Applied Materials' Producer - a new revolution is upon us

Summary : The Chip Insider's review of Applied Materials' Producer at its introduction

July 4, 1998: America’s independence holiday, a new revolution is upon us . . .

 

It has been ten years and seven months since Applied Materials set the world afire with its Precision 5000 cluster tool.  Now, Applied Material’s has just done what no one does better, it has reinvented itself with the PRODUCER™.  The PRODUCER™ is designed around new architecture concepts which obsolete all current cluster tool designs.  More importantly, Applied Materials in has reinvented the cluster tool in a sweeping way that challenges all past thinking about fab equipment. 

 

They could have named it da’ PRODUCER™ because it’s the first ‘in your face’ product ever introduced to the chip industry.  It is a field upgradable 200/300mm-bridge tool that blatantly breaks the rules of 300mm equipment design.  300mm planners have consistently said they would not consider bridge tools.  They did not believe it possible to have 300mm tools that would be productive in a 200mm format, or could fit in a 200mm fab.  But, Applied got tired of having to deal with the system design du jour.  So they just made the impossible a reality.  Da’ PRODUCER™ is far more productive and it is smaller than existing 200mm tools.  Now they can settle in on perfecting a single tool design per process, while letting customers have it their way.

 

Compared to other cluster tools, da’ PRODUCER™ spits out wafers faster than an Uzi at a drive-by shooting.  Da’ PRODUCER™ pounds out wafers out at a quoted 110 WPH, which make it so productive, that no chip maker will be able to ignore it.  It is 50% faster than a Centura.  One customer’s evaluation team loaded it up with wafers and then went off briefly.  Coming back to see only a cassette of finished wafers they got upset.  They had wanted to see the system run.   

 

At the same time, the PRODUCER™ is somewhat dainty for a cluster tool, having a foot-print that is 20% smaller than a Centura.  Packing all that capability into such a small package yield a work of art.  The aluminum castings of the PRODUCER™ ‘s central handling platform have a grace unseen in any prior cluster tool design.  I have always thought the Endura™ was beautiful, bringing art to the cold hard job of industrial machinery with its hour-glass shape.  But I found the PRODUCER™ stunning — like seeing a Ferrari Testarossa roll down the street.  Unlike previous cluster tool designs, the PRODUCER™ is architected in square and rectangular shapes.  The central loading chamber is square, with an aluminum top that pops up like the hood of a car. 

This square hood could have been just another block of aluminum, but instead, its edges neatly machined into smooth curves, Applied’s resonating ‘a’ logo etched in the center — a nice finishing touch showing remarkable attention to detail.  Rectangular process modules surround the back and sides.  A rectangular load lock faces the front that is linked to an interchangeable factory interface.  This latter feature makes it easy for Applied to quickly configure the PRODUCER™ with open cassette, SMIF, or FOUP.

 

And like a Ferrari, its beauty is more than skin deep.  The PRODUCER™ screams performance beneath its aluminum hood.  It uses a twin blade VHP magnetically coupled robot to feed wafers two at a time into three rectangular process modules, each of which house twin process chambers.  Its Twin Chamber™ process modules, which contain two process chambers in one module, simplifying and lowering cost of manufacturing. At the same time, each module uses common gas delivery and vacuum lines, which cuts cost.  Yet unlike other twin wafer chambers, Applied’s Twin Chamber™ design has two isolated chambers, so process integrity is not compromised. 

 

The overall productivity figures are even more amazing when you stand back and evaluate the PRODUCER™ at the fab level.  A fab producing 5000 WSW with 5 oxide layers would need 7 Centuras, taking up 23.45 meters of tunnel length.  Four PRODUCERs™ can do the same job, requiring only 11.09 meters.  In short, the PRODUCER™ shows what brilliant equipment designers can do when given clear objectives and an empty CAD file. 

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