The shortage of semiconductors is causing considerable problems in various industries at the moment. Especially in the current global chip shortage, automation in semiconductor manufacturing has become even more important. The fact that cleanroom automation is booming can also be confirmed by SCIO Automation, an European provider of tailored and patented intra-cleanroom logistics chain solutions worldwide.
The SCIO group company Schiller began developing its first cleanroom solution over 10 years ago. Markus Haider, Head of Cleanroom Intralogistics, was involved from the very beginning, and he vividly remembers how the first order came about:
"During a project with a company in Bavaria, where we were planning to implement HMI systems for vertical drilling rigs for geothermal applications, we worked alongside a former employee of a semiconductor company. The semiconductor company became aware of us as the project was making great progress, and he recommended us to his old employer as a result. They contacted us to see if we would be able to build a high-bay warehouse for an ISO Class 5 cleanroom. We agreed and started our cleanroom journey, which was successful in the long term, but definitely wasn't easy at first, and we suffered a few setbacks along the way."
In the meantime, Schiller has established another mainstay alongside classic automation technology with its particle-reduced storage solutions and conveyor systems for cleanrooms in the semiconductor and electronics industries. Currently, Schiller has a unique portfolio of systems including software for automating semiconductor factories in the 200mm range, which gives us an attractive USP.
As Markus Haider said, things were extremely challenging for the company at the very beginning, as developing solutions for the cleanroom sector has very specific challenges in store.
1st challenge: cleanliness
When it comes to automating for cleanrooms, the first priority is to avoid particles that may be generated, for example, due to component abrasion. To prevent this, there are ISO classes that must be adhered to. These describe the maximum number of particles that are allowed to be in the air; in class 5, for example, 3520 particles, 0.5 microns in diameter, are permitted per cubic meter of air. Compared to this, you could say that fresh mountain air at an altitude of 2000 m is "polluted", as it has around 30 million particles within the same parameters. Schiller's products are so effective that they can even be operated in ISO Class 3 systems with only 35 particles per cubic meter of air, which is the cleanest room that a human being is permitted to be in.
2nd challenge: space
Space in a cleanroom is enormously expensive due to their exceptionally stringent requirements. That's why when Schiller's develops new innovations, the team is not only focused on cleanliness, but also on creating solutions that save as much space as possible. In addition, the systems must be able to be combined and seamlessly integrated into existing environments. Schiller uses its products to create open and flexible cleanroom solutions that can grow along with the client.
3rd challenge: needing to have their own cleanroom for development and commissioning
the automated systems must be manufactured in a cleanroom to ensure that they can be used later on, for example, in a fab - which is otherwise known as a fabrication plant for semiconductors. A cleanroom is available to allow sensitive development and manufacturing process take place. Even the smallest particles in the air may, for example, cause damage to the wafers that are used to subsequently manufacture microchips. That’s why the warehouse and conveyor systems are developed and commissioned in the company’s own cleanroom at its headquarters in Osterhofen. Another reason for this is that all systems are put through their paces by clients prior to delivery, so they need to be fully assembled and fully functional. The number of particles generated when operating the system is measured here, as well as keeping a close eye on software and system functionality through the entire process.
Schiller supplies stockers (storage systems) and transport systems for 200 mm and 300 mm carriers, as well as for load carriers and products that have been customized in line with client requirements. Meanwhile, complete production lines can be automated with the product innovations from the cleanroom segment.
If you would like to find out more about this, we recommend subscribing to "Schiller Cleanroom Talk" on YouTube.