Applied debuts “game-changing” wafer tracking system

by James Montgomery, news editor, Solid State Technology

July 13, 2009 – Applied Materials has revealed what it calls a “game-changer” for mature fabs: a hardware/software package that integrates with existing MES software to wirelessly track and direct movements for 200mm and 300mm wafer lots. The company claims the combination boosts factory output by 10%, and realizes a return-on-investment (ROI) of less than nine months (update: see explanation below).

The system integrates Applied’s Activity Manager workflow automation software with Intellion AG’s LotTrack RF and ultrasound-based wafer carrier tracking technology, to continuously update an MES with the exact location of every wafer carrier. The MES can then send “attention needed” or “where next” data to display panels on each carrier, limiting manual data entry, eliminating misplaced lots, and reducing cycle times. “Nonintrusive” hardware with preconfigured software lead to rapid deployment and lower risk of production failure during deployment.

Many mature fabs already have squeezed the most productivity out of their existing workflows and can’t afford the time or money to buy more tools or hire operators. Neither can they afford to shut down production to install an AMHS, and an RF tag-based system would require complex hardware and customization (and also disrupt production), a company rep explained to SST. “The SmartMove system is game-changer because it gives the benefits of an AHMS at much lower cost and can be installed in parallel with on-going production without disruption,” the rep said. “It gives those mature fabs an opportunity to realize a step change in wafer output that will pay for itself in a remarkably short time.”

Updated 7/17: The same AMAT exec got back to us about how they came up with a calculation of ROI in just nine months:

The return-on-investment comes from direct labor savings arising from increased operator efficency, plus additional revenue from the extra fab output (even with the leaner labor force). As you know, even a modest improvement in productivity can yield a substantial benefit to the bottom line. Our experience with our customers shows that the return will typically offset the outlay for the SmartMove system in approximately nine months with a modest 2% increase in fab wafer output.

— J.M.

The SmartMove system brings new efficiency to non-automated fabs, seamlessly integrating with existing MES software to wirelessly track and direct wafer movement. (Source: Applied Materials)


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