Industrial Utility Efficiency

Vacuum Controls Help Semiconductor Manufacturer Ensure Uptime and Efficiency

In the world of semiconductor manufacturing, it’s an understatement to say peak productivity and uptime are top priorities. It’s why a leading semiconductor equipment manufacturer in Silicon Valley, California, relies on EnergAir’s Metacentre and Airmaster modular control technology to automate the vacuum system at its plant – and in turn – significantly minimize the risks of unplanned downtime, while also ensuring peak operational efficiencies.


Audit Identifies Vacuum Control, Power Issues

At the high-tech facility, EnergAir’s local team of compressed air and vacuum specialists were called in to evaluate the existing vacuum system and recommend improvements. Used predominantly for in-house wafer inspection, the system is comprised of two separate installations.

The first vacuum system is compressed of four 25 horsepower (hp) Busch vacuum pumps each rated to provide 460-490 ACFM of suction. The second system includes four 25-hp units, each of which is designed to provide 494 ACFM of suction. The system also includes a vacuum receiver. Vacuum is used to move silicon wafers during the inspection process. It also conveys small components including resistors, capacitors and inductors, during the production process. Some of the components are as small as a grain of sand. Additionally, the plant uses the system to check particulate count in its cleanroom. 

Vacuum pumps

Shown are two 25 horsepower vacuum pumps used to move silicon wafers during the inspection process at the semiconductor plant.

As a first step, the EnergAir team conducted a detailed audit of each vacuum system and its components. The audit and discussions with plant decision-makers identified key issues to address, leading to recommendations for control improvements.

The audit identified the use of outdated machine controls. Specifically, lead-lag changing was a manual process, and the vacuum units were being controlled electro-mechanically. There were also no oil temperature monitoring, or service timing devices in place. Additionally, all of the vacuum units were being fed by one common power supply, making it impossible to isolate individual vacuum pumps when maintenance and repairs needed to be carried out.

For this semiconductor operation, proactive measures were essential to ensure system uptime. Any unscheduled downtime of the vacuum system can cost several hundred thousand dollars. As such, changes to the existing system were necessary to minimize risks in production and ensure it would continue to achieve 100 percent uptime.


Control Technologies Installed

The team recommended the installation of EnergAir’s Metacentre and Airmaster technologies to automate the vacuum system, align output closely with plant demand, and allow individual units to be isolated without affecting other parts of the installation.

Metacentre consists a series of vacuum system control products, as well as integration solutions used to control most vacuum pump types. Browser-hosted visual software complements Metacentre and provides access locally, or remotely using PC or tablet. The control products fully integrate vacuum equipment for better overall system management. The Metacentre control system works with individual Airmaster controllers to optimize the performance of individual pumps. 

At Silicon Valley plant, the team installed Metacentre V4 master controllers to allow vacuum to be maintained within a very narrow band to optimize system efficiency. In the new system, each of the four vacuum units operate between 26 and 28 ” HgV. The pumps are now only brought on-stream when required. When not needed, they are simply shut off to match air output with demand. 

Energair master controller

EnergAir’s Metacentre V4 master controller fully integrates vacuum equipment for better overall system management.

The new vacuum system also includes a separate power supply and Airmaster S1 controller for each vacuum unit to offer complete control and the ability to turn off each unit while leaving others running on-stream. The new system closely monitors the system and provides key data, such as motor overload, oil temperature, number of starts per hour, downtime and other key performance indicators or evaluation. The controllers also monitor oil temperature of each pump, which was of particular importance at the facility since cotton from the area’s high concentration of cottonwood trees can potentially contaminate system coolers causing oil temperature to rise dramatically.

Airmaster Controls

The advanced, yet user-friendly controls of Airmaster help optimize vacuum pump performance.

Plant staff can use the Metacentre TX web interface using a PC or tablet to remotely check system performance and vacuum distribution at any time, and analyze data. It also automatically sends emails to the decision-makers to inform the team when servicing is due. Additionally, individual service timers alert staff whenever vacuum pumps are due for maintenance. 


Automatically Rotated Vacuum Pumps

The Metacentre V4 controller now rotates the use of the four vacuum units using a proprietary algorithm. As such, the workload of the vacuums is evenly shared to help maximize the working life of each unit. In addition, maintenance and repairs can be carried out on any unit without the need for the rest of the system to be out of operation.

Using the technology has provided unprecedented visibility of the vacuum system throughout every shift. It has also contributed to greater operating efficiencies. Additionally, it has significantly reduced the risk of us losing production as a result of vacuum system downtime. If any one vacuum unit fails the others will keep on running. The Metacentre system will also send decision-makers an email alert about the defective unit.

Another key advantage of an advanced control system is the need for ongoing monitoring of the vacuum system and a more efficient method of routine maintenance. Now, the plant no longer needs to change the sequence of vacuum units manually, or keep track of the running hours of each unit, since the system will send the staff an e-mail when maintenance is due on any unit.

The bottom line for the semiconductor manufacturer is the ability to optimize the vacuum system for peak efficiencies, and at the same time, address maintenance issues before they turn into problems. It’s another important step in the plant’s ongoing efforts to achieve critical production goals.


About EnergAir

EnergAir designs solutions to fully integrate compressed air or vacuum equipment, allowing users to optimize performance and manage key aspects of the system. For more information about EnergAir, contact Nicolas De Deken, Chief Operating Officer, Playa Vista, California; email; tel: 855-289-9317.

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