AESG Announces a New Tool Integration Program

AESG Announces a New Tool to Robot Integration Program

integrated tool program

AESG is offering a new service program to assist in setting up legacy automation in legacy capital equipment.

AESG supports legacy SCARA OEM’s, most of whom have been out of business for years now. During their heyday, each SCARA OEM had their own specific set of commands by which to control the robot, pre-aligner or stage. Of this broad range of commands, their customers, the tool OEM’s, would down select specific commands for their particular application. Traditionally the tool OEM would be the first line of defense in any troubleshooting, but especially when setting up the robot, pre-aligner or stage as these components would set the tool throughput.

A slow teach would mean a less than committed tool throughput. Since many tools warranty structure and performance metrics are based on tool throughput, a slower taught robot would hit the tool OEM in the pocketbook. The fact that the tool OEM’s would not inform the SCARA OEM of the commands they used was secondary to this throughput concern. It just makes a difficult situation all the more problematic.

Since machine tools are designed to perform longer than it takes to pay for them, lots of these legacy tools are still being used today. Unfortunately, most of the tribal knowledge of how a particular tool OEM set up a particular SCARA OEM’s components has been lost to the mists of time. Fortunately for you, AESG has picked up some of this lost knowledge. While we cannot commit to teach the tool for process qualification, we have extensive expertise with the SCARA OEM’s we support and how some of the tool OEM’s use these components. As such, we can assist you in setting up a legacy SCARA or stage in a legacy machine tool. Just ask!

The Evolution of SCARA Robots in the Semiconductor Capital Equipment Industry

The Evolution of SCARA Robots in the Semiconductor Capital Equipment Industry

Back in the late 1970’s, semiconductor fabrication tool automation was in its infancy. As the industry evolved in the 1980’s, and the die count per wafer went up, SCARA robots were introduced to repeatably place the wafer in the same angular/rotational orientation at each process and inspection step. These atmospheric SCARA robots drove the single chamber process tool market up to the 6” wafer size. As the industry transitioned to 8” wafers, the desire to get more wafer throughput out of the same floor space drove the transition to cluster tools that processed several wafers at once.

This transition, from single chamber tools to cluster tools, drove the introduction of vacuum transport modules that would enable the unprocessed wafers to be safely loaded into process modules without exposing the wafers to the impurities found in the atmospheric pressure regime of the clean room. Moving the wafers from load locks, that would provide for cycling between atmospheric and vacuum pressure regimes, to the process modules all while in a vacuum environment lead to the introduction of vacuum SCARA robots.

The main difference between an atmospheric SCARA and a vacuum SCARA is the seal around the z-column that enables high pressure on one side of the seal and low pressure on the other while the robot strokes up and down in the z-direction as well as rotating the arm set. Most of these seals are ferrofluidic seals, or magnetic liquid rotary seals, that utilize ferrofluids contained by permanent magnets. Crudely, one would start with an atmospheric SCARA then add a ferrofluidic seal around the z-column near the top mounting plate (the interface between atmospheric pressure and the vacuum region) and presto you have a vacuum SCARA.

ferrofluidic seals
Ferrofluidic Seal

As the market further evolved into the 300mm/12” wafer size, single chamber tools effectively died out sequestering atmospheric SCARA robots to the EFEM and vacuum SCARA’s in the cluster tools. This divergence impacted the value proposition of the atmospheric SCARA as it operated similarly in all EFEM’s for any give process or inspection/metrology toolset. Radically different that the origins of atmospheric SCARA’s that were tailored to a specific capex toolset and thus provided a competitive advantage for the tool OEM. This dummying down of the atmospheric SCARA effectively commoditized this robot and this lead to significant downsizing in the number of atmospheric SCARA OEM’s that supported semicapex.

In the meantime, vacuum SCARA’s evolved as the processing under vacuum complexity increased. While they had limited z-strokes (maybe up to 35mm or so) their handling requirements increased significantly. They became part of the process tool world in that they could negatively impact yields by allowing contaminates to fall onto the end effector of the robot and then instigate cross-contamination between chambers, the transport module, cooling stations and the load locks. And let’s not forget speed, since wafers per hour were the reason for cluster tools coming into being, the vacuum SCARA’s were required to move extremely quickly.

Back in the 2010 timeframe, tool OEM’s wanted the industry to transition to 450mm (18”) wafers. This was primarily because the average sales price for a new 450mm tool was significantly higher than a 300mm tool and this would help the tool OEM’s grow their business to unheard of heights. So the big American tooling OEM’s went to Washington D.C. to convince the federal government to allow for mergers previously prohibited. This would enable the tool OEM’s to achieve the critical mass necessary to launch 450mm toolsets.

But while 450mm failed, the consolidation was never undone. So while competition defined the early days of semiconductor capex, oligarchies defined the new world of capex. This brutal consolation further hammered the SCARA supply chain as with few customers, and few opportunities to define a defensible  value proposition that would drive revenue and profits, the vacuum SCARA’s OEM’s started to die out just as the atmospheric SCARA’s died out 20 years previously.

