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Silicone based products find vast industrial applications in different fields. Each enterprise attributes silicone’s versatility to its ease of manipulation, high levels of temperature stability, and resistance to aging. When incorporated with other metals, silicone may be used as a purifier, insulator and softener. On the different hand, silicone based materials have been extensively used in manufacturing processes to enhance the look of substances. Furthermore, there's a fact that this element is vastly utilized in industrial activities requiring energy transfer. Based on the vast industrial applications of silicone, the current research puts a lot of emphasis on the applications of silicone in the semiconductor industry.
The Semiconductor Industry
The semiconductor industry is considered to be of great importance based on its contributions to the global economy (Huang et al. 2016, p.277). Countries like the United States of America, China and Singapore attribute a greater percentage of their economic wellbeing to semiconductor production. The speedy developments in technology are reported to be the major causes of thrive for this industry. According to Nakuya et al. (2016), the contributions of the semiconductor industry to the economy of the United States saw a growth of 265% between1987 and 2011 which is the highest in comparison to the contributions made by any other manufacturing activities in this nation.
The history of semiconductors is not only vast but also very complicated. According to Chaniago et al. (2015, p. 92), the production of semiconductors begun to satisfy people’s communicational and data processing requirements. According to Huan and Park (2016, p.275), the term “semiconductor” was applied at first in 1782 by Alesandro Volta. On the other hand, the first recorded observations on the effects of semiconductor materials took place in 1833 following the experiments conducted by Michael Faraday. For a long time now, sensitivity of semiconductors to light and correction of the junctions of metal semiconductors go to record as the most studied properties.
Final Commodities Produced by the Semiconductor Industry
Most of the final products of silicone based semiconductor industries find wide applications in computers and electronics. According to Nakuya et al. (2016), important components of mobile phones, computers and music systems are made up of silicon materials such as hyper pure polycrystalline which has semiconductor properties for insulation purposes. On the other hand, Chaniago et al. (2015) explain that silicone rubber is of great importance in offering insulation particularly in computers. Chip production is considered to be the key driver of current technologies. Semiconductors are applied in the manufacture of memory chips which are used in mobile phones and computers. Because of their ability to conduct electricity, semiconductors have been used in the manufacture of electronic components as light emitting diodes (LEDs) and transistors.
Raw Materials Used in the Semiconductor Industry
While silicone is considered as the major raw material for the semiconductor industry, other compounds like gallium arsenide, silicon carbide, germanium and composites of indium have been identified as major contributors.
Silicon is ranked second in terms of the most abundant elements on the planet. Silicon accounts for over 25% by weight of the earth’s total crust. Since it does not exist as a free element, silicon occurs in natural states in the form of silicates and oxides such as sand, agate, quartz, amethyst, opal, citrine, flint and jasper. Major suppliers of silicon for industrial processes all over the world include the United States of America, Asia-Pacific, Europe and China. As a matter of fact, Funk and Luo (2015, p. 55) explain that China is the largest supplier of silicon with the U.S. being ranked second. In the semiconductor industry, silicon is converted into single crystal ingots which are further transformed into silicon wafers in one of the key stages of manufacturing integrated circuits in electronic chips.
Germanium is similar to silicon based on its appearance. Its reactive nature does not allow for occurrence as a free element. According to Huang et al. (2016, p. 279), germanium is extracted from fly ash coal, sphalerite zinc and copper ores. Compared to silicon, the applications of germanium in the semiconductor industry are highly limited because of levels of thermal sensitivity and cost. However, it is applied in high speed devices upon alloying with silicon. Leading technological organizations like IBM have used germanium in their processes since they are the primary producers of high speed devices. Key global producers of germanium include China, U.S.A., Belgium, Russia and Canada.
Gallium arsenide is a compound of gallium and arsenic. Despite the fact that it is more expensive than silicon, gallium arsenide finds wider applications in high speed devices. Han and Park (2016) explain that gallium arsenide poses some levels of difficulty in the formation of ingots of larger diameters. Such characteristics limit its use in mass production processes since it gives limitations to the sizes of wafer diameter. The major producers of gallium arsenide include Ukraine, Germany, China and Japan.
Other raw materials used in the manufacture of semiconductors include silicon carbide which is a key component of devices with the ability of enduring ionizing radiations and high temperatures of operation. Further, the arsenides, phosphides and antimonites of indium have been adopted in industrial processes of manufacturing solid state laser diodes. On the other hand, Nakuya et al. (2016) explain that selenium sulfide is used in the production of photovoltaic solar cells. Neon, xenon, krypton, fluorspar, helium, argon, liquid hydrogen, sulfuric acid, hydrogen peroxide and tantalum are identified by the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) as important raw materials for the semiconductor industry.
