In the world of mechatronics, the largest market segment for application of mechatronic components is the semiconductor industry. The 2013 Semicon show is an important industry gathering for all aspects of semiconductor manufacturing. New industry initiatives like 450mm wafer and smaller feature geometries fuel the continuous improvement that continue to drive cost and technology performance.
Among the recent consumer electronics are the new generation hand held devices, you can hardly call them phones anymore, with quad core processors, gigs of ram and incredible communications bandwidth. It’s hard to think of your phone rivaling the top laptop for computing power, but that is where the state of market is.
To create machinery that makes the next generation processors every aspect of controls and mechatronics technology is pushed to the limit. Sensor technology, actuator technology and control technology related to the processing of semiconductors from raw silicon ingot to assembly of chips onto a printed circuit board are among the most challenging applications out there. For many aspiring small companies interested in marketing a new mechatronic product, if you’re not engaged in some aspect of the semiconductor industry, you are probably not a serious motion control supplier. At the same time it is a challenging market for large suppliers as well.
The part that scares most suppliers off is the reputation for pushing the boundaries of physics when it comes to small feature size in the lithography side of semiconductor processing. As the geometry of features on silicon shrinks to wavelengths of ultraviolet light, it becomes very difficult to manage processes, particularly position. Notwithstanding the challenges in lithography, there are many other applications like chip test, chip labeling and packaging, where accuracy can be in the thousandth of an inch range and are practical for a wide range of suppliers.
Exotic position feedback technologies are generally the key component for repeatable, high accuracy motion in the semiconductor industry. Traditionally companies like Renishaw have been significant suppliers with leading edge position technology using tape scale and retro-reflective optical sensors to reach .1 micron or 4 millionths of an inch accuracy. And as the industry has continued to get smaller, Renishaw, as well as other suppliers, keep up. Nanometer precision at 39 billionths of an inch is routinely available and Heidenhain demonstrated one of its newest feedback devices with 39 picometer resolution. I assume this is trillionths of an inch. I admit to having difficulty keeping up.
At the end of the day, market success is about innovation. Innovation is like change, its constant.