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Dicing of Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) Wafers with the Laser MicroJet

Challenges, Improvements and Safety Issues

Natalia M. Dushkina
Laboratory of Laser Applications, The Gem City Engineering Co.
Dayton, Ohio 45404, USA
Bernold Richerzhagen
Lausanne, CH 1015, Switzerland

GaAs wafers are fragile and brittle and, therefore, the well-developed dicing saw technique,
which is widely used in the silicon industry, faces serious problems when used for dicing GaAs
wafers. GaAs wafers are very sensitive to changes in the dicing tools and to drifts in the dicing
machinery, which makes the dicing difficult and causes some throughput issues. At the moment,
the most commonly used dicing saw process is dicing with a 30 m thick resinoid blade.
Although, these blades provide high-quality kerf, they are also very fragile and, thus, have a very
short life. Dicing of GaAs wafers with the Synova Laser MicroJet, which implements a YAGNd laser beam confined in a water jet, gives exciting and promising results for a general solution
of the problem. By means of the Laser MicroJet, wafers as thin as 25 m can be diced in streets
of 30 50 m width, providing kerf quality comparable to the dicing saw cut and in some cases
even better than the dicing saw. The Synova MicroJet increases the wafer throughput and
under certain conditions yields 100% throughput. As far as we are aware, the presented results
are the first for laser dicing of GaAs wafers, and, therefore, provoke a detailed discussion about
the safety of the new technique. In this paper, we address the advantages and optimization, as
well as safety issues of the laser water-jet dicing process for GaAs wafers.
Key words: laser cutting, water jet, Q-switched Nd:YAG laser, GaAs wafers
I. Introduction
Gallium Arsenide accounts for almost three quarters of the total production of compound
semiconductors for the last few years, according to a study of Kline&Company, Inc., a leading
business consulting firm serving the electronics, chemical and material industries worldwide.1
Compound semiconductors based on non-silicon wafers have rapidly invaded the semiconductor
market in the last decade, which was dominated for more than twenty years by silicon due to its
outstanding industrial mastery and low price. GaAs and GaAs-on-Si have significant market
potential, both as a substitution technology branch for manufacturing traditional GaAs devices
and as a new technology for monolithic integration of GaAs devices and silicon integrated
circuits. While logic and memory devices still rely on the well-established silicon technology,
the compound semiconductors made a strong impact on the fast-growing market of various
communications and photonics devices. As the device and system industries are rapidly

becoming a commercially active branch, the substrate production and wafer processing remains
mired in the research and development stage.
Compound semiconductors are more expensive: they are more fragile and brittle than silicon,
their melting points are lower, which compromise fabrication, and the basic boules, from which
the wafers are cut, are much smaller in diameter. Therefore, only $3 billion, of the $119 billion
of all produced integrated circuits in 2001, accounted for the compound semiconductors, while
the much bigger part still belongs to the silicon production. However, the market for compound
semiconductors expands rapidly due to the incessantly increasing demands for higher speed of
the wireless and broadband communication industry.
The growing impact of GaAs in the fields of fast telecommunications and photonics requires
sophisticated and less expensive methods for wafer preparation and processing. A particular
challenge is the precise and fast dicing of the fairly brittle GaAs wafers. Common saw methods
using resinoid blades are close to their limits and it is doubtful if these methods will meet the
future demands of flexibility, high cutting speed, production rate and yield. The employment of
the Synova Laser MicroJet, on the other hand, increases appreciably the flexibility of GaAs
wafer processing. Moreover, it allows arbitrary shape cutting, which is not possible with the
conventional saw techniques. However, manufacturing and processing of compound
semiconductors, and especially of GaAs, reveals serious industrial hygiene concerns due to
hazardous chemical compounds and/or byproducts found in certain processing equipment and
environment. In this paper we describe the advantages of the laser water-jet dicing process of
GaAs wafers, and discuss optimized cutting parameters, as well as safety issues of dicing with
the laser MicroJet.
II. The water jet guided laser technology
The water jet guided laser technology was invented and developed by one of the authors
(B.R.), who called it Laser MicroJet.2,3 The new technology has a huge market potential for
processing of semiconductor wafers and other materials with subtle thermal effect, high speed
and high kerf quality. In 1998, the concept was implemented in sophisticated laser cutting and
dicing machines produced by Synova SA in Switzerland.
The water-jet guided laser technology provides low-temperature laser dicing since the laser
beam is coupled in a fine, stable water-jet and conducted to the sample by means of total internal
reflection like in a glass fiber (Fig. 1). Thus, the water jet can be referred to as a fluid optical
waveguide of variable length. This feature allows a working distance of 2-3 inches and
eliminates the problems connected with focusing on the sample when using conventional lasers.
The diameter of the water jet is determined by the nozzle size, which might be 30, 50, 75, 100
and 150 m. The high laminarity of the water jet provides kerf width of the same size as the
water jet diameter. The relatively low pressure (10 - 30 MPa) of the tiny water jet results in a
negligible force on the sample; thus, there is no mechanical stress during cutting. This is of great
importance when dicing thin and brittle GaAs wafers, which might be as thin as 25 m. The
water jet itself does not cut the sample, but plays a trifold function in the cutting process: 1) it
guides the laser beam to the sample; 2) immediately cools the area of interaction of the laser light
with the matter, and 3) simultaneously cleans the residues from the kerf.

