More metal parts go to composites

Oct. 23, 2003
Stiff and stable composites are competing for duty in semiconductor applications traditionally handled by metals and ceramics.

A precision five-axis edge grip robot from Brooks Automation Inc., Chelmsford, Mass., transfers 300-mm semiconductor wafers from one processing cell to the next. They are outfitted with lightweight composite end effectors which help boost handling speed and damp vibration. Upgrading from aluminum to carbon fiber end effectors let Brooks increase wafer-handling speed by 15%.
Chemical mechanical planarization rings made from Vespel CR-6100, CR-4610, and CR-4638 composites stand up well to a broad pH range and other operating conditions associated with oxide, copper, and tungsten processes.
Robotic end effectors are made of ultraclean Vespel CP-9800 composite. The material is made from an ultrahigh-modulus carbon-fiber and epoxy laminate that is extremely rigid and has good vibration-dampening properties which makes it easier for the robot to position the wafers during processing. Similar end effectors for moving LCD panels are also available.
Highly durable, and offering excellent chemical and plasma resistance, DuPont Vespel TP chamber liners and domes help protect vulnerable metal components during oxide etching.


Associate Editor

It's no secret that suppliers of engineered materials must work closely with designers to develop products that meet specific needs. This is particularly true for components that serve in caustic environments at elevated temperatures under load -- conditions typical of semiconductor-processing applications where designers are often limited to specifying metal and ceramic.

In the semiconductor industry, however, trends such as larger wafers, more caustic etching solutions, and the need for faster throughput are pushing the mechanical and physical limits of metals and ceramic components used in wafer handling, etching, and polishing. So says Bill Sproesser, development programs manager for DuPont Engineering Polymers, Wilmington, Del.

This has prompted designers to look at alternative materials such as high-performance composites made from polyimides, epoxies, fluoropolymers, and phenolics reinforced with woven, braided, or chopped graphite, carbon, glass, and aramid fibers. Advancements in these raw material forms provide designers a balance of price, processibility, and performance.

For years, designers of semiconductor manufacturing equipment have turned to Vespel composites from DuPont Vespel parts and shapes, Cleveland, when other materials failed. Here are a few of the most recent Vespel composites that replace metals, ceramics, and other engineered thermoplastics in wafer-processing and handling applications.

Light but stiff

Vespel CP grades are fiber-reinforced polymers with good strength-to-weight ratios. They come in a range of options -- laminates, braided reinforcements, and sheet-molding compounds -- and employ a variety of fiber reinforcement singularly or in combination. An ultrahigh modulus carbon-fiber and epoxy combination, CP-9800, is a lightweight laminate used for robotic end effectors that handle semiconductor wafers during processing.

"The laminate provides a highly rigid and vibration-dampening platform that is lighter than traditional ceramic and aluminum end effectors," says Sproesser. Vespel CP-9800 has a density of 1.7 gm/cm3 compared to 2.7 and 4.0 gm/cm3 for aluminum and alumina (Al2O3) ceramic, respectively. The composite deflects little under load, improving positional accuracy and stable transfer of large 300-mm wafers. A 3-mm-thick end effector made from the ultrahigh modulus CP-9800 deflects a total of 0.04 in. while carrying a 300-mm wafer. Its Al2O3 counterpart deflects 0.07 in.

Designers customize the rigidity of the composite via manipulation of fiber reinforcement and matrix resin selection. Modulus values range from low 23,000 to ultrahigh 46,000 kpsi. The choice of matrix resin (polyimide, phenolic, or epoxy) is also a metric that lets designers tweak composite temperature and chemical resistance. Working temperatures for the various epoxy laminates range from 176 to 446°F. Selection of the highest modulus fiber and the highest temperature epoxy can double the cost of the end effector. Maximum working temperatures can be pushed towards 550°F with the selection of a polyimide instead of epoxy, but again doubling the cost.

Vespel CP-9800 laminates also help boost processing yields. They are less likely to damage wafer surfaces compared to their ceramic counterparts. They are much cleaner than their aluminum analog so there's less chance of wafer contamination during handling. Also, brittle ceramics can shatter from an unintentional impact causing downtime to remove the ceramic particles. Tough composites can endure such impact without shedding debris.

