Why Thinner Silicon Wafers are Better than Thicker


May 11, 2015

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Silicon wafers have become the heart in the body structure that is technology these days. Whether it is your mobile phone, your tablet, your desktop computer, televisions, appliances, solar panels or even your car, thin wafers of silicon which contain thousands of microcircuits and transistors basically form much of your life.And as these computer chips come in different forms and sizes to meet varying needs and roles in electronic devices, the wafers on which these circuits are etched come in differing sizes and thicknesses, and the sizes continue to grow. Many wafers in steady production use today are between 100-300 millimeters in diameter, though an ultra-sized 450mm wafer (nearly 18 inches across) has been produced. That one, however, is ahead of the current manufacturing capabilities to be in regular production.As wafers get bigger, they also get thicker. Wafers have to be as thin as possible, but they have to achieve a certain thickness based on diameter so the wafer can bear its own weight without breaking and the silicon does not crack or get damaged during the manufacturing process, which does involve some intense heat that can easily scratch a wafer that is not thick enough to withstand it. Thinner wafers tend to be lighter and smaller and the circuits that come off of them are smaller, more compact and can fit into mobile devices that seem to get smaller and smaller. With so many devices  innovating by becoming more powerful yet lighter in weight than predecessors, in order for more “stuff” to get into those mobile devices, the semiconductors have to be smaller, tightly packed and lighter in weight to free up more room for other  technology to fit inside.While thicker wafers tend to withstand intense heat better, not many mobile devices will ever achieve that level of heat, so the need for a thicker circuit is not so necessary. For mobile devices, thinner and lighter is better.But what about solar cells, if we’re talking about intense heat? Again, thinner means more compact and lighter, so technology is continuing to advance in this way that there are now “ultra-thin” wafers designed for use in solar cells. These wafers create solar cell circuits but do it with a thinner wafer than what is usually required, yet they have the ability to withstand the tremendous heat from solar rays and convert that solar energy into electricity for homes and businesses. Just a few short years ago, however, solar panels were thick and cumbersome, and with some homes, they required extra support on the roof to support the panels without them falling through into the attic – or worse.In this case, thinner wafers for solar cells can be very effective in providing the same energy-harnessing capability with a thinner profile, thus making the panels themselves lighter and more convenient for rooftops. Thinner solar cells are actually contributing to making solar panels themselves potentially portable – solar power on the go! The possibility is there. Why not a solar-powered smartphone?

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