In September 2021, Infineon officially inaugurated its new 300 mm wafer fab in Villach, Austria. Markt&Technik wanted to learn more about this fab from Dr. Thomas Reisinger, Chief Operations Officer of Infineon Technologies Austria, and how it was completed ahead of schedule despite the pandemic.
Markt&Technik: Mr. Reisinger, which thoughts popped up in your mind when you first heard that a completely new 300 mm fab was to be built in Villach?
Dr. Thomas Reisinger: Of course, we at Villach were also involved in the entire selection process. But when the decision fell on us, one of the first thoughts was certain: It's coming home! The 300 mm technology was developed here in Villach about ten years ago, but then went into volume production in Dresden because the appropriate space was available there. Villach has been the global competence center for power electronics for many years, as well as the innovation fab in the company. It was therefore a great pleasure for everyone here in Villach that this huge investment of 1.6 billion euros for a 300-mm thin-wafer fab had been made.
Can you briefly describe the specific challenges of building a wafer fab?
A wafer fab is for sure the "Champions League" of industrial construction because the requirements there are very diverse. This ranges from the stability of the concrete and the vibration resistance of the structural body to extremely complex infrastructure systems, such as the clean room. The gaseous and sometimes toxic process media must also be supplied to and removed from the site safely and reliably. During construction, all the cogs must mesh perfectly in order to meet deadlines and implementation schedules. One is the construction itself in order to be "Ready for Equipment", the other is then the bringing in and ramping up of the first machines and tools until we are "Ready for Production".
Speaking of keeping to schedules and implementation plans - when Infineon publicly announced in May 2018 that this fab was to be built, it was of course not yet foreseeable that a global pandemic would hit us starting in early 2020. How did your team manage to master this unforeseeable challenge?
Important preparatory work - negotiations and agreements with general contractors and subcontractors, securing materials and equipment - had already been completed before the pandemic started. Then there were the challenges with the virus and the risk of infection itself, government restrictions, the strained or even interrupted supply chain and availability of materials, and entry for international specialists, which was extremely difficult. But because we had made the strategic decision to build back in 2018 and construction started before the Covid pandemic, we were not much affected by supply issues for materials and equipment we needed.
However, we had to act very quickly, but were able to implement operational protection and hygiene measures professionally and consistently at a very early stage. We were challenged to constantly adapt our organizational structure, the entire production, but also the construction work at the new chip factory to meet conditions as they changed. Construction work continued according to the schedule, observing all clearance and hygiene measures. These operational measures and the active contribution of all the individuals and crafts involved in the construction enabled a smooth and efficient process.
You talked about the fact that construction work continued according to the schedule. In fact, the wafer fab went into operation ahead of schedule. How did your team achieve this despite Corona?
The decisive factor was extremely stringent project planning, not only on our part but also by our external partners. The cogs interlocked very well, and there was a high level of motivation and willingness to collaborate on all sides. This made it possible to accelerate the opening by some three months.
To manufacture semiconductor chips is a very energy-intensive task. Nevertheless, Infineon paid a lot of attention to the environmental impact of this wafer fab. Tell us a little more about it.
We manufacture power semiconductors here that are designed not only to make life easier and safer, but ultimately also to save energy and make our lives more environmentally friendly. Therefore, sustainability in manufacturing is part of our corporate philosophy, not only in the new fab, but also at the entire site. We don't just comply with regulatory requirements - which are subject to change - but are at the cutting edge of sustainable manufacturing. A few examples to illustrate this:
By intelligently recycling waste heat from the cooling systems used in manufacturing, we cover 80 percent of the site's heating requirements. We use this to heat offices and laboratories, which will save us approximately 20,000 metric tons of CO2 annually. The widespread use of exhaust air purification systems reduces direct emissions to almost zero.
Another milestone in terms of sustainable manufacturing and closed loop economy is the generation and recycling of "green" hydrogen on site. Usually, this process gas is produced by partners somewhere in Europe - often not in a very climate-friendly way - and then shipped deep-frozen by truck. But from the summer of 2022, we want to generate the hydrogen we need directly on site from renewable energy sources. This will eliminate CO2 emissions during the initial generation as well as during transport. After it has been used in chip manufacturing, the gas will be used to fuel buses in local public transport. With the implementation of the electrolysis plant at the Infineon site in Villach, we are prepared for the future in two respects: with an important contribution to climate protection as well as the necessary security of supply.