The push towards 450mm was partially driven by the tooling OEM’s desire to move on from the smaller wafer sizes and only sell new equipment. And never upgrade older tools. But the risk is massive in having an entire ASIC on built on one wafer. The industry can’t accommodate reworks of work in process because so many of the process steps, once done, can’t be undone. So while the tooling OEM’s were focused on 450mm, the semiconductor fabs were focused on using their existing infrastructure of 200mm and 300mm factories.

This gave rise to “chiplets” that are basically ASIC building blocks that enable folks like Qualcomm to build their 5G Snapdragon chipsets at five different semiconductor fabs: three die’s are made at 200mm factories and two dies are made on 300mm tooling. Qualcomm has four of the chips sent to the fifth factory where all five chips are “die stacked” into a package that is then put into a leadframe that will then be encapsulated and given wires that can be then integrated into the end use device.

This radical change in the market place has extended the life of the older tooling that used single chamber tools and atmospheric SCARA’s. Unfortunately, most of the SCARA OEM’s that were used in these tools are no longer in business.  

Understanding the history behind the SCARA enables our AESG techs to better understand how to repair the new models and help to develop innovative ways to continue to repair and rebuild the equipment used today in the Semiconductor industry. Let us know how we can help with your SCARAs today!

AESG Builds Quality In to Keep Legacy Capital Equipment Performing Profitably

AESG Builds Quality In to keep Legacy Capital Equipment performing profitably.

Our Founder, Frank Vanella, His Vision And Our Company

My vision for AESG was to create an employee-centric durable goods refurbishment company that draws both from my humble roots and my career in the semiconductor front end that will enable our customers to keep their machine tools performing for decades. I was raised, literally, in an automobile scrap yard run by my parents and staffed by my siblings and me. We were from humble origins and believed passionately in the American dream: that through prayer, hard work, and community, we could both achieve our dreams and serve others. We did not come by these values naturally, nor out of a book, but from my parents. As such, I want to share these dreams. Starting with our employees and the customers we serve.

At AESG, we have an ISO9001-certified rebuild facility, a rarity in the USA. This means we have processes and procedures that enable us to scale with our customers, driving continuous improvement in all we do to delight our customers. The Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm (SCARA) Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) we support are mainly out of business and were small unit producers in their day, and as such, maintaining these durable goods is not for the faint of heart. I have learned a lot from textbooks and industry experts about processes, metrology, and inspection tools that form the backbone of semiconductor front-end processing. But it was my parents who taught me to persevere, to soldier on, so that I may serve others.

Fortunately, I was able to begin my career in semiconductor fabrication at one of the most significant plants in the world: IBM in San Jose, CA, back in the 1970s. Yes, we may have had some clean room pterodactyls performing inter-tool automation, but we cranked out high-yield hard drives and other devices. IBM was the definition of vertical integration, and this played into my days in my father’s automobile scrap yard:

  1. Don’t say you can’t until you’ve tried your hardest.
  2. Don’t outsource what you can insource.
  3. Be an Ameri-can, not an Ameri-can’t. 

After many years of low particle blood, sweat, and tears at IBM, I moved into semiconductor capital equipment tool automation. First at Equipe, then PRI, then Brooks, and finally at Newport-Kensington. These SCARA suppliers all had a wonderfully American approach to tool automation: very competitive and very customer-focused. I love them all and see the good in each. Yes, they have their challenges. But because I try not to judge, I’ve created a company culture that rewards teamwork regardless of who your parents were, regardless of how much or little you knew of these SCARAs before you started, and regardless of the SCARA OEM. We focus on producing the highest quality rebuilt SCARA because We Build Quality In as we service these automation components. They are not simply binning out good and bad at the end. 

AESG team working on robotic repair

We’ve tailored in-process quality checks to the specific robot design, usually, inspection steps the OEMs never performed when they built them originally. We have specific R, theta, and z-axis checks to ensure that regardless of the electro-mechanical design, they perform their absolute best. We track all serial numbers of all the components we’ve ever touched, and each time a component comes in our facility, we check our history with this serial number and make recommendations to our customers based upon our history with this unit. 

I’ve saved the best for last: our people. I’m located in Virginia Beach, VA, because of the infinite skilled labor pool our armed services provide for this area. This is counterintuitive for semiconductor capital equipment because most companies want employees with a certain pedigree, education, and work experience. Our team leverages all the same skills our armed services do: high personal standards and an even higher commitment to working as a team to achieve a common goal. Our team looks like America, all different shapes, sizes, and colors because those are the same good souls that sacrifice for the American ideals of a democratic republic: we all participate, we all share in ownership, and we’re accountable to ourselves and those we serve. 

If you are looking for efficiency, reliability, and quality built-in, let us know. We are dedicated to providing the highest quality diagnostic and testing techniques for automated equipment repair and refurbishment.