Fig. 1. The mechanism of wafer-dicing process. The water jet guides the laser beam as an
optical fiber.
Synova MicroJet machines use YAG:Nd lasers in pulsed and Q-switch working regimes
with wavelength at 1064 nm. Thus, the water jet guided laser is suited for processing of any
material that absorbs at this wavelength. Almost any metal, semiconductor and some ceramics
are suitable for the MicroJet cutting, the only limitation being the thickness. Unfortunately,
materials that are transparent for the YAG:Nd laser wavelength, like glass and oxide layers,
cannot be processed with high quality. To broaden the range of materials that might be cut with
the MicroJet, the team of Synova is developing a shorter wavelength laser system using the
frequency-doubled YAG laser with a wavelength of 532 nm.
III. Properties of GaAs important for the processing with MicroJet
The spectral transmission of GaAs is shown in Fig. 2. GaAs absorbs strongly the 1064 nm
wavelength of the YAG:Nd laser light, and is therefore an appropriate material for the MicroJet
applications. At temperatures higher than 250oC it starts to show the phenomenon of thermal
runaway: that is, the hotter it gets, the more the absorption increases. Its thermal conductivity of

Fig. 2. Transmission spectrum of GaAs.4

5x101 W/(m K) is more than 2 times that of ZnSe and its density of 5.31 kg/m3 is twice that of
silicon.4 The melting temperature of GaAs is 1238oC. If heated above 480 oC, it decomposes to
evolve arsenic vapor, which pressure reaches 1 atmosphere at the melting point.
IV. Challenges of dicing GaAs wafers
In a drive towards higher production volumes and lower costs, all major players of the GaAs
industry have moved or are moving to 6-inch manufacturing capability. Yield improvement is
one of the key performance indicators depending strongly on the quality of the wafer post-fab
processing since at that stage the wafer has the highest value. Dicing of GaAs wafers is not a
trivial process, because GaAs wafers are fragile and brittle. The most commonly dicing
techniques at the moment are the saw and scribe/break processes.
The saw process involves dicing wafers with 30 micron-thick resinoid blades. Although the
resinoid blades provide high-quality kerf, they also raise a lot of handling problems: because of
the thickness of the blade, they are very fragile and can easily break; they have very short life
(<1000 cuts) and should be changed after almost every one and a half wafers. Due to the blade
wear the quality is not consistent and processing speed is low, because blades often break in the
middle of a wafer and had to be changed. Therefore, the throughput is very slow and yield is
low. The resin-bonded diamond blades also present availability and cost problems due to their
complicated manufacturing process. Some of the handling and availability problems were
diminished with the newly developed Disco electroplated blades, with strength being their
biggest advantage over the resinoid blades.
The scribe/break process allows for the reduction of the street size over 50% increasing the
number of die per wafer. But this technique is limited to only large die (larger than 1 mm x
1mm), the scribes are unreliable, the operation is slow, and requires precise alignment and a
large amount of scrap wafers for quals. In 2001 Tyco Electronics reported a series of scribing
improvements that have increased the throughput and reduced the dicing time to 35
minute/wafer.5 More improvements still need to be made, especially concerning alignment and
software problems.
V. Cutting of GaAs wafers with Laser MicroJet
The laser MicroJet is free of the problems of conventional dicing, such as tool wear, handling
and availability, sudden and unpredictable break of the blades or mechanical stress on the
sample. A good alignment of the nozzle provides constant quality cutting during the whole
working day, as the life of the nozzle depends mainly on the operators experience to obtain a
good alignment, and can last for hundreds of working hours. Figures 3 - 6 show the capabilities
of the LDS-200 machine for cutting GaAs and GaAs/Ge wafers and Fig. 7 reveals some
problems and their solutions. Because of safety reasons, all GaAs and other considered toxic
materials sample tests are performed at GCE, Dayton, using the LDS machine with a Q-switch
laser or the Lasaq long pulse laser machine. The Q-switch laser can cut wafers with thickness 25
m 300 m, while the long pulse laser is used for wafers with thickness up to 1-2 mm. Table 1
shows typical parameters for Q-switch YAG:Nd laser MicroJet cutting of GaAs wafers.

