No dodging this bullet


I don’t often use this page to highlight articles running in the issue-that’s why we have a cover and table of contents. But, I’m making an exception this month because the Special Report addresses a growing and particularly important trend in contamination control, especially right now for the microelectronics industry, but one that, with the evolution of nanotechnology, will ultimately impact many other user industries as well.

The subject is tool-level contamination control. While cleanroom and minienvironment designers are already facing the challenges of molecular-level contamination, this level of control alone will clearly not suffice to effectively deal with the problem. The reason: the process tools themselves are not protected from collecting, generating and containing product-deadly contaminants.

It’s a complex problem that will ultimately require more than one single solution. Basically though, to keep molecular contaminants from entering a tool’s process environment, the ambient cleanroom or minienvironment must either be kept totally free of contaminants, or filtration systems must be put in place at the tool. In either case, this begs the question of how process materials and product are to be brought into the tool and removed from it without compromising one or both environments. Perhaps it raises the more challenging question of who is going be responsible for the solution. Should it be the cleanroom or minienvironment designer, the cleanroom user, or the tool vendor?

There will no doubt be a lot of debate, finger-pointing, and hard negotiation before the final answer is reached, but nevertheless, that final answer will inevitably be that the problem must be solved at the source of the problem, the tool vendor. It will not be acceptable for a process tool vendor to require that the user provide a specified cleanliness level in order to guarantee the proper operation of their equipment-not when the tool itself is a principle contributor to contamination levels.

The sooner that tool vendors accept this inevitability, the sooner affordable, working solutions can be brought to the market. These solutions will require process tools to incorporate tightly integrated contamination control and cleaning systems, rigid operational protocols, and highly sensitive and accurate monitoring instruments. Tool vendors should begin working immediately and intensively with the contamination control industry toward developing and implementing these capabilities in their systems. Better to bite the bullet now than be taken out by it later.

John Haystead,