 (Stand A50).

Dresden as the ideal location for the spin-off

DIVE imaging systems GmbH (DIVE stands for Digital Vision Experts) will initially focus on the semiconductor industry. Here, the founders Dr. Philipp Wollmann, Dr. Wulf Grählert, Oliver Throl and Livia Szathmáry want to help ensure stable processes, increase yields and save resources. The decision to remain in Dresden was not made by chance: "Dresden is predestined for our spin-off," emphasises Dr Wollmann. "Important microelectronics players are concentrated here in a conurbation. In order to further develop our technology in the best possible customer-oriented way, we have the shortest distances in this city and can also identify further partners with the successive expansion of the already existing network."

Opportunities beyond the semiconductor industry

For in terms of perspective, the founders are not only thinking about customers from the semiconductor industry. In the long term, the quartet wants to establish its innovative DIVE technology for the inspection and analysis of surfaces and layers broadly in different industries. Of the numerous scenarios, fast two-dimensional layer thickness measurement, the detection and localisation of the smallest shape defects or impurities are only a small section of the possibilities.

Light divided into 1000 colours

The DIVE system uses visible light and invisible infrared radiation in frequencies between 0.4 and 2.5 micrometres to illuminate the silicon wafers from which the ubiquitous microchips are made. A special so-called hyperspectral camera records the reflected light. While the human eye is only capable of registering the three primary colours red, green and blue, the hyperspectral camera distinguishes up to 1000 colours, or more precisely: wavelengths of light. Subsequently, the high-dimensional raw data, which can quickly grow to several gigabytes, is forwarded to an artificial intelligence (AI), which can use the "1000-colour image" to detect possible damage or contamination as well as to evaluate the quality of individual chips or the entire wafer. The DIVE system can thus detect how homogeneous, thin, even or low-defect the layer is, i.e. whether the coating step on the wafer meets the high standards. This means that it is now possible to ensure as early as possible that only flawless wafers enter the subsequent production steps.

Kick-off project with German chip company Infineon

Already today, the wafers in the semiconductor factories are monitored with regard to many properties during the numerous production steps up to the final microchip. The analysis of the entire wafer surface is comparatively slow and therefore often only carried out on a random basis. This is where DIVE wants to start in the future: together with the semiconductor manufacturer Infineon, the team is first developing a hyperspectral system for laboratories beyond the clean room and, in the next step, a system that can be used in such a laboratory. In the future, DIVE is planning an inline solution that can be integrated directly into the cleanroom facilities. This should then even make real-time analysis possible for many process steps.

Growth opportunities thanks to good equipment and generous funding

In view of the great potential of this technology, the founding team expects rapid growth, especially since it has been equipped by the Fraunhofer IWS with several unique selling points: These include the complete system concept including sample illumination as well as the sophisticated software for system control and for AI-supported data evaluation. DIVE also plans to manufacture the designed devices, systems and later entire plant components itself in its own production line. In addition, the team will offer services, technical assistance and customised developments. The spin-off is receiving significant support from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection, which is providing 18 months of funding to the tune of 1.2 million euros as part of an EXIST research transfer.