Table 1. Typical Laser Parameters


YAG:Nd laser

Pulse energy
Energy reproducibility
Average power
Pulse length
Repetition rate

2.5 mJ
62 W
450 ns
25 kHz

Fig. 3. Omni-directional cutting with Laser MicroJet. The wafer is GaAs/Ge with thickness
0.007 (178 m), kerf width 75 m, speed 15 mm/s, die size 1mm x 2 mm, s-lines and circles
with radius of curvature 0.6 mm and 0.3 mm, respectively. The small dots on the wafer surface
are not residues from the cutting process, but features of the top layer. Nozzle with diameter of
75 m and water jet pressure of 200 bar were used.




Fig. 4. GaAs wafer with complex layered structure with thickness 147 m diced with two
passes with speed of 10 mm/s and 60 mm/s, respectively: a) and b) 50 m nozzle and water jet
pressure of 300 bar and c) 50 m nozzle (vertical line) and 75 m nozzle (horizontal line).




Fig. 5. Comparison of the front side quality with the saw. The wafers are GaAs/Ge with
thickness of 178 m and different top surfaces: a) saw cut with speed 1.8 mm/s, magnification 50
times; b) and c) laser MicroJet kerf with speed of 15 mm/s, magnification 400 times. The
wafers were not cleaned after cutting. No chipping or edge cracks are seen on b) and c). The
speed factor vs. saw is 8.3. Customers require speed factor more than 4 to consider replacement
of the existing saw equipment with the Laser MicroJet.

No backside metalization

With backside metalization

Fig. 6. Backside quality of GaAs/Ge wafer cut with the laser MicroJet: wafer thickness
0.007 (178 m), 75 m nozzle, water jet pressure 200 bar, speed 15 mm/s, magnification 400
times. Careful optimization of the dicing parameters is necessary in the case of backside
metalization in order to avoid chipping and usually requires lower speed.




Fig. 7. Some problems: a) If the starting point of the cut is on the wafer, the wafer might
crack following the crystalline directions. This problem can be avoided by starting the cut
outside of the wafer; b) and c) The cross section quality might be improved by reducing the pulse
energy, increasing the speed and the number of passes.

VI. GaAs and Safety

VI.1. GaAs test trial run
Pure compound GaAs contains 51.8 wt% arsenic, and is, therefore, considered a hazardous
material according to the standards of the Occupational Health & Safety Administration
(OSHA). GaAs is described in the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) as toxic by inhalation and
a possible human carcinogen. These facts raise a lot of concerns from an environmental, health
and safety standpoint in the GaAs industry. As a supplier of the new technology and machines to
the American market, we have to provide also information about the potential hazards when
working with the laser MicroJet, as well as of the measures that should be observed in order to
satisfy the high safety requests of OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Such
information was not available due to the innovation of the technique and the lack of experience
in processing hazardous materials with the laser MicroJet. The scanty information that we were
able to get from some GaAs manufacturers could not be applied directly due to the different
mechanism between the saw and the MicroJet cutting process.
Therefore, we performed a six-hour trial run of non-stop dicing of GaAs wafers. The goal of
the test was to clarify qualitatively and quantitatively the potential hazards in real working time.
Preparing the test, we considered eventual formation of ai-born arsenic and arsine gas, which is
acute poison, heavy contamination with arsenic of the wastewater and cutting chamber, as well
as some contamination of the working area around the machine, the level of which we could not
predict, and, therefore, we took the highest precaution measures for the safety of the operator bunny-suit, rubber gloves, a respirator with HEPA filter P100 and a PentAir adjustable flow
airline hood supplying fresh air from a breather box - air filtration box with carbon monoxide
During the test, the wastewater was entirely collected in a barrel that was afterwards disposed
as a hazardous material; the exhaust port of the machine was equipped with high efficiency
particulate air filter (HEPA); the ventilation system of the laser room was shut down and all
supply and exhaust openings in the room were sealed; access to the room was restricted. All
materials used during the test, as well as those for cleaning afterwards, were gathered in a
specially provided drum and disposed as solid hazardous. A representative of Ohio Bureau of
Workers Compensation, Division of Safety & Hygiene, surveyed the preparation and the trial
run itself.
VI.2. Sampling and Analysis Summary
Here we will discuss only briefly the GaAs trial run and the results of it, since the details will be
published soon in a separate paper.5 During the test we monitored:
1) the presence of arsine gas by three digital arsine gas detectors of electrochemical type
(model SEC 1500, manufactured by Sensor Electronics Corporation, Minneapolis, MN, with
sensitivity from 0 to 1000 PPB), set to three levels of arsine concentration - 10 PPB (low); 30
PPB (middle) and 40 PPB (high) with alarm warning for immediate danger (2001 TLV=50 PPB;
TLV stands for total lethal value).

