In the rapidly expanding electronics manufacturing and testing equipment market, design engineers are finding that engineering plastics can withstand the high temperatures, harsh chemicals, and mechanical wear that are encountered in equipment used to make and test integrated circuits. DSM's Jerry Thurston looks at the market and the part engineering plastics are playing in it now and in the future.
Design News: What growth is the engineering plastics field seeing in the semiconductor manufacturing and testing equipment market, and what's the outlook for the future?
Thurston: Sales of semiconductor devices grew at 32% in 1994 and are projected to grow at 40% this year. Sales exceeded $100 billion for the first time last year, and, at the current rate of growth, they will easily exceed $200 billion by the year 2000.
Our experience is that the use of advanced engineering plastics is growing at an even faster pace, as engineers discover the capabilities of these materials and use them more frequently in a diverse number of processes.
Q: Why have engineering plastics recently become of great interest to design engineers involved with semiconductor manufacturing and test equipment?
A: For many design engineers engineering plastics are a relatively new technology. These designers are only recently aware of the performance characteristics and wide scope of advanced materials available to meet their specific applications.
Q: What are the special requirements of semiconductor manufacturing and testing equipment?
A: High temperatures, electrical energy, mechanical stress, and very aggressive chemicals are used in produc-ing these devices. Parts made of engineering plastics often must provide a combination of such performance characteristics as electrostatic dis-sipation, thermal insulation, chemical and wear resistance, dimensional stability, and high purity, including outgassing requirements.
Q: What engineering plastics are of most interest in the manufacture of these electronic and testing equipment devices and why?
A: Fluoropolymers are the most widely used material at present. They offer high heat and chemical resistance and relatively high purity. Their drawback, however, is relatively low mechanical strength. Other high-heat-resistant materials, such as polyimides, poly-amide-imides, polyetherketones, and polyethersulfones, are becoming more popular.
Electrostatic dissipative polymers currently available include ESD acetals, ESD polyetherimides, and ESD fluoropolymers. These products have been developed to ad-dress the need to protect sensitive devices from electrostatic discharge. The highest purity polymeric resins include: polycarbonates, polyamide-imides, polyimides, polybenzimidazoles, and fluoropolymers.
Q: How are plastics now being used in the semiconductor industry?
A: Semiconductor manufacturing equipment components made of engineering plastics include heat-resistant and thermally insulating handles to grip hot wafer boats after they exit from the furnace, as well as ESD vacuum-wand tips to pick and place wafers. Other uses for the high-heat-resistant materials are: ESD combs for wafer transfer equipment, chemically resistant, high-purity wafer retaining rings, and heat-resistant nozzles.
In the case of testing equipment, uses for these materials include: thermal insulation for high-temperature test areas; dimensionally stable, wear-resistant nests, contactors and sockets; and ESD handling trays.
Q: Where may these engineering plastics be used in the future?
A: Through polymer engineering and compounding, materials can be made that combine many different benefits. Many current applications for engineering plastics are a result of the ability to tailor these materials to meet a special combination of properties mentioned earlier. Further applications for these materials will require an even greater combination of properties. For example, we are looking to develop a high-heat-resistant polymer that combines high strength and dimensional stability and is also electrostatic dissipating in nature.