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Q. How did Eurotherm by Schneider Electric perform in the semiconductor industry last year?
A. In the Korean market last year, the Eurotherm semiconductor sector performed very well. Eurotherm has traditionally focused on working with businesses involved in heat treatment, steel, glass, and consumer packaged goods.
However, for the last 3-4 years the semiconductor market has also been growing as a major business sector and has now been added to our focus markets.
The semiconductor sector faced a ‘super cycle’ in 2017, then briefly slumped during 2018-2019, but started to recover again from the end of 2019. In the meantime, Eurotherm has expanded its product line for the semiconductor industry, become more precise in related functions, and greatly expanded its market share.
The system business achieved remarkable growth in the Korean semiconductor industry last year. Globally, Eurotherm expanded its semiconductor market by more than 50%.
Shin Dong-Hyun Technical Sales Manager, North Asia, Eurotherm by Schneider Electric
Q. How successful was Eurotherm at securing new semiconductor customers?
A. Eurotherm products were introduced not only to new customers, but also to our existing customers. There are two types of Eurotherm products used in the semiconductor field: temperature control and power control.
In the semiconductor industry, Eurotherm products are often used for deposition and etching equipment. I am pleased to say that many of our (Korean) domestic deposition and etching equipment companies are Eurotherm customers.
Q. Are there any new products that have been recently released?
A. Some new functions have been added to the existing products at the request of our customers. The biggest improvement in recent years being the support of EtherCAT™ communication. There have been products supporting EtherCAT communication for a long time, but some new products have native EtherCAT to meet the requirements of the EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG) and the requests of our customers in the semiconductor industry. The EPack™ Compact SCR Power Controller is one of them.
Q. Are there any other technical additions?
A. The Mini8® Loop Controller is a product that is ideal for the semiconductor industry. The controller helps to minimize the number of temperature errors in semiconductor equipment. Additionally, a new input card has been released, and it has improved performance considerably. The Mini8 controller is receiving very positive feedback from our customers for its increased temperature accuracy.
Q. What are your expectations for the semiconductor industry this year?
A. As the semiconductor industry is currently in the midst of a ‘super cycle’, Eurotherm is expecting to expand market share significantly.
Q. It is known that post-processing equipment manufacturers have recently been developing advanced equipment, which brings many opportunities for automation companies to participate in the development process. Since Eurotherm customers are mainly equipment companies, do you think this trend will reflect in your activities?
A. It’s true that the main customer base for Eurotherm are equipment manufacturers. In fact, we are already involved in the development process. Engineers from domestic Eurotherm partners actively provide technical support to equipment manufacturers on related functions, firmware and programs tailored to the needs of each equipment company.
Q. Does Eurotherm also operate directly?
A. We are working with 4 specialized partners focusing on the semiconductor field.
Eurotherm partners play a vital role and have a strong knowledge of our products and can provide high-level technical support according to the customer requirements. The task of setting up precision temperature control products requires a high degree of expertise.
For example, when gas or radio frequency (RF) power is introduced during the process, the temperature continues to rise. Experience and capability to adjust the temperature in the right way in such a situation is essential.
Q. What are the most common requirements from equipment manufacturers in the semiconductor industry?
A. I would say that EtherCAT connectivity is the most common requirement and, in addition, the need to reduce the size of the product due to equipment space limitations. Eurotherm products have been developed to meet these needs of our customers.
Q. What have been the key changes in the communication area?
A. In the past, DeviceNet has been used the most, together with EtherCAT, which has become a hot topic. Recently, there is also a demand for Ethernet/IP™. There is a relationship with the trend of changing communication to Ethernet/IP as DeviceNet equipment is upgraded.
Q. Are there any improvements in the speed of Eurotherm products?
A. Rapid thermal processing of semiconductor silicon wafers requires a fast control response to minimize the impact of temperature disturbances. That is why both, the Mini8 temperature controller and the EPack single phase power controller, are available with EtherCAT communication for high stability, fast acting control response and common connectivity across devices.
In the past, general purpose analog SCR controllers were used, but with EPack controllers this function has become completely digitized. We are seeing market expansion accelerating as the advantages we can provide with digitization continue to increase.
Q. Eurotherm also offers a T2550 PAC Programmable Automation Controller. Is this product used in the semiconductor industry?
A. The T2550 PAC controller is mostly used for OLED (Organic LED) equipment. In the semiconductor industry, a similar product, the E+PLC controller is used. This instrument has the same hardware but is slightly different in the firmware. The E+PLC range is preferred by semiconductor customers because of how easy it is to use. Due to this advantage, it has been preferred by many customers in Korea too.
Although it has ‘PLC’ in its name, unlike existing PLC products it is optimized for analog process control. The Mini8 multi-loop controller or the EPack power controller are both devices that require individual configuration but the E+PLC Range of controllers are programmed with CODESYS software, a leading platform which provides a proven, efficient engineering tool. Introduction of this product to the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) market is already starting, and it is expected to expand further.
