In this paper we describe a significantly improved methodology that brings advanced computer image processing and design-overlay techniques to better address the challenges posed by today’s leading technology nodes. Specifically, new software techniques allow the computer to analyze Review SEM images in detail, to overlay those images with reference design to detect every defect that might be present in all regions of interest within the overlaid reference design (including several classes of defects that human operators will typically miss), to obtain the exact defect location on design, to compare all defective patterns thus detected against a library of known patterns, and to classify all defective patterns as either new or known. By applying the computer to these tasks, we automate the entire process from defective pattern identification to pattern classification with high precision, and we perform this operation en masse during R & D, ramp, and volume production.
By adopting the methodology, whenever a specific weak pattern is identified, we are able to run a series of characterization operations to ultimately arrive at the root cause. These characterization operations can include (a) searching all pre-existing Review SEM images for the presence of the specific weak pattern to determine whether there is any spatial (within die or within wafer) or temporal (within any particular date range, before or after a mask revision, etc.) correlation and (b) understanding the failure rate of the specific weak pattern to prioritize the urgency of the problem, (c) comparing the weak pattern against an OPC (Optical Procimity Correction) Verification report or a PWQ (Process Window Qualification)/FEM (Focus Exposure Matrix) result to assess the likelihood of it being a litho-sensitive pattern, etc. After resolving the specific weak pattern, we will categorize it as known pattern, and the engineer will move forward with discovering new weak patterns.