Did you know that your smartphone (which you might even be using to read this) is partly made of sand? Now, this isn’t necessarily the sand you see when going to the beach, but you’ve probably seen it before at a local golf course. It’s a special type of sand called silica, which is used for silicon manufacturing. In today’s technologically advanced world, phones are practically our own handheld computers that fit in our palms. Smartphones use computer chips, which are created through the use of flat silicon wafers. The process is very complex, but with some precise automated machinery, crafting high-quality silicon wafers has become much easier and faster. At Wafer World, we know that some incredible technology, like smartphones, wouldn’t work without crafting the best wafers. So, how exactly are the computer chips inside phones crafted? Let’s find out.
Before companies can craft a computer chip, they need a semiconductor foundation. In order for the chip to function correctly, it requires the assistance of a silicon wafer. These wafers are typically created through the Czochralski method, invented in 1915 by Polish scientist Jan Czochralski. The first step is to melt the silica sand until it becomes pure, electronic-grade silicon. Once a full ingot is produced, it will have a purity level of 99.9999%, which means there will only be one foreign atom for every billion silicon atoms. After the ingot is sliced to become a wafer, it undergoes various processes such as:
After the wafer has been finished, it’s time for testing. This is one of the most important steps, as there will be times when testing leads to the discovery of a faulty wafer, meaning that it doesn’t work as a semiconductor.
Computer chips, or integrated circuits, are where a computer’s memory and processing units are found. When computer chips were first used, they could not hold nearly as many transistor components as they do today. When Intel created their first chip in 1971, it could only hold a few thousand, but today one can hold billions. If we go back even further, some of the first chips from the 1960s had only a single transistor! Essentially, the transistors of a chip are used for decision-making capabilities, so it is kind of like the brain of a computing device. The more transistors, the better.
Now that we know about the foundation of a smartphone’s computer chip and the chip's function, how is the integrated circuit constructed? Numerous metal layers, which you can think of as wires, are used to connect the transistors. Since there are so many in such a tiny amount of space, this is obviously something that can’t be completed by hand compared to the era of integrated circuits with only one transistor. After the chip is finished, it undergoes wafer sort testing to determine if it’s functioning properly. During the test, each chip is given patterns to respond to. If the chip responds with the correct answer to the pattern, it is ready for packaging. If it responds with the wrong answer, it’s discarded. The wafer is then set for slicing, which is cutting it into individual computer chips. During this slicing process, any chips that failed the wafer sorting test are discarded. The ones that will continue on their journey to be used in smartphones will be packaged by combining the substrate, die, and heatspreader together.
While technically, the mobile phone has a history dating back to the 1920s, the phones we use today didn’t really begin to come into play until the 1970s. It wasn’t until 1973 that Martin Cooper made the first-ever public call using a mobile phone that weighed almost two and a half pounds.
Like most technology, while the mobile phone was invented fairly recently, there have been rapid improvements, especially in the last 10 years, that have made them almost exactly like small computers. Due to their size, they obviously don’t have the same computing power as a desktop or even a laptop, but the gap is far closer than what many people could have ever imagined. Phones have slowly become a device that combines many devices into one, and a large part of that is thanks to improvements made with computer chip manufacturing. Today, these chips can pack so many transistors together into such small devices. In fact, a point has been reached where there are many people who don’t even use a phone for its main function. There’s now an abundance of functions it can handle simultaneously. You can take a photo while talking on the phone. You can send a text message while listening to music. You can even have a GPS giving you directions while you are listening to a podcast.
With new and improved versions of smartphones being released every year, you have to wonder what the next big advancement will be. When it seems like nothing else can be improved, people can figure something out while still finding a way to make it smaller and more efficient.
At the beginning of every smartphone is simply a small grain of silica sand. Through the processes of silicon wafer manufacturing and creating a computer chip, that small device can access everything the web has to offer. At Wafer World, we want you to get started properly, which means providing you with the highest-quality silicon wafers for whatever project you need them for. We always strive to give our customers the best possible product, and that means taking extreme precautions during the manufacturing process, as well as extensive testing. If you have any questions or concerns about wafer manufacturing or choosing the right wafer for your needs, our silicon wafer experts are here to help. Are you on the lookout for wafers? Contact us today for a quote.