Narrow, passivated metal lines are generally used as interconnects in VLSI microcircuits at the chip level. In most metals, high electric current densities lead to a mass flow of constituent atoms accompanying the current of electrons. Electromigration (EM) has long been considered an important reliability concern in the semiconductor industry because the current-induced atomic fluxes can give rise to void formation and open circuits, or hillock formation and short circuits between nearby interconnects. The problem is exacerbated because of the continued trend of increasing the density of the devices on the chip. This means that the line widths of the interconnects have been reduced and are now in the submicron range; correspondingly, the current densities have increased and may be as high as 106 A/cm2. Recently, thermal-stress-induced damage in metallizations has also been recognized as an important reliability concern, perhaps of the same gravity as EM. Thermal stresses in the metallizations are caused by the different thermal expansion coefficients of the metal and the substrate. Stress-induced void and hillock formation are the main causes of in terconnect failures before service. More recently, concern has been growing that thermal stresses or thermal-stress-induced voids may enhance the subsequent electromigration damage during the service life of the microchips.
For simplicity, this article addresses the case of pure aluminum metallizations on oxidized silicon substrates. However, much of what is said applies to other metal-rigid substrate systems as well, most notably to various aluminum and copper-based metallizations on ceramic substrates. The present treatment emphasizes void formation and growth in the metallizations during nd after cooldown from elevated temperatures, or those due to electromigration in service or testing conditions. Many of the mechanisms we explain are also applicable to hillock formation under compressive stresses, whether due to EM or thermal cycles during manufacturing.