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What Does a Semiconductor Engineer Do?

By C. Webb
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Semiconductor engineers are basically electronic engineers working in the semiconductor field. These devices conduct heat between an insulator and a conductor. They are essential parts of electronic equipment and play a large part in computer operations. Semiconductor engineers are responsible for designing, testing, and implementing semiconductors.

Most semiconductor positions require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in engineering, with a focus on computer engineering. Minoring in software engineering, information systems, and information technology can also be helpful in launching a semiconductor engineer career. Interning with a semiconductor company, while still in a university, can help develop networking relationships.

While semiconductor engineers are responsible for all phases of design and testing of semiconductors, an emphasis is often placed on wafer bonding and etching. Conduction pathways are etched into silicone wafers, using a water-etching process. The pathways are repeated on the entire wafer surface, much like the pattern on a quilt, and then the wafer is cut into pieces that separate the pathways. Each piece of wafer is then used in the building of semiconductors. Semiconductor engineers are responsible for designing the proper pathways, depending on customer needs, and improving the wafer-etching process to constantly better quality and quantities.

Most semiconductor engineers work in manufacturing. Many semiconductor manufacturing plants are environmentally clean, to prevent contamination of the wafers during the manufacturing process. Semiconductor engineers must be willing to work in clean environments and at times to wear anti-contamination gear when entering the manufacturing area of the plant. Depending on the exact needs of the company, a semiconductor engineer might work with computer-generated designing, blueprint development, or testing of actual semiconductor parts, including the etching machines. While the etching machines are designed by someone other than the semiconductor engineers, the engineers are responsible for choosing machine settings and troubleshooting any problems.

The engineer is often the driving force behind changes in procedures while developing projects. Specifications for each project are designed by the semiconductor engineer and then followed by factory workers in the plant. When quality control begins seeing too many errors, the semiconductor engineer re-examines the entire process and makes adjustments to eliminate the errors. In addition, semiconductor engineers are expected to maintain records, write reports, and communicate with department heads about the process.

Communication with equipment manufacturers is often required of semiconductor engineers. When the wafer-etching process does not operate properly, the semiconductor engineer must be able to convey where the process is going wrong so the equipment manufacturer can troubleshoot the issue and send out correct parts or machines. Analytical skills as well as being able to examine the big picture to find solutions are essential duties of semiconductor engineers.

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