The year has seen serious shortages in markets across the board. Of all of these, perhaps the most impactful to the global economy has been semiconductors chips. These chips are enormously important, with the products they control touching almost every aspect of our daily lives. Keep reading to go deeper into the reasons behind the shortage, the state of manufacturing today, and the technology that represents the future of the industry.
Why Is There a Semiconductor Shortage?
The modern global economy is designed to maximize speed and profit. Unfortunately, that also comes at the expense of being able to withstand shocks. Covid precipitated a mad rush on consumer electronics, rocking a carefully balanced industry into chaos. With lean manufacturing techniques such as just-in-time delivery now ubiquitous in manufacturing, electronics suppliers quickly exhausted inventory. This led to a sudden crunch that left semiconductor chip makers unable to fill orders.
The issue is in large part due to the intense concentration of semiconductor manufacturing into just a handful of companies. These bottlenecks are also exacerbated by near-monopolies of vital chemical and photolithography capabilities into a few dominating businesses. As a result, not only did consumer electronics suddenly experience a semiconductor shortage, but every other industry that relied on this limited production capacity was hit as well.
Another contributing factor to the shortage is the fact that semiconductor wafers and chips take over three months to produce. The full process utilizes nanoscale precision in factories many times cleaner than a hospital operating theater. Additionally, each semiconductor wafer needs to be inspected for quality, adding an additional layer of complexity to the process. For this reason, it’s no surprise that the companies producing semiconductor assembly and inspection machines are seeing massive returns. However, it’s also clear that technology has to advance to escape the current semiconductor shortage, and ensure adequate supply in the future.
The Next Phase of Semiconductor Chip Manufacturing
In order to produce adequate numbers of semiconductors, manufacturers will need to be able to increase the speed of their processes while maintaining precision and cleanliness. The biggest obstacles to increasing this speed are the limitations of traditional motion systems. New Way® Air Bearings avoids the limitations of older machines by utilizing a porous graphite substrate to create a nanometer-thick stiff air cushion, providing unprecedented speed, precision, and cleanliness.
Unlike roller bearings, air bearings have no resolution limitations, allowing them to be perfectly positioned every time. They also eliminate the hysteresis error inherent to roller bearings, delivering perfect accuracy with every motion. Even vibration is eliminated with air bearings, creating an unparalleled platform for precision motion. When cutting, inspecting, or installing semiconductors, the slightest motion can destroy months of work. Porous Media Technology allows these procedures to be completed faster and with enhanced confidence.
Given the molecular scale of semiconductor production, molecules smaller than a virus can interfere with the miles of circuitry that make up a chip. Porous Media Technology™ addresses this need in its very design. Utilizing millions of sub-micron holes, the substrate acts as its own air filter and cleaner, meeting the Class 1 (ISO class 3) cleanliness required in semiconductor factories. With many steps in the semiconductor requiring abrasive chemicals, this provides enormous benefits to automation equipment.
The bearing is also capable of running at incredibly low pressure, avoiding the potential for interference that orifice air bearings might present. And, as a zero-contact device, the Porous Media air bearing requires no lubrication. This eliminates both the contamination risk of lubricant, and the need for constant maintenance, providing a superior platform for semiconductor chip production.
The delicate nature of silicon wafers means that production lines must be built to avoid any damage. For most automation systems, this necessarily limits transportation speed. However, New Way offers numerous solutions to enhance precision conveyance systems. For example, our precision zone air bars utilize vacuum zones in combination with the stiff air cushion to provide the safest, most secure conveyance available.
The air bearings are also crash-resistant, slowly decompressing in the event of catastrophic failure. This allows all movement to take place at faster rates with reduced risk, enhancing production speed. Porous graphite even retains its stiff air cushion when scratched or damaged, and is relatively soft relative to a guideway, acting as an ablative surface. This helps eliminate replacement downtimes and costly maintenance.
How Will Your Industry Benefit?
Want to learn more about the power of air bearings in industrial automation? Download our ebook “Air Bushings 101” to discover the benefits of Frictionless Motion™. For questions about how New Way can benefit your custom application, contact us today!