Forms of Energy Input Needed in the Semiconductor Industry
According to Chaniago et al. (2015, p. 101), the semiconductor industry consumes massive amounts of electrical energy in their processes. For instance, the fabrication stage in which intricate patterned films of doped silicon, metals and insulators are used in the production of functional components of microchips consumes enormous amounts of electrical energy particularly in the processes of air conditioning, ventilation and heating. According to Huang et al. (2016, p. 279), electrical energy in this process is consumed at the rate of 1.5kWh for every square centimeter of a semiconductor. On the other hand, these processes consume 1MJ of fossil fuels for a similar area of semiconductors.
Chemical and Physical Processes Used in the Semiconductor Industry
Semiconductor industries use physical and chemical processes in their functions. The major chemical process in this industry is chemical vapor deposition (CVD). Frank and Luo (2015, p. 60) define CVD as chemical processes adopted in the production of solid semiconductor materials of high performance and purity. CVD finds wider applications in instances where thin films need to be produced where water is used as a substrate and is subjected to volatile precursors which decompose to form a deposit. Film deposition and thermal oxidation are aspects of CVD used in the formation of circuit materials for semiconductors.
There are multiple physical processes involved in the semiconductor industry. They include cleaning, post deposition cleaning and resist coating, exposure, implantation of impurities and etching. Cleaning of silicon wafers which are the key components of semiconductors is done by the processes of wet stationing and single water cleaning. Post deposition cleaning is achieved by the application of spin scrubbers and single wafer cleaning systems to remove small particles in contact with the wafers. On the other hand, resist coating involves spinning water particles with photosensitive chemicals on wafers by applying centrifugal forces. Implantation of impurities involves the use of phosphor and boron ions to instill semiconductor characteristics into the silicon substrate. According to Han and Park (2016), activation in semiconductors is a physical process which involves the use of flash lamps in heating substrate ions.
Health and Environmental Issues in the Semiconductor Industry
While the semiconductor industry is economically beneficial, it has caused great environmental and health harms. For instance, Nakoya et al. (2016) explain that more than 128 employees of IBM died of cancer in 1998. On the other hand, Chaniago et al. (2015, p. 102) explain that New York has seen an increase of the number of lawsuits against semiconductor companies based on their dangerous emissions of acidic sulfur oxides into the atmosphere. Further, employees in this industry are exposed to high amounts of heat energy and hazardous materials which have led to damage of eyes, spinal cords and wrists. Waste products of the semiconductor industry like computers have been dumped in poor countries. According to Huang et al. (2016, p.285), these wastes are hazardous and pose great environmental consequences in their regions of disposal.
Health and Safety Measures in the Semiconductor Industry
Most of the health hazards in the semiconductor industry are experienced in the processes of assembling and after use. According to Han and Park (2016, p.281), a greater part of the soldering materials used in the assembly of semiconductor devices are made of lead which has been linked to cancer. Governmental and professional agencies have come up with strict regulations to minimize health and environmental hazards in this industry. For instance, it is a universal requirement for packaged chips and microchips to be placed on circuit boards as a way of reducing the use of lead solders. On the other hand, most companies have adopted gold plating on lead components available in semiconductor devices to reduce their hazardous effects upon disposal. Further, the European Union instituted bans on the use of mercury, hexavalent chromium, lead and mercury in automobile industries as a way of reducing the environmental and health hazards posed by these substances.
The Economic Scale of the Semiconductor Industry
The semiconductor industry has experienced positive economic growths over the years because of the increasing demands for technological devices. According to Chaniago et al. (2015, p. 103), this industry generates more than $65 billion to the United States of America’s economy. In Japan, this industry generates over $4 billion worth of revenues from the exportation of semiconductor products. Other countries like Korea, Singapore and China have developed to their current positions as developing economies because of the massive investments they have made in this industry.
Semiconductor Industry in Australia
Australia has a well-established semiconductor industry. Some of the key players in the Australian market include Amalgamated Wireless, Standard Telephone and Cable Pty, Philips, Ducon and Fairchhild. In comparison to other economies like the U.S., Malaysia, Singapore, China, Germany and Korea, the growth of Australia’s semiconductor industry can be termed as slow based on the fact that the companies involved have not moved with the required aggression to take up their shares of international markets. Han and Park (2016) attribute such a position to underinvestment in research and development activities is required to increase the growth in this industry, highly competitive international markets and inadequate support from the government. On the other hand, Australia lacks deposits for key requirements like silicone and other key raw materials. Higher costs of importation hinder the development of the semiconductor industry.
The semiconductor industry is one of the greatest contributors to global economic growth. Despite the economic gains this industry offers to developed countries, it poses great health and environmental hazards. While this industry is well developed in other economies like U.S.A., China, Malaysia and Singapore, Australia still lags behind because of underinvestment in R&D, high competition in international markets and lack of raw materials.
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