Size Matters When Selecting Sensors for Semiconductor Equipment

As an industry account manager focusing on the semiconductor industry, I’ve come to realize that when it comes to sensors used in semiconductor production equipment, size definitely matters. A semiconductor manufacturing facility, better known as a fab or foundry, can cost thousands of dollars per square foot to construct, not to mention the cost to maintain the facility. Therefore, manufacturers of equipment used to produce semiconductors are under pressure to reduce the footprint of their machines. As the equipment becomes more compact, it becomes more difficult to incorporate optical sensors that are needed for precise object detection.

A self-contained optical sensor that includes the optics along with the required electronics is often much too large. There simply isn’t enough space for mounting in the area where the object is to be detected. An alternative method is to use a remote amplifier containing the electronics with a fiber optic cable leading to the point of detection where the light beam is focused on the target. However, there are some drawbacks to this method that can be difficult to overcome. There are instances where the fiber optic cable is too large and not flexible enough to be routed through the equipment. Also, a tighter beam pattern is often required in semiconductor equipment for precise positioning. To provide a tighter beam pattern with fiber optics, it is necessary to add additional lenses. These lenses increase the size, complexity and cost of the sensor.

1The most effective way to overcome the limitations of fiber optic sensors is to use very small sensor heads connected to a remote amplifier by electric cables, as opposed to fiber optic cables. The photoelectric sensor heads are exceptionally small, and because the cables are extremely flexible they can easily accommodate tight bends. Therefore, these micro-optic photoelectric sensors are particularly well suited for use in semiconductor equipment. The extremely small beam angles and sharply defined light spots are ideal for the precise positioning required for producing semiconductors. No supplementary lensing is required.

2An excellent example of how this micro-optic sensor technology is utilized in semiconductor equipment is for precision wafer detection needed for automated wafer handling. At the end of a robot arm used for wafer handling there is a very thin end-effector known as a blade. By utilizing a very tightly controlled and focused light spot, the sensor can detect wafers just a few μm thick with extreme precision.

3The combination of extremely small optical sensor heads with an external processor unit (amplifier) connected via highly flexible cables is a configuration that is ideal for use in semiconductor production equipment.

 

Precision Pneumatic Cylinder Sensing

When referring to pneumatic cylinders, we are seeing a need for reduced cylinder and sensor sizes. This is becoming a requirement in many medical, semiconductor, packaging, and machine tool applications due to space constraints and where low mass is needed throughout the assembly process.

These miniature cylinder applications are typically implemented into light-to-medium duty applications with lower air pressures with the main focus being precision sensing Image 2with maximum repeatability. For example, in many semiconductor applications, the details
and tolerances are much tighter and more controlled than say, a muffler manufacturer that uses much more robust equipment with slower cycle times. In some cases, manufacturing facilities will have several smaller sub-assemblies that feed into the main assembly line. These sub-assemblies can have several miniature pneumatic cylinders as part of the process. Another key advantage miniature cylinders offer is quieter operation due to lower air pressures, making the work place much safer for the machine operators and maintenance technicians. With projected growth in medical and semiconductor markets, there will certainly be a major need for miniature assembly processes including cylinders, solenoids, and actuators used with miniature sensors.

One commonality with miniature cylinders is they require the reliable wear-free position detection available from magnetic field sensors. These sensors are miniature in size, however Image 1offer the same reliable technology as the full-size sensors commonly used in larger assemblies. Miniature magnetic field sensors play a key role as speed, precision, and weight all come into play. The sensors are integrated into these small assemblies with the same importance as the cylinder itself. Highly accurate switching points with high precision and high repeatability are mandatory requirements for such assembly processes.

To learn more about miniature magnetic field sensors visit www.balluff.com.

Sensor Technology Drivers in Semiconductor Manufacturing

As in many industries, the degree of automation in semiconductor manufacturing is increasing.  The reasons for this are the same as in any industry striving to automate: increase throughput, reduce labor, and improve quality.

However, semiconductor manufacturing presents some unique technical challenges that differentiate it from conventional manufacturing in other industries.  Some of the factors driving sensor technology in automated semiconductor manufacturing include:

  • Small size.  The clean room environment, necessary for semiconductor processing, is very expensive per square foot.  There is constant pressure to reduce the size of the machines, and the sensors that go into them.
    • In fact, the high cost of clean room space is another motivator for reducing the role of humans in the process.  Not only do humans take up a lot of physical space, they represent about 75% of the particle contaminant sources in the clean room.
  • Advanced Process Control (APC).   APC is a method for shortening the time frame between collection of SPC (Statistical Process Control) data and the application of process corrections.  This means that rather than time-consuming external metrology, there is a drive for so-called “in-situ” metrology. There is a need to measure process variables in real-time or near-real time in order to close the APC loop in a shorter time frame.

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Industrial Sensing Fundamentals – Back to the Basics: NPN vs PNP

What’s the difference and why should anyone care? If you’re confused by the terms PNP and NPN, then hopefully this post will shed some light on the differences between the two.  In the context of this post, they refer to the construction of a sensor’s transistor and whether it has a p-type or n-type semiconductor.

When it comes to wiring a sensor, you can think of the “N” as standing for “Negative” and the “P” as standing for “Positive”. With respect to sensors, an NPN device is one that can switch the negative side of the circuit while a PNP device switches the positive side.

The next question to ask is, what direction do you want the current to flow?

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