For 50 years, Intel Corp. has been perfecting the silicon chip, one of the tech industry’s most complex devices, and a key component required for all the big ideas of the future such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, mobile computing and the internet of things.
Meanwhile, Intel’s supply chain was increasingly hampered by something far less intricate: the packaging.
For 20 years, Intel has been shipping its 300-millimeter silicon wafers from factories to test facilities worldwide in a so-called front-opening shipping box (FOSB). Each box holds 25 wafers, which are roughly the size of a vinyl record — with mechanical properties closer to glass — and are later cut into hundreds or thousands of chips. Because of its contents’ high fragility, the packaging required a thick polyurethane foam that came at a high material and freight cost.
FOSBs also called for an automated unpacking process, as Intel’s “clean room” facilities restrict operators on the floor where possible. This meant the boxes needed 10mm of space between each wafer, putting them at even higher risk of damage.
Once packed, FOSBs had a chargeable weight of about 25 kilograms, where eight boxes would fit on a standard Euro pallet. With typical international air freight rates exceeding $4 per kilogram, Intel's approximate cost per box was roughly $100.
Turned on Its Head
An innovative move in packaging allowed the company to slash shipping costs while improving product safety.
The horizontal wafer shipper (HWS) stacks 25 wafers on top of one another, separated by either a paper-thin interleaf material or a thin plastic ring. It’s 60% smaller than the FOSB and requires less foam, resulting in a 70% drop in material and freight cost. The contactless design reducing space between each wafer provides more protection, and helps accommodate various wafer thickness without making changes to the container.
A vigorous implementation process involved supplier selection, design reviews and hundreds of tests to ensure the change would have no negative impacts to Intel’s supply chain. Approximately 20 tools were installed across six wafer fabrication sites to support the new packaging.
Other benefits included:
A Greener Approach
Sustainability improvements include:
With the HWS, Intel's approximate cost per box is now roughly $28, improving overall cost by more than 112%.
After implementation, the team investigated further use cases as well. The HWS and corresponding loading equipment now support wafers of entirely different properties and sizes, enabling Intel to further grow its product lineup and offer additional features to customers.
Implementation has driven suppliers to new levels, Intel says, and the paradigm shift in wafer handling has touched nearly every division within its Technology Manufacturing Group. It’s expected to deliver annual savings of millions of dollars, by reducing the chargeable weight over 900,000 kilograms when fully deployed.
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