Thirty years ago, in the early days of the global semiconductor industry, Edwards introduced an innovation that greatly helped that industry’s manufacturers -- the dry vacuum pump. Cleanliness is crucial when producing computer chips, and the dry pump provided a significantly cleaner manufacturing environment than the old wet pumps, which could leak oil and also be a fire hazard. From that point on in the mid-1980s, the industry did not look back - since then every semiconductor factory in the world uses dry pumps.
The iXM vaciuum pump from Edwards of Atlas Copco.
Today, Edwards, part of Atlas Copco’s Vacuum Solutions division since early 2014, continues to be the world’s dry pump pioneer. In October 2014 Edwards introduced the first phase of its iXM range, which is proving to be a success for its innovative features.The top-quality pump, with patented technology and design, was quickly embraced by two of Edwards’ key customers – Samsung, which is using the pumps to make semiconductors for its smartphones and other electronic equipment, and SK Hynix, one of the world’s largest memory chip producers. Both manufacturers now use the iXM1200 and iXM1800 dry pumps in their newest Korean factories.
Customer reaction has been extremely positive so far,” said Andy Mann, Senior Product Manager – Semiconductor Dry Pumps at Edwards. “Customers qualified the pump early on, before we went into production, which meant that when we started production we were off to a flying start, producing quite large volumes straight away. Customer feedback has then continued to be positive.
While the main purpose of the iXM is for semiconductor manufacturing, it also has potential to be of use for manufacturing of flat panel displays and solar panels.
Vacuum dry pumps are instrumental in the semiconductor manufacturing process. In the semiconductor production, gases are put into a chamber to react and form a film on the surface of a silicon wafer. The function of the pump is to provide reliable low pressure in the chamber to facilitate the forming of that film. The pumps are hard workers, and the stakes are high.
“These dry pumps have a very difficult life,” Mann said. “They’re running 24 hours a day, seven days week. If a dry pump fails it probably means the customer’s tool will be down and will not be producing wafers, which sometimes can cost the customer hundreds of thousands of dollars an hour in downtime. They’re critical pieces of equipment.”
The iXM offers customers many benefits. Its low energy consumption is best in class, and it is also top notch when it comes to corrosion resistance. A common byproduct of the manufacturing process is flourine gas, which is highly corrosive and can reduce the pump’s lifetime. The iXM has been designed to tackle flourine corrosion. This has doubled the pump’s lifetime; it can now work 24/7 for at least three years before requiring service. Another way the iXM helps customers is its small physical footprint. Semiconductor factories cost billions of dollars to build, so the customers are keen on minimizing the equipment size. A typical factory can have hundreds of dry pumps installed, so size matters.
In 2016, Edwards will complete the iXM range with two additional variants; the iXM600 and the iXM200. It will then expand its marketing efforts to additional customers.
Edwards’ new, innovative iXM product range demonstrates the company’s continued leadership in dry vacuum pump technology,” said Geert Follens, President of the Vacuum Solutions division.
“Through collaborative problem solving between our teams in UK and Korea, we’ve developed a best-in-class pump that will enable us to not only retain but also grow our market share in this highly competitive sector. The customer response to iXM has been extremely positive and as a result we have shipped many hundreds of units since launching in October 2014.