The vacuum chamber technology is the heart and soul of most semiconductor fabrication types, as well as metrology tools. Most tool manufacturers outsource the fabrication of their vacuum systems or custom chambers as a single piece from machine shops.
The bad news is that this will leave the subsequent assembly of high-level chambers, as well as integration, squarely on most manufacturers’ shoulders. Along with the assembly comes the burden of tool maintenance, facility space, staffing, overhead cost, and other complications.
While it may be pretty hard to find vertically integrated manufacturers that can produce chambers and perform higher-level assemblies and integrations, it can be of excellent value to equipment manufacturers and, in most cases, solve cost, staffing, and time issues common to in-house productions. When looked at objectively, the question can quickly shift from, “Should companies outsource their high-level assemblies?” to, “What is considered the best way to choose high-level assemblers?”
Vertically integrated manufacturers can integrate vacuum chamber techs needed to provide high-level assemblies that can help them simplify supply chains and streamline factory floors. The benefits of this process are pretty clear, but when investigating sources, there are other vital aspects people need to look for in contact manufacturers or CMs.
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Modern machine tool techs
To be able to produce vacuum chamber systems reasonably, the contract manufacturer needs to have a five-axis machine tool of the right envelope. To get the most out of this tool, CMs should also have the right Computer-Aided Machining software.
Experience and skill in vacuum tech
It takes some time for organizations to develop the skill and expertise involved in welding, machining, testing, and cleaning to produce leak-free and quality chambers that can be used to the required base pressure, as well as pass leak testing customs.
Manufacturers need to have an excellent applied and theoretical understanding of the vacuum tech and be able to follow certain procedures, making sure that the proper cleaning, manufacturing, testing, and handling of these chambers. Metrology equipment like coordinate measuring tools and laser trackers are very important in performing inspections efficiently and accurately. This technology should be the core competency of CMs.
CMs should have clean rooms, environmentally controlled areas, segregated and non-ferrous welding areas, and necessary tools like residual gas analyzers, helium, leak testers, and pumps to test and produce vacuum chambers to certain specifications effectively.
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Experience in electro-mechanical integration and assembly
To provide a high-level assembly that includes frames, electro-mechanical assemblies, and enclosures like robotics modules, Equipment Front End Modules, Front Opening Unified Pod unloaders and loaders, mechatronics, opt mechanics, and load locks, CMs cannot be merely fabrication or machine ship. Ideally, these companies are true instrument or machinery manufacturers with tons of knowledge when it comes to finishing and fits, clean room assembly, torque requirements, precision motion, and alignment.
Sophisticated supply chain management
Since vertically-integrated CMs can’t be competitive on every high-level assembly component, they should be able to efficiently and effectively procure fabricated and machined parts from third-party suppliers to provide the best bang for the client. It needs to be done efficiently and effectively and leverage areas that have comparative advantages for the kinds of quantities and parts needed. It is also crucial that supply chains are organized and actively managed from a performance and quality standpoint.
Strong and stable quality system
CMs should have written quality policies and should be able to demonstrate and show their apps through auditing. International Organization for Standardization 9001 is an excellent standard to look for when finding a supplier. If this standard is appropriately followed, it can make sure that the right product is supplied to customers on a consistent basis.
It will also show that the supplier follows a path of steady and continual improvement. A vacuum system should work precisely and produce a high UHV vacuum chamber, as well as assemblies without issues to certain specifications. Suppliers need to have strong and stable procedures and systems in place.
Good engineering capabilities
It is imperative that CMs have deep mechanical, electrical, and, if applicable, controls or software engineering skills. Even if CMs are producing products customized for their clients, engineering skills allow for VE/VA and DFM activities that can be pretty effective in driving out the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS).
Manufacturers are also well-positioned with their skills, building tools, and equipment to help them co-develop modern and next-gen equipment, perform documentation and drawing maintenance activities, and execute sophisticated test protocols.