Repair vs. Rebuild: Making the Right Choice for Semiconductor Industry Robots

Repair vs Rebuild: Making the Right Choice for Semiconductor Industry Robots

The semiconductor industry heavily relies on automation to streamline its manufacturing processes and achieve high levels of efficiency. Robots and pre-aligners (and their associated controller) are crucial in these operations, handling repetitive tasks and ensuring precision in complex assemblies. However, due to the nature of the work the on/off duty cycle and the multitude of moving parts involved, these robots will inevitably encounter issues and require repairs. In such situations, semiconductor manufacturers face a critical decision to repair or rebuild their malfunctioning robots and pre-aligners. In this article, we will explore the factors that influence this decision and the benefits of opting for repair services from experienced professionals in the field, ensuring the same orientation in each and every tool.

The Cost Factor: Repair vs Rebuild

When a robot or pre-aligner fails, the immediate reaction might be to consider a replacement. However, this approach can be extremely expensive, especially when dealing with machines integrated with obsolete components. Repair or refurbishment becomes the more practical and cost-effective option in such cases. By choosing rebuild services, semiconductor manufacturers keep these qualified tools up and available and this can extend the lifespan of their existing equipment and avoid the hefty investment required for purchasing new tools, robots, and pre-aligners.

The Importance of Experience

Selecting the right repair service provider is crucial for ensuring the successful restoration of robots and pre-aligners. Experience should be a critical factor in this decision, encompassing the corporate history of the service and maintenance company and the expertise of its personnel. Working with professionals with extensive experience in repairing and maintaining robots and pre-aligners specific to the semiconductor industry is essential. Moreover, these technicians should possess up-to-date qualifications and certifications to ensure that the repair work is performed precisely and by industry standards.

AESG: Your Trusted Partner in Robot and Pre-Aligner Repair

AESG is widely recognized as an industry leader in the semiconductor robotics repair sector. Starting with repairing and maintaining laser wafer marking systems, AESG expanded its services to include robots and pre-aligners as these technologies have evolved. When fixing these crucial components, AESG techs undergo comprehensive training and are qualified to deliver exceptional results. Equipped with a wide range of spare parts, we offer a range of services tailored to meet the specific needs of semiconductor manufacturers.

Functional Rebuild: Restoring Performance and Reliability

One option provided by AESG is a straightforward, functional repair focusing on addressing the specific issues affecting the robot or pre-aligner, typically referred to as FIX ON FAIL. Our techs identify and fix the root cause of the problem, replacing any failed parts and recalibrating the machine to restore its optimal functionality. This approach ensures that the repaired robot or pre-aligner performs reliably and meets the required performance standards.

Complete Refurbishment: Restoring Like-New Condition

Another option worth considering is a complete refurbishment of the robots and pre-aligners. This service goes beyond functional repair, aiming to bring the machines as close to their original condition. AESG’s full refurbishment process includes replacing worn-out components, conducting a comprehensive inspection and cleaning, and applying any necessary upgrades. The result is a rejuvenated robot or pre-aligner that functions like new at a fraction of the cost of replacing the entire equipment.

The Advantages of AESG’s Approach

By choosing AESG for robot and pre-aligner maintenance and repair needs, semiconductor manufacturers gain access to various benefits that contribute to the seamless operation of their production processes. These advantages include:
  • Experience: AESG’s extensive experience in the semiconductor industry ensures that its team possesses the knowledge and skills required to handle complex repairs and maintenance tasks.
  • Expertise: AESG specializes in robot and pre-aligner repairs, staying up-to-date with the latest technological advancements to provide clients with cutting-edge solutions.
  • Efficiency: With a dedicated team of qualified technicians, AESG offers quick response times, minimizing downtime and ensuring production processes continue at peak efficiency.
  • Total Cost of Ownership: Improving asset utilization that improves financial performance.
When faced with repairing or replacing robots and pre-aligners in the semiconductor industry, semiconductor manufacturers can benefit significantly from choosing experienced repair service providers like AESG. By opting for repair services, manufacturers can extend the lifespan of their equipment, avoid costly replacements, and ensure that their production processes continue to operate at peak efficiency. With AESG’s expertise and dedication to quality, semiconductor manufacturers can trust that their repairs will be handled by skilled professionals, delivering exceptional results and enabling them to focus on their core business operations.
For a custom-made service offering tailored to meet your specific needs, please get in touch with us.

ISO9001 Recertified!

Make sure to stop by Booth #162 at SEMICON WEST! At SEMICON West, industry professionals will be converging and together, “Building a Path Forward.”

SEMICON West 2023

Make sure to stop by Booth #162 at SEMICON WEST! At SEMICON West, industry professionals will be converging and together, “Building a Path Forward.”

AESG ISO9001 Certified

AESG obtained the ISO 9001:2015 certification of its Quality Management System for the design, development, and delivery of advisory services to U.S. Federal Government Clients.