Thin film deposition systems are famously long-lived. With proper maintenance, instruments can last for decades! That said, with the ever-advancing march of technology, most systems eventually fall short of demands for higher throughput or improved yield. When that occurs, the deposition system will generally require a major overhaul in order to accommodate new modes of automation and advanced computer controls. When upgrades are not possible or feasible, it may be time to replace the entire system. The primary concern during such a change is maintaining consistency of performance between the old and new systems. It is imperative that films produced from the new deposition tool match that of the previous tool.
To help you navigate the tool replacement process, below we have outlined five tips for transferring an established process from one deposition system to another.
Tips for Successful Deposition Tool Replacement
- Identify critical performance metrics.
Determine in advance what fundamental measurements and processes are critical indicators of success or failure. Generally speaking, these build up from small measurements, such as deposition thickness and area, build up to more complex functional testing. It is much simpler to troubleshoot an instrument hand-off by first confirming the most basic operations before attempting to compare the coated device performance.
- Utilize technician expertise.
No one knows the performance quirks of your instruments better than the people who use them every day. Make sure they play a significant role in planning the technology transfer. Technicians are best qualified to identify key operational risks that might not be obvious from a higher-level engineering viewpoint.
- Establish a calibration crossover plan.
Map out the test and measurement process in precise detail based on the performance metrics and technician feedback. Create a timeline that captures the sequence of activities, where and when those activities need to occur, and critical milestones that indicate when a portion of the project is finished. Budget a bit of extra time for when “Murphy’s Law” creates an unexpected complication!
- Prepare for the move.
Installing deposition equipment is complicated even if porting the process is not an issue. The facility checklist in our “Choosing a Thin Film Deposition System” whitepaper shares more advice and easily guides you through the installation prep. For example, did you measure the dimensions of your doors, hallways, elevator and loading dock?
- Execute the transfer.
If you have completed the above preparations, you will be in excellent condition to accomplish a successful changeover between deposition systems when it comes time to upgrade. The culmination of the project is your final process verification. Carry out the sequence of tests, measurements, and calibrations that you laid out in step 1, where you identified critical performance metrics. The most important thing is to stay on schedule. Some activities cannot be started until certain milestones have been met, and some activities must be completed within certain windows of time when the resources are available. A small delay early on can disrupt the entire process. Good project management will prevent that from occurring.
Following these five tips will ensure a smooth transfer to a new thin film deposition system. The transition can be tricky, even for very similar equipment. However, the effort will pay off in sustained, or even improved, performance. Keep up with system maintenance and, with any luck, you'll have a system that lives on for another 20 years!
Considering upgrading to a new tool? Want advice on how to extend the life of your current equipment?
Contact us to discuss how we can develop a long-lived deposition system that is customized to your particular needs and interests.