Q. So, can the E+PLC controller be used in the semiconductor industry?
A. Yes, it can be applied to the semiconductor field. We already have a few successful cases of using E+PLC controllers in the semiconductor industry.
Q. What are the key benefits of the Mini8 multi-loop controller?
A. The biggest advantage of the Mini8 controller is the precision temperature control. Some of our customers have been able to achieve tolerances of ±0.25°C due to the introduction of improved input circuitry in 2019.
The other advantage is the network. The instrument includes open protocols allowing the support of various communication networks. In the United States, DeviceNet is used the most, and in Korea, Modbus, TCP and EtherCAT are very common.
The Mini8 multi loop controller is also very user-friendly. The configuration tool uses a graphical wiring method. As with many Eurotherm products, it is designed with features to help with set up, such as pre-configuration at point of order, quick-code start-up, and free iTools configuration software for easy control setup using function block style programming and a graphical wiring editor.
The configuration tool we provide allows operators to visualize trends in data and export it for analysis. The tool can easily be installed on a PC by the customer and allows offline configuration even before the instrumentation has been commissioned at the machine builder, so that development time can be reduced.
Q. Did you say that the Mini8 controller is multi-loop?
A. The Mini8 controller has 16 PID loops, and if you are only using temperature sensor input, you can have 32 analog channels at once for data acquisition.
Q. What is the advantage of the Mini8 controller compared to competitors’ temperature controllers?
A. The size of the controller is compact, yet the I/O density is high, and it’s easy to use. Many of our competitors’ products cannot be configured without a license, but the Mini8 controller can be configured with a free version of our software tool, and data logging for a certain period is also possible.
Q. What are the advantages of the Eurotherm EPack SCR Power Controller?
A. The EPack controller offers end-users accurate, repeatable temperature control for consistent high-quality yields, as well as monitoring and diagnostics for improving energy efficiency and up-time. The resolution of most power controllers is usually 5-10% where the Epack SCR power controller can be as good as 2%
In addition, the sampling rate is very fast, and the size is compact. General products require additional space due to heat generation, but Eurotherm products have excellent heat dissipation function and can be installed with minimal space gaps between units.
Q. What is the competitive advantage of Eurotherm in the semiconductor field?
A. Our key advantage is temperature precision. Additionally, our products are designed to allow harmonic noise reduction when controlling the temperature, which is a core factor.
Due to these strengths, Eurotherm has been a market leader for more than 50 years.
Q. What is your competitive frame of reference? How are Eurotherm products perceived within your target sector of semiconductor fabrication customers?
A. It is not an exaggeration to say that Eurotherm products are used by most deposition / etching equipment companies across Korea.
Q. Smart factories are becoming a new trend in the manufacturing industry. How are customer needs changing in relation to Smart Factory or Industry 4.0?
A. Smart Factories reflect what manufacturing customers need today. Safer, better connected, more flexible, and more efficient manufacturing to enable them to quickly respond to new demands. Eurotherm products are designed to meet those demands and enable integration into IIoT/Industry 4.0 technologies and 3rd party devices. In fact, semiconductor equipment is already ready for smart factories, allowing equipment data to be collected at a higher enterprise level.
The reason why Eurotherm EPack power controllers have a high market share is that, while analog type power controllers provide only limited data, EPack controllers can monitor overall voltage, current, and impedance changes of heaters.
Q. Do you have any new products or new technology plans in the future?
A. A new Mini8 Controller model will be released at the end of this year. Additionally, an update to the 3504 advanced controller and programmer is being planned, aimed at PECVD applications.
Q. When working with equipment companies, what are the advantages that Eurotherm can offer them?
A. Machine builders need compact devices to meet smaller machine footprints and limiting access to valuable IP (intellectual property) is an important factor to protect specialized process recipes. If the Eurotherm “OEM Security” function is applied, unauthorized personnel cannot access the equipment and copy or manipulate the internal settings.
In terms of cybersecurity, when operating equipment, you must enter a password, which must be reset if it has been incorrectly entered three times. Eurotherm products are designed with cybersecurity in mind and provide our customers a greater peace of mind when protecting their own intellectual property and expertise.
Q. What is your strategy for further expansion in the semiconductor industry?
A. In Korea, we are continuing to focus on the potential of this market.
At a global level, the organization is expanding to respond to the recent growth within the semiconductor fabrication industry. Dedicated marketing and sales promotions are planned this year to demonstrate Eurotherm’s experience within semiconductor processing, providing the latest temperature control enhancements, and improved input accuracy. Eurotherm has a strong future and I am confident that we will gain global recognition within the semiconductor industry, building on our success in Korea.
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