2) the air-born arsenic was monitored by five detectors using pre-weighed 37-millimeter mixed
cellulose ester filters in-line with calibrated SKC Airchek 224-PCXR-4 high-flow air pumps
(method reference #NIOSH 7900). The samples were collected within the operators breathing
zone and in areas of worse case exposure: inside the exhaust chamber, on the top of the
machine and around it.
3) the contamination of the room by As and GaAs particles, as seven wipe samples were taken
from the cutting chamber, table next to the operator, and room floor and walls immediately after
the trial run was completed. Additional samples were taken after cleaning of the equipment and
room. The samples were analyzed at NATLSCO Laboratory.
4) the contamination of the wastewater, as a sample was taken every 15 minutes directly from
the tank of the machine. The samples were later analyzed by TestAmerica, Inc., using methods
EPA 200.8 and EPA 200.2.
5) personal safety - according to the MSDS, acute poisoning from GaAs is unlikely (NIOSH
#LW8800000), but high atmospheric concentrations may lead to systematic toxic effects of
arsenic poisoning. Therefore, the operator had a medical check for arsenic the day before and
after the GaAs trial run.
The results from the GaAs trial run, as well the Permissible Exposure Level (PEL) and
recommended precaution measures, are summarized in Table 2. As we expected, the
contamination of highest degree was of the wastewater, where the concentration of arsenic was
about 1000 times higher than the EPAs current maximum allowable amount. The highest
concentration of air-born arsenic and particles deposition, which was 13 and 30 times higher than
the OSHA cancer hazard, respectively, was measured inside the cutting chamber, while outside
the machine the contamination level was lower than the OSHA arsenic standard.
The fact that Arsine gas was not detected was not surprising for us. Since the laser beam is
coupled in a water jet and the laser pulses are very short (around 450 ns), the time for interaction
of the laser light with matter is very short, and immediately followed by the cooling effect of the
water. Therefore, one could suppose that the average temperature in the cutting spot is not high.
This hypothesis was proved by an experiment performed a week before the GaAs test. For its
purpose an infrared camera and a frame-grabbing system was used to monitor the cutting
process.5,7 The recorded temperature at any working conditions did not exceed 160 degrees
Celsius. The simultaneous action of laser beam and water jet keep the average temperature in the
cutting point far below the level of decomposition of the material and generation of arsine gas in
dangerous concentrations. The concentration of inorganic arsenic in the human body, determined
after the test, half of the limit considered as carcinogenic level.
In summary:
1. No arsine gas was detected inside and outside the cutting chamber;
2. The main concerns should be the wastewater - severe measures for filtering using arsenic
filter and proper recycling should be taken under consideration.
3. An exhaust system with high efficiency dust/mist filtration, arsenic filter or closed
recycling of the waste water, and wet post-cleaning of equipment and facility, are highly
recommended, as well as
4. Full personal protection rubber or plastic gloves, HEPA respiratory filter, glasses or
protective shield. The personnel working full 8-hour shifts on a daily basis should

perform a medical check and urine test every six months and keep tracking records of the
Table 2. Data for the Arsenic Concentration During the GaAs Test.
Arsine gas,


