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The Competitive Semiconductor Manufacturing Human Resources Project: Final Report (Phase 1) CSM-38

Document Type

Technical Report

Publication Date



Manufacturing industries -- Management, Manufactures -- Research


This section examines the industry-wide trend of upgrading the skills of production workers in the semiconductor industry. This analysis discusses the industry characteristics driving this trend, the human resource policies that support skill upgrades, and the payoffs associated with such upgrades. To provide a deeper understanding of the process of skill upgrading, two fabs from our sample are analyzed in detail. One fab is located in Japan (pseudonym Jfab) and the other fab is located in the U.S. (pseudonym USfab).

As a central part of their manufacturing strategy, these fabs have emphasized the upskilling of operators particularly for equipment maintenance activities. Through human resource policies, both fabs have extended the breadth and depth of their employees' skills (our definition of skill upgrading), particularly the skills of their operators and technicians. At the time of our visit, a manager at Jfab estimated that they were "95% self-sufficient" in maintaining their own equipment rather than using the vendor. He explained, "We don't use vendor maintenance because it is very expensive and because our people are better at it than the vendors' personnel. We end up teaching the employees of the vendors about their own equipment!" A manager at USfab echoed these sentiments regarding vendors: "Contracts are expensive and we can do better." USfab also has concentrated on upgrading the skills of its operators while it merged the operator and technician occupations into a "production specialist" position (a pseudonym). USfab's production specialists now perform 90% of the basic preventative maintenance (e.g., daily checks, chamber cleans, PMs). For equipment maintenance tasks, these two fabs have substituted participation by line workers for engineering time. Their operators rank at the top of our fifteen fab sample in terms of their intensity of participation in equipment maintenance activities, while their equipment engineers rank in the middle.

In addition to equipment maintenance, another set of activities that affects manufacturing performance focuses on process-related problems and the manufacturing precision of the equipment. These activities can be grouped under the umbrella of statistical process control (SPC), which requires personnel to compare measures of processing outcomes (e.g., the height of a layer, the accuracy of alignment, processing time, particle generation,) against detailed specifications set by the process development group. For statistical process control (SPC) duties, Jfab and USfab do not emphasize the role of their line workers. Instead, Jfab has emphasized the role of the process engineer in conducting SPC, and its process engineers rank at the top of our fifteen fab sample in terms of the intensity with which they use SPC. Process engineers at USfab fall towards the bottom of our SPC rankings, and the fab's SPC capabilities are rudimentary with no automated SPC capabilities and no real time process adjustment. Engineers at USfab were plagued with fire-fighting responsibilities, since they committed approximately 80% of their time to fire-fighting. The engineers were anxious for the program of skill upgrading

of operators to bear fruit so that operators could assume more trouble-shooting responsibilities. As one engineer put it, "We spend all of our time [taking care of] lots that went on hold. We want to train other people to do this, so we can have time for [more training and projects]." These findings suggest that both companies rely on their line workers for equipment performance, but not for process control. Jfab relies much more heavily on its process engineers, while USfab lags behind in establishing a focus for its process control efforts.

As described below, the two companies in this case study have established human resource policies consistent with deepening and broadening the skills of their manufacturing personnel in order to pursue their strategies for equipment maintenance and SPC. They have, however, experienced very different levels of success measured by our five manufacturing metrics (stepper throughput, cycle time, direct labor productivity, line yield, and defect density). Jfab scores consistently at the top of the fifteen fabs in our sample while USfab scores in the bottom half. Their divergent performance can be at least partially attributed to the different level of stability of their production environments. Jfab was operating in a relatively stable environment with few process flows and moderated process problems with an advanced SPC capability. In contrast, USfab was undergoing a reorganization of its operations, new process introductions, and adopting a new shop-floor work organization to better integrate its upskilled production specialists into problemsolving activities. We anticipate that with time, USfab will at least partially catch up to the level of manufacturing performance enjoyed by Jfab, as their aggressive skill upgrade program matures, and as they adjust to the changes to their organizational structure and manufacturing process technologies. This section concludes by considering the influences of automation and differences in employment systems on the pervasiveness of skill upgrade efforts across job categories.


Chapter 3A from The Competitive Semiconductor Manufacturing Human Resources Project: Final Report (Phase I); (CSM-38). The final report can be found online at:

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