Glenn Research Center clean room

Cables in the Cleanroom

Posted on Monday, October 20, 2014 by Dave Watson

Semiconductor manufacturing requires machinery and equipment that can work well in demanding environments.  The wafer fabrication process requires tools that have the ability to work at an extreme level of precision with extreme cleanliness, while still achieving production levels that are akin to any other factory. These demands permeate every part of a manufacturing system. Components that might not seem to be particularly specialized -- like the cables that are used for internal wiring-- actually need to meet exacting specifications.

The standards for cleanrooms continue to become more exacting as fabrication processes move to smaller and smaller traces. With processes that are measured in single-digit nanometer values coming down the pike, even the small particles that come from outgassing can interfere with semiconductor manufacturing. In some environments, they can also pose the risk of interfering with the manufacturing process. Some modern cleanrooms look at ionic contamination rates on the basis of parts per quadrillion molecules per cubic centimeter of air, so even the slightest bit of outgassing can be problematic.

To reduce the risk of this occurring, the cables used within semiconductor equipment are made with special materials.  For instance, cables with modified polyphenylene ether thermoplastic (mPPE) insulation instead of standard PVC have about 90% less outgassing. This makes them more appropriate for the cleanroom at a lower cost than fluoroploymers that have been traditionally used.

Beyond the unique cleanliness requirements of silicon wafer etching equipment, bear in mind that the machines that make semiconductors are still machines. And like any machine, they constantly make multiple repetitive motions often at high speeds. With this in mind, cables that can withstand rapid and repeated flexing and movement are also frequently used. A low-outgassing flexible cable can be rated to withstand over 1 million flexes.

Other cables need to be small enough to fit in the tight places present in many semiconductor manufacturing machines. The same mPPE insulation that reduces outgassing has the secondary benefit of also being much more compact than wires made with traditional insulation. While the specifications vary by cable, some mPPE-jacketed wires can be 47% smaller and 65% lighter than comparable PVC-insulated cables.

Whatever your company's cabling needs, Alpha Wire has a solution that can help you make better-performing semiconductor equipment. Contact us to learn about our line of cabling products.

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