|Compared with customer or jointly-developed technologies, re-engineered supplier technologies present a greater challenge in the development of consumable products. Usually customers approach FALA with a need to tailor a technology that had been created by one of their suppliers for a specific application. Seldom do we have all the original process specifications available to make the needed improvements that will increase the customers' Return On Investment in the original technology.
"It's always a challenge to improve someone else's technology when you don't have the original blueprint," said Frank Buffa, vice president of FALA Manufacturing. "But that is our core strength. FALA is focused on developing the technology enhancements that bring the best cost-of ownership benefit to our customers."
FALA's typical enhancements involve considerable finesse, the pushing and improving of base supplier technology while not violating any subtle processing parameters that could lead to unforeseen process failures. Part of that finesse involves good partnerships with the OEMs.
"FALA is more interested in partnering with suppliers and customers to advance base technology than beating them as a low cost provider," said Frank Falatyn, FALA president & CEO. "Any good shop can reverse-engineer a part to make it cheaper. The trick is also to make it better -- and that works best in partnership with the OEM" said Falatyn.
FALA walks a fine line when it comes to manufacturing consumables. Many of our customers are the major semiconductor equipment manufacturers, and they, too, make and sell consumables. However, from a business perspective, they often can't justify customizing their technology for a one-time customer application. It's more cost effective for large OEM companies and semiconductor fabs to concentrate on their core business, while partnering with FALA to solve niche problems, which, when solved, can make their good products great.
Niche solutions require consistent attention to the fine details of manufacturing. For example, they may require an improved manufacturing method that combines close tolerance machining with inherently imprecise or difficult-to-apply specialty coatings and platings. "It's the integration of fine precision fabrication with highly-engineered specialty processes and intricate electronics that defines Outsourced Manufacturing here at FALA" said Falatyn.
Two examples of Consumable Products that fall under Re-engineered Supplier Technologies are Ceramic Hybrid Bearings and Low Particle Alignment Head Frames.
Ceramic Hybrid Bearings
FALA's most popular consumable product line, Ceramic Hybrid Bearings, solved a critical customer maintenance problem in a supplier's semiconductor processing machine. (See bearing products section -- clickable). When IBM needed to improve the performance of its vacuum robotic handler bearings in Applied Materials Inc. Endura TM PVD and Centura TM Etching machines, the semiconductor manufacturing division came to FALA.
The problem was that existing OEM bearings lasted only 6 months between preventative maintenance (PM) changes, causing frequent machine shutdowns and a costly loss in productivity. Yet bearing replacements are unavoidable. As bearings wear out, machine performance degrades, leading to higher particle contamination and lower product yields. Given that today's semiconductor industry is moving toward smaller and smaller chip line circuitry, the control and mitigation of particle contamination is ever more critical.
To address this need, FALA devised a proprietary manufacturing process, using precision machining and specialty coatings, to produce a new type of product - shielded, Ceramic Hybrid Bearings. They are the only bearings in the industry guaranteed to last two years. FALA is now the supplier of choice of these consumable shielded bearings for every major leading semiconductor fab in the world.
Alignment Sealing Head
Another example of FALA's Outsourced Manufacturing business in consumable products is our Alignment Sealing Head, which holds wafers precisely in position inside the wafer cleaning machine used in semiconductor chip manufacturing.
Our customer, IBM, had purchased a wafer cleaning machine from a large semiconductor equipment supplier to address a very specific cleaning application. The machine's cleaning technology worked as required, but life expectancy and maintenance costs were unacceptable.
The machine's maintenance weakness stemmed from a failure of its Alignment Sealing Head, made of a titanium substrate base plate sealed by a protective Halar plastic coating. The Alignment Sealing Head ensures that the aggressive physical force and highly corrosive chemicals used during wafer cleaning only contact certain areas of the wafer. It also prevents the cleaning solution from escaping the wafer chamber and then corroding critical, precise alignment surfaces in the cleaning machine.
The Halar plastic coating is a critical component of the sealing and alignment function of the Alignment Sealing Head and must remain intact. However, IBM's wafer cleaning machine suffered a high degree of Halar coating failures. The aggressive cleaning process unintentionally caused the premature de-lamination of the critical Halar coating, which then led to wafer misalignment and inadequate wafer cleaning.
IBM asked FALA to improve the operation of the machine so it would withstand the abusive cleaning environment while securing the precise alignment of the wafer. FALA developed a process to improve the application and quality of the coating while fitting the wafer accurately within the Alignment Sealing Head. FALA established the critical specifications and application procedures required to improve the tight bonding of the Halar coating to a titanium substrate base plate.
After developing prototypes with various coating suppliers, FALA selected a best-of-breed provider to be the controlled specialty coating subcontractor. FALA then designed and built special coating fixtures to improve the reliability and accuracy of the coating application. After applying the coating, FALA precisely re-fabricated all alignment and mounting features to re-establish all accurate work surfaces.
FALA found a way to apply the coating accurately and then re-fabricate it to render the product less susceptible to de-lamination. This precise re-fabrication process succeeded in extending the life of the previously damaged Alignment Sealing Heads.
The end result: Our customer's wafer cleaning machine runs longer and performs more accurately with a lower cost of ownership.