Customized sensor solutions for the semiconductor industry

Due to the increasing degree of automation in the manufacturing industry, the topic of ‘automation’ itself becomes more and more relevant on a global scale.
One core component for automated processes in manufacturing plants is sensor technology. Thousands of different “standard” sensor components are available to machines and plant manufacturers for this purpose. These can differ to a greater or lesser extent in terms of design or functionality.

With this enormous selection, shouldn’t there be the right component for all applications? Not necessarily. Standard or catalog products from sensor manufacturers are usually defined in such a way that they can serve the widest possible range of applications from different industries.
However, there are cases (more frequent in some industry segments than in others) where the requirements and/or environmental conditions are so special – not to say unique – that they are not met by any of the available components.
In this case, customized sensor solutions are needed.

Who needs customized sensor solutions?

In principle, it can happen in every industry segment that a specific, adapted sensor solution is required. However, it is noticeable that in a few segments this happens more often than average.
Especially in the development of machines for semiconductor production or in life science technology, customized solutions are needed more often. This includes adapted sensors, embedded image processing systems or RFID systems. For these adapted solutions, it is necessary to meet the requirements for special detection functions, confined installation space or particularly harsh environmental conditions (such as vacuum or aggressive media).
Examples can be found in the following blog posts: Application Spotlight: Wafer Mapping, Automation in Life Science, Specialized Sensors for Lab Automation, Fiber Optics vs. Micromote, Custom Sensors: Let your specs drive the design.
However, as mentioned earlier, there may also be applications in other industry segments where specific sensor solutions are needed.

The approach

A sensor and automation specialist like Balluff can help you here in such a way that your specifications determine the design. You then get a component that exactly meets your requirements in terms of, for example, connection, housing design and/or function.

The process is as simple as putting together some LEGO building blocks.
After checking your requirements – in the simplest and quickest case – a standard component can be used, which is then adapted to your specific needs. This can be, for example, an individually required cable length or connector type, an pre-set switching point or a special coating of the housing.

If, for example, aggressive media are prevalent in the sensor environment – which occurs in some processes in the manufacture of semiconductor chips – a sensor housing made of PTFE or PEEK may be required. Application examples for the mentioned solution can be seen in figures 1 to 3.

Figure 1: Level sensing with adapted capacitive sensors
Figure 2: Leakage detection in storage tanks with aggressive media
Figure 3: Customized sensor with PTFE housing

If the requirements cannot be solved with a simple modification – for example, if there is no standard product that provides the appropriate basic functionality – there are other options.
This then requires going one step further and turning to the basic component modules. These can, for example, be integrated into predefined installation spaces or even housing shapes designed by the customer.
A selection from hundreds of available modules can be combined in such a way that even the most demanding requirements can usually be met.

In Figures 4 and 5, you can see two exemplary sensor applications where the solution had to be adapted to the given vacuum environment.

Figure 4: Customized sensors for wafer positioning in the passage to the vacuum chamber
Figure 5: Presence check of a wafer in the process chamber

These are only exemplary excerpts of what is possible. Fields of application and solution approaches are almost unlimited. So if you have sensor, camera or RFID applications in the future for which you can’t seem to find suitable components, don’t hesitate to contact your sensor supplier.

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