Designers of robots for large, flat-panel-display manufacturers are also looking to replace ceramic end effectors with CP-9800 laminates. That's because the large glass panels are getting bigger and heavier and the end effecter design has reached the mechanical limits of the ceramic. Custom CP-9800 end effectors made from ultrahigh modulus carbon fibers and high-performance resins are tough and strong enough to transport the monolithic (1,500 to 1,800-mm) glass panels from one manufacturing cell to the next. The cross section of the composite end effectors is hollow to reduce weight while still maintaining their rigidity.

Another industry trend that may position composites as the end effecter material of choice, says Sproesser, is the need to add sensors directly into the end effectors to relay a wide range of information such as whether the robot has successfully picked up the wafer or let it go as well as reporting any anomalies in the "health" of the wafer itself. This will let processors increase throughputs and help eliminate defective wafers from the fab line resulting in higher process yields. Ports for the optical sensor can be easily machined in the CP-9800 composite to exacting tolerances.

Hot properties

Another Vespel grade suitable for semiconductor applications is Vespel CR-6100. This sheet-molding composite is a Teflon PFA reinforced with high-tensile-strength carbon fibers oriented in the XY plane. This gives it a lower coefficient of thermal expansion (i.e., good creep resistance) than steel in this plane. From ambient to 500°F its XY CTE is 1.8X10-6 in./in./°F. Creep resistance in the Z direction is temperature dependent. Values here are 180, 250, and 510 X 10-6 in./in./°F for temperatures ranging from ambient to 300°F, 300 to 400°F, and 400 to 500°F, respectively.

Other key advantages of the composite are its wide resistance to chemicals at pH values of 0.2 to 14 and excellent wear resistance. The wear rate for Vespel CR-6100 is about one-third that of glass-fiber-reinforced PEEK when tested at 25 ft/min against an unlubricated tri-pin-on AISI carbon-steel disk (16-µin. finish). Additionally, under similar testing conditions the CR-6100 wear rate is about 25 times less than an unfilled PEEK.

Current applications in semiconductor processing include wafer retainer rings for chemical-mechanical planarization (CMP), due to the material's combined chemical and wear resistance compared to unfilled or less chemical-resistant polymers such as polyphenylene sulfide (PPS). These are often specified in less-demanding CMO applications such as oxide CMP.

A thermoplastic Vespel TP grade broadens design freedom for parts used in extreme environments. More complex geometries, parts consolidation, and weight-reduction opportunities come via injection molding, extrusion, and thermoforming. Vespel TP-8005 is an unfilled version that has low outgassing and good resistance to etching compounds. It's used to build chamber liners for wafer processing.

The thermoplastic has a Rockwell E hardness of 47, a room temperature elongation at break of 90%, and a Notched Izod impact of 2 ft-lb/in. Its tensile, flexural, and compressive strengths are 13.3, 19.6, and 21 kpsi, respectively. At temperatures from ambient to 300°F its CTE can range from 2.7 to 2.9 X 10-5 in./in./°F.

The predominate advantage of using an injection moldable liner is the ability to form a seamless yet flexible one-piece liner that can snap securely in place in the interior of the etching chamber. Other liners are also used in the chamber environment. These designs often include a seam where debris from the etching process collects and later can shed to potentially impact wafer quality. Other designs may even need adhesives to secure the liners to the chamber wall.

Make contact:
Brooks Automation Inc., (978) 262-2400,
DuPont Vespel parts and shapes, 800-972-7252,


Property Aluminim Ceramic Alumina
ultrahigh modulus
Density, gm/cm3 2.7 4 1.7
Flexural modulus, kpsi 10,000 58,000 44,000
Finger thickness, in. 0.12 0.12 0.12
Finger weight, lb 1.79 2.65 1.1
Self Weight, in. 0.24 0.06 0.03
Loading, in. 0.06 0.01 0.01
Total, in. 0.29 0.07 0.04


Material Wear rate
(E-6)*, in./hr
Dynamic coefficient
of friction, 25 ft/min
Limiting PV,
Vespel CR-6100 27 0.2 >155
Carbon fiber/PFA 47 0.18 >92
PEEK lubricated 71 0.52 40
PAI-lubricated wear resistant 37 0.33 64
Carbon fiber/PEEK 85 0.29 -
Glass fiber/PEEK 93 0.26 -
PEEK unfilled 699 0.42 -
*25 ft/min

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