When we think of semiconductor shipping, we think small – those tiny little chips that are the brains within our computers, our phones, our refrigerators, and even our cars.
But that chip-making supply chain actually starts with huge, highly sensitive manufacturing equipment delivered to the foundries that create the semiconductor wafers from which chips are made. This article looks at that initial shipment in the chip-making journey.
Big Equipment, Big Risk
Just how big are these shipments of capital equipment to foundries?
The average shipment is anywhere from 18 to 30 crates, weighing 26 to 40 tons.
This machinery is not only large and heavy, but highly delicate. It’s very sensitive to any bumps or tilting or dust as it makes its way to production environments that are operating room clean – and then some.
The business consequences are high for these equipment shipments. Foundry production schedules presume equipment delivery schedules will be met. If they are not, millions of dollars of revenue are at stake for every day of lost production.
For those responsible for the semiconductor shipping process, shipping is, first and foremost, about avoiding risk.
“There is a huge global thirst for semiconductor products and these capital equipment shipments are where it all starts,” says Bryan Dunn,” Branch Manager of Dimerco’s Boston office, which regularly ships large semiconductor equipment from New England to Asian manufacturing sites.
“There is enormous pressure to get machines there fast, on time, and in perfect working order,” he says. “That’s why companies tend to work with semiconductor shipping specialists. You’re not going to entrust that $5 to $7 million dollar shipment to just anyone.”
Anatomy of a Semiconductor Machinery Shipment
Let’s break down the steps in a semiconductor shipping project and the keys to success.
Booking the space
The urgency of these shipments requires international airfreight services. Given the sensitive nature of the cargo, you want to minimize touch points so, ideally, you want a direct flight with no transfers. You’ll want to partner with a freight forwarder that has strong carrier relationships to secure space on direct flights. That often means working with a main airline of the destination country, like China Airlines for Taiwan, for example.
Just like freight forwarders are not interchangeable when it comes to semiconductor shipping, neither are airlines.
“Service levels vary airline to airline,” says Dunn. “Over time, you learn which airlines you can trust. We’re expecting precise predictable service from a carrier that understands the critical nature of the freight they are handling.”
The first leg: trucking to the origin airport
Your choice of trucking partner can be as important as your air carrier. While the manufacturers themselves will carefully crate equipment for maximum protection, truckers must have the right equipment and knowledge to maintain the integrity of the cargo from pickup to airline terminal.
Typically, semiconductor shipping requires carriers with 53-foot, double-axle vehicles with trailers that are engineered for heavy hauls. Often customers will require rear impact guards (RIG bars) that lock to the dock when trailers back in. This is to eliminate movement as 20,000+-pound equipment is loaded.
A trucker that regularly transports semiconductor equipment will understand the importance of small details like tarp covering on trailer floors in an industry where a speck of dust can create problems.
Paperwork and customs clearance
The last thing you want when shipping large semiconductor manufacturing equipment are in-transit delays. That means paperwork must be completed fully and accurately to ensure acceptance by the airline and clearance through customs.
Final documentation from the shipper often is not received by the freight forwarder until the cargo is loaded and trucks have left. An experienced forwarder must quickly prepare the house airway bill, master airway bill, cargo manifest, authorized IAC form, and other regulatory documents needed. These can be sent to the driver electronically to be printed en-route or at the airline terminal.
Urgent Shipment of Dangerous Goods to Philippines Prevents Line-down Situation for Semiconductor Company
Shipping dangerous goods by air is a challenge. Throw in a requirement for in-transit temperatures of – 18 Celsius and it created a complex shipping situation that threatened to halt production at a major Philippines manufacturing facility for one of the world’s leading semiconductor parts manufacturers. Dimerco managed a Shanghai-to-Hong Kong-to Philippines shipping project that met deadlines and kept production lines flowing. Read the full case study.
In-flight shipment integrity
Shipping crates are carefully monitored in transit for any sudden shock or tilting of the product that could negatively impact machine performance. Monitoring devices include shock watches for any impacts and “tip and tell” indicators for tilting.
If the monitors are tripped, the customer is notified and may send someone to the destination airport to do a physical examination. When it arrives at the destination, products will be uncrated and carefully tested to rule out in-transit damage.
Since Asia is the center of semiconductor manufacturing, much of this equipment ships to Taiwan, Mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia or another Southeast Asian country. The local destination office of the freight forwarder will carefully monitor arrival time with the airline and be in constant communication with the customer on pickup time.
This communication is critical since customers will often arrange their own trucking service from the airport. If not, the forwarders destination office must have these strong trucking partnerships in place. Arrangements are typically made with the carriers and the airport for trucks to drive out onto the tarmac for plane side loading of trucks once cargo is signed off. This is done to speed transit time and to minimize handling.
Time is measured in minutes, not hours, during these transcontinental semiconductor shipping projects. A team of people is literally waiting at the foundry to receive, uncrate, and install the equipment within a cleanroom environment.
What to Look for in a Freight Forwarder for Semiconductor Shipping
Choosing a freight forwarder for shipping large semiconductor manufacturing equipment is a little like choosing a surgeon for delicate brain or heart surgery. You want an experienced specialist who’s done it many times and can minimize the inherent risks. Check out
What should semiconductor companies look for in a forwarder?
- Experience shipping semiconductor capital equipment– not just over months or years, but decades.
- Strong relationships with airlines to secure direct flight capacity
- Global presence, with owned offices (no agents) at origin and destination hubs
- Integrated door-to-door coordination, including customs brokerage services
- Experience in project logistics, including crating, rigging, and detailed shipment planning. Check out this short summary of how Dimerco managed a 40-case, 25,500 kg shipment of sensitive imaging technology from Tokyo, Japan to Xiamen, China.
- Systems that allow you to monitor shipment status online 24/7
- Strong logistics know-how across Asia, where most semiconductor manufacturing occurs
Even the world’s largest 3PLs lack in-depth semiconductor shipping experience. Only a small group of forwarders truly specialize in semiconductor shipping.
Do you need an expert to manage your next semiconductor shipping project?
Dimerco Express Group has served the semiconductor industry since 1977 and has nearly 350 active semiconductor industry customers. With offices at all global semiconductor supply chain hubs, Dimerco manages frequent foundry shipments from some of the world’s largest semiconductor companies. To discuss your need for semiconductor logistics support, contact Dimerco today to speak to a semiconductor shipping specialist.