At H.C. Starck Solutions, we are currently celebrating 100 years since our company first charted a course to become the world’s leading supplier of refractory metals like tantalum (Ta). Consistently expanding through investment in new global premises and leading technologies, we are now confidently one of the foremost metallurgical experts on the planet.
We have been successful in embedding ourselves in true growth markets with critical intermediate products throughout the years. As a result, we now supply core technologies for growing, multi-billion dollar industries that were barely in their infancy when H.C. Starck was first founded. Tantalum sputtering targets for the booming semiconductor industry, for instance, are a key part of our product catalog.
A Brief History of our Semiconductor Expertise
Valued in excess of $400 billion, the global semiconductor market is the primary driving force for technological growth. It directly fuels billions of dollars in the electronics market, forming the backbone of most consumer devices, numerous sensing arrays, various energy generation technologies, and much more.
Silicon chip manufacturing is the core technology of the semiconductor market where integrated circuits – or ICs – are engineered with feature sizes on the nanoscale. Optimising the conduction of electrons between nanometre-scale features and components is key. Copper is often used in logic chips and DRAMs for this very purpose, however, copper atoms are active and will diffuse into materials under electrical fields.
Unlike copper (Cu), tantalum atoms do not diffuse into materials under applied electrical fields. This process, known as electromigration, could introduce flaws into ICs which would contribute to product failure. High-purity tantalum and tantalum nitrides can be grown on top of copper layers to prevent electromigration of copper atoms and preserve the long-term reliability of semiconductor devices. This is typically carried out via physical vapor deposition (PVD), where vapor-phase material is selectively deposited on a silicon substrate under vacuum conditions.
We entered into the sputtering target trade in 1999, shortly after copper was first introduced into the manufacturing process. Our expertise in materials research and development – focussing on tantalum and other refractory metals – gave us a unique opportunity to impact semiconductor manufacturing in a tangible way. In the early 2000s, we became one of the first qualified suppliers of tantalum blanks for sputtering targets.
Our Tantalum Sputtering Targets Today
Our stature in the semiconductor industry has only grown since those early successes. Through numerous product development cycles and experimentation, we have generated sputter targets with various purities, grain size, and crystallographic texture to meet changing customer demands. With state of the art high-vacuum electron-beam melting (HV-EBM) and thermomechanical processing, we can now precisely control tantalum impurity levels to the sub-parts-per million (ppm) range and grain sizes on the order of micrometers (μm).
Working with worldwide strategic partners, our tantalum sputtering targets are used in all major semiconductor processing chains, providing best-in-class performance and lowest cost of ownership. Each year, we produce and ship thousands of tantalum blanks, capturing about half of the total worldwide demands.