Cimetrix debuting latest tool control product

by Debra Vogler, Senior Technology Editor, Solid State Technology

July 3, 2008 – Cimetrix will be releasing its CIMControlFramework at SEMICON West, but Axcelis Technologies, its joint development partner, already has the product commercialized for use in its Integra RS tool. The new software addresses the increasing demand for more efficient 300mm substrate handling and factory automation at the tool level, as well as the need for more and higher quality data. These objectives are currently the focal point of such semiconductor industry initiatives as 300mm Prime, Engineering Equipment Capabilities (EEC), Predictive and Preventive Maintenance (PPM) and Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE).

Under the JDP that began in 2006, Cimetrix owns the resulting IP and can sell it to the industry. Axcelis gets the advantage of having all the upgrades as they occur (though Cimetrix is not obligated to deliver upgrades early), and will not have to pay for additional development that is based on Cimetrix’ end users’ input, though the company does pay the customary annual service support fee. The agreement between Cimetrix and Axcelis does not prevent Axcelis from using CIMControlFramework on its other products.

Describing the new software, Cimetrix’ EVP of sales and marketing, Dave Faulkner, told SST that it’s an embedded data router that can “grab” all the data available within a process tool (see figure) and make it accessible in a variety of ways — to the supervisory controller, the user interface, the factory hosts, any engineering clients in the fab, or even load it into a database. The software follows a service-oriented architecture, which, according to Faulkner, is the latest evolution of modular software. “Every module is standalone and loosely coupled to every other module,” he explained. “Any one of these modules can be replaced, upgraded, and enhanced, without affecting the reliability of the rest of the system.”

Two attributes of the new product stand out: 1) it uses the latest Microsoft .NET technology, and 2) the source code is made available to tool suppliers. “The software industry is getting better at using the building-block approach,” said Faulkner, “and this approach is highly available in the .NET technology.” He noted that Microsoft has made great strides in the last three years with its programming environment, going from a simple programming language such as C++, to its current Visual Studio, which manages the whole lifecycle development of software.

Michael Baker, cluster tool control practice manager at Cimetrix, added that writing code typically makes up ~25%-30% of a software project, and Microsoft’s upgrade of its programming language to C # “has raised the efficiency of programmers tremendously.” Equipment software designed ~5 years ago or so probably didn’t have an architecture allowing access to large amounts of data, he explained, and adding that capability would be difficult. “These systems were designed to separate the data from the higher levels of the system — and now we’re seeing that fabs want as much data as possible from the lowest bits of the hardware.” He explained that older software designs that tried to isolate the low level hardware from the high-level control are preventing that information from being passed efficiently up the chain.

Aside from the programming environment, the CIMControlFramework’s other notable feature is that it provides support throughout the life cycle by using simulation to test software upgrades and revisions, instead of risking a tool by directly trying out new software on it. — D.V.

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