Heesung Metal Ltd. (Won-gyu Yoon, Head of Research Center)
Domestic semiconductor and display industry is producing the world’s 1st-class product group, whereas most of core source materials rely on import. On this account, government encourages the development of core source materials, needless to say such endeavor would make the world’s 1st position secure. Meanwhile, it makes headline that Won-gyu Yoon’s research team in Heesung Metal developed sputtering target independently from raw powder to final process, which is core source material in IT field for semiconductor chip and touch panel and has relied on import, and succeeded in realizing localization for sputtering target
Localization of sputtering target
Since its establishment in 1974, ‘Heesung Metal Ltd.’ has provided added momentum for fundamental and cutting edge parts development in the nation’s material industry with promotion and development of localization for various precious metal materials and parts. Since research center establishment in 1993 and company name change in 1996, the company has gaining a high reputation as a specialized company in the material industry. In addition, matching its reputation, such successful localization of sputtering target brings the company one step closer to realizing its vision, “global leader in the material industry.”
Sputtering target, that relies on imports due to difficulties in product development, is indeed core source material in the IT field, and film forming product that can implement special performance such as semiconductor chips and touch panels, so it has a high technique barrier and also is one of elements that haunt competitiveness enhancement in domestic semiconductor and display industry due to dependency on imports. Therefore, the success of this technical development by Won-gyu Yoon’s research team is very meaningful in many aspects. First of all, it solves problems caused by import, and the most important is that it can solve the problems of environmental pollution caused by using chemical processes with a high environmental load in refinement or disposal process because only 30% of sputtering target was used and the remaining 70% needed to be collected for treatment, and minimize expensive raw material loss simultaneously such as Au and gold.
Consequently, Mr. Yoon, head of research center, explains, “Before this technical development, domestic semiconductor companies have vicious cycle where they have to bear the loss of expensive raw materials entirely due to dependency on imports and process characteristics of Au sputtering target, a core source material for semiconductors, but it can be predicted that such problems would be solved by this technical development.
Therefore, it is expected that effects of efficient use of rare metals through re-use technology that is resource virtuous circulation technology, will have a synergy effect on product efficiency in domestic semiconductor companies.”
The world’s first reuse sintering technology development
The reasons why Won-gyu Yoon’s research team proceeded with this technical development were to overcome dependency on imports, loss of expensive metals, and environment contamination mentioned earlier. But most of all, the biggest motivation triggering this technical development would be developing a method differentiated from other foreign rivals to break the high technical barrier.
Won-gyu Yoon, head of research center and executive director of Heesung Metal Ltd.
To do this, researchers in Heesung Metal including Mr. Yoon went into technical development in partnership with Professor Gyeong-sik Oh’s team from Andong National University and succeeded in fabricating ultrapure fine metal powder, a main source of sputtering target, for the first time in the world using plasma which is tens of thousands ℃ of high temperature gaseous state and known as ‘‘the 4th state of matter.’’
In this regard, Mr. Yoon, head of research 4th state of matter center, explains, “Successfully developed this technology showed 5~10 times faster fabrication speed than existing wet process for powder fabrication, and received high praise as an environment friendly as well as productivity improvement method using plasma that are taking center stage in environment friendly methods because of close to zero environmental contamination compared to chemical methods with high environment load.” and “The finer and the purer powder for sputtering target shows the better properties. The powder developed using plasma has better purity compared to the power fabricated from existing chemical processes.”
He went on to add, “As I explained earlier, about 70% of sputtering target is refined and used again as the source of sputtering target. Utilizing plasma in such refinement process, environment friendly material can be reused by minimizing the loss of source. This project was planned to break out of a vicious circle for the significant loss in annual production of Au sputtering target used in semiconductor packaging process. The project succeeded in producing sputtering target by filling high purity fine powder made of plasma on top of remained waste target, and enabled to create a virtuous circulation through the resource recycling of about 70% of precious metal and rare metal.”
Meanwhile, another outcome from this technology development is that about 70% of remained waste target from ITO sputtering target used in display panel can also be used to fabricate new sputtering target as much as the portion already used, 30%, without passing through refinement process. Thus, the loss of rare materials in refinement process can be suppressed. Therefore this technology is expected to provide great help to the domestic display industry that is one of the leading industries related to semiconductors in the country.
Plan for extended application throughout metal sputtering targets
Because only a few specific countries mine rare metals currently used in semiconductors and display panels, there are many chances to weaponize the resources. On this account, studies on recycling rare metal are continued through many methods including urban mining. In this context, this technical development by Heesung Metal’s research team is expected to be used in many rare metal sputtering targets in addition to Au(gold) and ITO sputtering target, including Ta(tantalum), Pt (platinum), Ru (ruthenium), Cu (copper), and IGZO(Indium oxide, gallium, and zinc alloy).
Photo of fabricating ultrapure fine metal powder, a main source of
sputtering target, using plasma called “the 4th state of matter.”.
Therefore, industrialization according to this technical development has a very promising future. Mr. Yoon, head of the research center explains, “For ITO sputtering target, the total use of touch panel sensors and glass sensors is expected 2,050t in 2017 along with the increased use of IT devices including smartphones and shows 10% of average annual growth rate; and consistent growth can be predicted in the overall market as new adaptations like film sensors and flexible display is expected.” and “In addition, total 20 billion won of domestic market is expected for Au sputtering target, and this level seems to be maintained in future.”
In regard to future plans, Mr. Yoon indicated that “Currently efforts for expanding application of developed technology throughout overall metal sputtering targets and localization are ongoing as the goal of future development. If it is accomplished, the technology can be applied to not just Au but also materials for cutting edge parts including ultrapure powder fabrication with all types of sputtering target raw materials used in semiconductor fabrication processes; Ti and Ti alloy, medical materials; Al and Ti, power materials for 3D printers; Cu and thermoelectric material; and solar batteries.”
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