Working small-scale can have its own particular set of challenges and demands reliable integration.
Just because something is small, doesn’t mean it’s simple. Just ask AMST, a manufacturer of technology and equipment used to fabricate tiny microelectromechanical devices (MEMS) found in smartphones, computers, airbag detection and stability control systems in automobiles and semiconductors. Working at this precision level comes with a particular set of challenges.
Keeping MEMS from Sticking
For example, AMST invented molecular vapor deposition (MVD®), a unique technology platform that applies protective ultra-thin films on applications with miniscule feature sizes. Such films help ensure surface forces don’t unduly create wear or “stiction” (permanent adhesion) that can interfere with movement. These films, which need to be applied with great precision, are essential to proper functioning of digital displays, motion sensors, microphones and accelerometers.
AMST’s flagship MVD300 product relies on integration of several systems to conduct the film application process. Systems include a programmable logic controller (PLC) for process control, an industrial PC running an operator interface (Human Machine Interface, or HMI), and the equipment front-end module (EFEM).
EFEMs are particularly important in semiconductor manufacturing automation: They shuffle silicon wafers or quartz photo-masks between ultra-clean storage carriers and a variety of processing, measurement and testing systems. The machine’s built-in control system manages all these steps.
Integrating these different systems and getting them to work together as one cohesive system didn’t come easily for AMST. The existing PLC-based control system it was using and related custom communication protocol made it difficult to customize an application. AMST’s customers needed fast EFEM reconfiguration to run different coating jobs, and in general simply needed a lot of flexibility in their EFEM workflows.
AMST decided the EFEM’s control system needed to be replaced with an alternative that could meet its communications and integration challenges. The company turned to the Opto 22 SNAP PAC control system to interface the separate systems in the MVD300, as well as provide system-wide control and monitoring capabilities.
This move not only solved the system integration challenges, but it also expanded networking capabilities and I/O options.