Viktor Bilousov, on June 07, 2023, 07:50 AM
Clearing Equipment Integration Hurdles in Semiconductor Manufacturing
Challenges with legacy semiconductor equipment can make it difficult for semiconductor manufacturers to optimize their manufacturing processes and stay competitive in the industry. Effective solutions for equipment integration and automation can help manufacturers overcome these obstacles and improve their manufacturing efficiency and effectiveness.
Common challenges with legacy semiconductor equipment
Semiconductor manufacturing involves many different parts and processes working together in harmony to create a finished product, much like a symphony requires many different instruments playing together to create beautiful music. The challenge is in the orchestration, especially when it involves the inclusion of legacy equipment.
By overcoming the following obstacles, engineers and technicians can create a cohesive and efficient manufacturing process, much like the musicians in a symphony create a harmonious and beautiful performance:
Lack of standardized communication protocols: The lack of standardized communication protocols, typically SECS/GEM, between equipment from different vendors makes it difficult to integrate them into a cohesive manufacturing process. This can result in increased downtime and lower productivity due to the need for manual intervention and troubleshooting.
Difficulty in accessing equipment data: Some semiconductor equipment does not provide easy access to data, making it difficult to monitor and optimize manufacturing processes. This can result in lower yields, increased scrap, and lower-quality products.
Limited flexibility: The lack of flexibility in some equipment interfaces can make it difficult to change manufacturing processes or adjust to new product requirements. This can result in longer lead times and higher costs.
High costs: Some equipment vendors charge high fees for providing equipment interfaces or for integrating their equipment with other systems. This can be a significant cost for semiconductor manufacturers, especially for those with limited budgets.
Complexity of the manufacturing process: The semiconductor manufacturing process is highly complex, with multiple steps and equipment involved. This complexity can make it challenging to integrate equipment and systems, resulting in inefficiencies and lost productivity.
Lack of skilled personnel: The shortage of skilled personnel with experience in equipment integration and shopfloor systems can make it difficult for semiconductor manufacturers to implement effective solutions. This can result in delays, increased costs, and lower-quality products.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as an alternative to SECS/GEM retrofitting
Typically, the semiconductor industry relies on SECS/GEM interfaces as the standardized and specialized solution for the equipment communication necessary to automate and optimize manufacturing processes. Unfortunately, legacy equipment often lacks the standard SECS/GEM interface and retrofitting solutions for SECS/GEM interfaces can be costly and disruptive to the manufacturing environment. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can provide a more flexible, faster-to-implement, and easier-to-use alternative to the SECS/GEM interface.
How can RPA help solve problems with equipment integration?
Overall, RPA can provide a suitable alternative to SECS/GEM interface retrofitting for equipment integration in the semiconductor industry. By automating data exchange and manual tasks, RPA can help manufacturers optimize their manufacturing processes and stay competitive in a rapidly changing industry.
RPA can be used to standardize communication between different types of equipment and systems on the shop floor. By using RPA to automate data exchange, manufacturers can reduce errors and improve the efficiency of their manufacturing processes.
Integrating disparate systems
RPA can integrate different systems and software applications, even if they were not designed to work together. By automating the transfer of data between systems, RPA can help manufacturers streamline their processes and reduce manual data entry.
Automating manual tasks
RPA can automate manual tasks involved in equipment integration, such as data entry, file transfers, and report generation. By automating these tasks, manufacturers can reduce errors and free up valuable time for employees to focus on higher-value activities.
RPA can be programmed to work with a wide range of equipment and software applications, making it a more flexible solution than traditional equipment interfaces. This flexibility can be particularly useful for manufacturers with a variety of equipment types or who need to adapt quickly to changing product or process requirements.
RPA can be a more cost-effective solution than traditional SECS/GEM interfaces, which can require significant investments in software development and testing. By automating equipment integration with RPA, manufacturers can reduce costs while improving the efficiency of their manufacturing processes.
RPA vs SECS/GEM
RPA and SECS/GEM interfaces both aim to automate and optimize manufacturing processes in the semiconductor industry. In fact, SYSTEMA’s RPA solution is capable of mimicking the traditional SECS/GEM functionality to serve as a formidable substitute in situations where SECS/GEM isn’t feasible.
However, there are some differences between RPA and SECS/GEM:
Purpose: A SECS/GEM interface is specifically designed for communication between manufacturing equipment and a factory host computer. It provides a standardized protocol for exchanging data and commands between equipment and other systems on the shop floor. In contrast, RPA is a more general-purpose automation technology that can be used to automate a wide range of business processes.
Flexibility: A SECS/GEM interface is typically designed for a specific piece of equipment and can be inflexible if changes are required. RPA, on the other hand, can be more flexible and adaptable to changes in the manufacturing process. It can be programmed to work with a wide range of software applications and equipment, providing a more versatile solution.
Speed of implementation: Implementing a SECS/GEM interface can be a time-consuming process, requiring significant investment in software development and testing. In contrast, RPA can be implemented relatively quickly, often requiring only a few weeks of development and testing.
Cost: Implementing a SECS/GEM interface can be expensive, especially for smaller manufacturers who may not have the resources to develop their own interfaces. RPA can be a more cost-effective solution, requiring only a fraction of the investment required for a SECS/GEM interface.
Ease of use: A SECS/GEM interface can be difficult to set up and use, requiring specialized expertise and training. RPA, on the other hand, is designed to be user-friendly and easy to use, even for non-technical users.
How RPA is solving semiconductor manufacturing woes
RPA can provide a cost-effective alternative to SECS/GEM retrofitting to improve equipment integration, automate tedious and repetitive activities, and increase accuracy and consistency on the fab floor. Overall, RPA has the potential to be a game-changer for legacy brownfield semiconductor environments. By providing an alternative to SECS/GEM as a standard for equipment communication, optimizing manufacturing processes, and integrating disparate equipment and systems, RPA can help manufacturers stay competitive in a rapidly changing industry.