Air concentration
of Arsenic,

(OSHA cancer

concentration of
g /L
Presence of
Arsenic in the
human body,

50 (EPA)2

Wipe (surface)
sample results,


(see below)

Detected during the test

Not detected
(in the cutting chamber)
(outside the machine)
(in the waste water
without filtering)
(before the test)
(after the test)
(in the cutting chamber)
(table next to Synova


Exhaust system with

a particulate filter

Closed recycling
or Arsenic filter
Gloves and
a HEPA filter


VII. Conclusion and Acknowledgments

The results and conclusions from the GaAs test reveal that dicing of GaAs with the Laser
MicroJet might be a safe working process, if the precautionary measures recommended above
are meticulously observed. The new technology allows omni-directional and free-shape cutting
with radius of curvature as small as twice the nozzle diameter, i.e., 100 m 200 m. The laser
MicroJet provides dicing speed for GaAs wafers 7-10 times higher than the saw and a constant
burr- and chipping-free cutting quality for wafers without transparent oxide or photoresist layers
on the front or back wafer surfaces. The cutting parameters depend strongly on the wafer
structure, the front wafer surface material and the availability of backside metalization, should be
optimize for any series of wafers. More studies and improvements still need to be made in order
to meet the broad variety of requirements of our customers.

BEI (Biologic Exposure Index) defined by ACGIH (The American Conference of Governmental Industrial
EPAs current maximum allowable amount of Arsenic per liter of water (EPA = Environmental Protection
Not well defined. The generic method for establishing an acceptable surface residual level used by GaAs
manufacturers follows the scheme: Take the airborne standard (10 g/m3 for As); Use the average amount of air
inhaled during an 8-hour shift (10M3); Assume total retention of the inhaled material during the shift; Calculate the
effective dose (100 g for As); Apply this calculated value to the typical surface area that has been wiped (100 cm2);
The standard is then 100g/100m2 or 1 g/m2.

The authors thank the Management of The Gem City Engineering Co. for their support of the
Synova project and Prof. Rado Kovacevic from SMU for organizing the temperature monitoring
experiment! Special thanks are addressed to the customers, who provided the samples and
additional information!
1. Kline&Company, Inc., Little Falls, N.J., PRNewswire via Comptex, May 7, 2002.
2. Richerzhagen, B., B. Richerzhagen, "Development of a System for Transmission of Laser
Energy," Ph. D. Thesis work, EPFL, Switzerland, 1994.
3. B. Richerzhagen, G. Delacrtaz, R.P. Salath, "Complete Model to Simulate the Thermal
Defocusing of a Laser Beam Focused in Water," Optical Engineering, vol. 35, No. 7,
1996, 2058 2066.
4. Ready, J.F., (ed.), LIA Handbook of Laser Materials Processing, (1st ed.), Laser Institute
of America, Magnolia Publishing, Inc., 2001, p. 136.
5. Dushkina, N.M., Safety Concerns in Dicing of GaAs Wafers with Synova Laser
MicroJet, to be published.
6. Clansky, K.B., Ed. Suspect Chemical Sourcebook: A Guide to Industrial Chemicals
Covered Under Major Federal Regulatory and Advisory Programs. Roytech Publications,
Inc. Burlingame, CA. 1990. Update, p. xlvii; section 3, pp.86, 112-113.
7. The experiment was performed by M. Valant in the frame of a collaboration work with
Prof. Radovan Kovacevic, Director of SMU Research Center for Advanced
Manufacturing, Southern Methodist University, Richardson, Texas.

Meet the Authors

Natalia Dushkina is Ph.D. in Physics, author of more than 35 scientific papers and presentations
at international conferences in the areas of optical properties of semiconductors, optical methods
and laser applications. After five years research in Japan, Dr. Dushkina moved to Bowling Green
State University, Ohio. She is the Manager of the Laboratory of Laser Applications at The Gem
City Engineering Co., Dayton, OH, since August 2001.
Bernold Richerzhagen (born 1964 in Cologne, Germany) received his MSc in mechanics from
the Technical University of Aachen, Germany, and his PhD in micro-technology from the Swiss
Institute of Technology, Lausanne, Switzerland. He is the inventor of the water jet guided laser
technology. Since this invention in 1994, he has published a great number of articles on
combining laser and water jet for which he has received several awards. He is the CEO of
SYNOVA SA, Lausanne, an incorporated company manufacturing high precision laser
machines, which he has founded in 1997.