Microchips, the brains for almost everything — smartphones, computers, television, refrigerators, automobiles, aircraft — are in a global shortage.
Most of those microchips come from foreign manufacturers. However, the largest U.S.-based supplier of prime grade silicon wafers, wafer reclaim and other specialty products in the $400 billion semiconductor industry is Pure Wafer, with its home plant in Prescott.
Originally founded in 1998 by Rockwood Exall, in 2007 the Prescott plant was acquired by Pure Wafer and is now part of Pure Wafer Inc. The Prescott facility is considered the most advanced reclaimer in the nation. The company has another fabrication plant in San Jose, California.
Collectively, the two facilities are considered the largest silicon wafer reclaimers, especially of 300 mm reclaim chips, in the United States.
S. Mark Borowicz, Pure Wafer president and CEO, and Ardy Sidhwa, Pure Wafer vice president of operations at the Prescott plant, explained that Pure Wafer reclaims thousands of wafers a month of all sizes.
The company has more than 1,600 customers national and international — as well as defense industry and government clients.
Pure Wafer personnel develop and supply prime-grade silicon wafers, wafer reclaim, thin film deposition solutions, wafer management and wafer management software, as well as service and parts cleaning at both the Prescott and San Jose facilities. They are destined for the global semiconductor manufacturing industry.
Because the coronavirus pandemic disrupted worldwide supply chains for microchips, the shortage of semiconductors became international. Demand for Pure Wafer products intensified, especially among original equipment and integrated device manufacturers, Borowicz said.
Consequently, Pure Wafer executives and management are increasing their role in the reclaim market.
Pure Wafer highly secured, sanitized
The 44,000-square-foot building that houses Pure Wafer is highly secure. It is at 2575 Melville Road, east of the Prescott Regional Airport. No one enters the building without being thoroughly monitored. Employees wear protective gear — goggles, masks, hairnets, gloves, booties, and at times, a hood or jumpsuit.
They operate equipment worth millions of dollars through more than 700 necessary steps during the three months it takes to produce microchip wafers.
The most common are 300cc wafers (though they can drop down in size to about 3 inches in diameter). The almost 12-inch diameter shiny black silicon discs are about the size of a pizza. They move through sophisticated equipment that chemically coats, washes, polishes, etches and transforms the wafers into tiny brains that govern items part of our daily lives — appliances large and small to all forms of transportation.
Sidhwa asked: “What contemporary product is not in some way affected by microchip technology?”
Borowicz and Sidhwa, each with a Ph.D. in engineering and related computer science disciplines, said most people have no idea how microchips are created. Stringent and sanitary manufacturing processes must be maintained to keep chips from being contaminated.
“Our manufacturing facilities are far more sterile than you’ll find in most hospitals,” Borowicz said. “Air is cleaner, water absolutely purified, and floor and wall surfaces sterile. The Prescot plant will be 100% clean energy powered by 2050. It already is 50% clean energy powered and on track to be 65% clean energy — carbon free electricity — within the next nine years.
“Arizona Public Service currently supplies energy to power the plant until its conversion is complete.”
Expansion is inevitable
Borowicz said Pure Wafer will continue to expand at a growth rate yet undefined. The two recognize that manufacturing competition is international. Leading competitors are in Taiwan, Korea, Japan and China.
However, both men noted the U.S. Senate recently approved spending $250 million for science research and to help subsidize semiconductor manufacturing.
“We are well positioned to address reclaim growth as the No 1 reclaimer in the U.S.,” Borowicz said. “Our wafer reclaim market also is growing significantly worldwide.”
The 125 or so full-time employees at the Prescott plant keep Pure Water operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except for two winter holidays. Sidhwa said Pure Wafer “is seeking additional qualified workers, for we’re expanding. We have a need for labor right now.”
The company offers short and long-term insurance, disability plans, paid vacations, medical insurance, on-the-job training and rewarding advancement opportunities, Borowicz said.
Pure Wafer personnel are appreciative of support from the greater Prescott community, he said. “Prescott is one of the best places to be located.”
More details are available at purewafer.com/contact.