Follow us on:
CONTACT US | Download the 2021/2022 issue | ©Atlas Copco AB
of the screen
Whenever you look at a flat display screen on your phone, monitor or TV, the chances are that an iXL900R dry vacuum pump was used in the manufacturing process.
The world of solid-state electronics is probably the last thing you think about when you pick up your mobile phone to answer an SMS or scroll through your latest social media feed. But the flat-panel display screen is one of the great technical achievements of the modern age. Without it, your phone’s display screen would not exist. There’d be no watching your favorite programs on your flat-screen TV and no working on your laptop, either.
The entire global supply of these screens is manufactured by just a few companies in eastern Asia, inside enormous ‘fabs’, factories which can be more than a kilometer long. And a piece of technology called the iXL900R dry vacuum pump, made by Edwards, part of the Atlas Copco Group, is central to these production processes.
Flat panel displays must be manufactured in a vacuum environment to ensure quality, cleanliness and control. For the glass panel to go from atmospheric pressure to the low processing pressure that’s needed in the process chamber, it passes through a load lock chamber, where vacuum pump systems pump down the pressure and keep the process pure. However, the pumps account for up to 20% of the already huge total energy consumption of a facility.
“One of our customers told me that one of their fabs uses as much energy as a small-to-medium-sized city. Any power problem could affect the grid for the whole district,” says Chris Shaw, Vice President for Business Development in the Semiconductor Division, who was the product manager for this dry pump when it was first developed in 2012.
“In many countries where manufacturing occurs,” he continues, “the electricity price is set according to the domestic market. When temperatures can hit minus 20C in South Korea or plus 40C in Taiwan, that requires a lot of domestic heating or air conditioning, but governments don’t have enough energy capacity to allow for this and for economies to expand as much as they want – they’re almost rationing the power supply.
“So they really need energy efficiency to simultaneously meet the people’s needs and deliver their energy strategy, while meeting ever-increasing environmental demands.”
“We started with the view that the pump down process could be done with two pumps instead of four,” explains Paul Neller, who’s now Vice President for Marketing in the Semiconductor Division, but back then was new product introduction manager for the dry vacuum pumps.
iXL900R dry vacuum pump
Main feature: Low energy, high capacity pump that brings increased uptime, reduced environmental impact and cost benefits.
Super power: Small and quiet, yet strong enough to replace two pumps of the previous model.
Used at: Semiconductor and flat panel manufacturing.
*Calculations based on product data, comparing our latest technology with our traditional technology. No. of installations are estimated on global market assumptions. Carbon calculator: Click Here
“That would save a lot of energy, decrease footprint and reduce the facilities costs of providing the power and utilities for each of the pumps that support that chamber. So our technology group wanted to achieve more capacity per footprint and more capacity per kilowatt of power consumption.”
Although the product was first launched back in 2014, both Paul and Chris have vivid recall -- it came at a time of real transition for Edwards, as it became part of the Atlas Copco Group.
“Around this time we’d started moving away from new product introductions (NPI) being a purely technical endeavor run by engineers to more of a programme management philosophy, with project managers and multidisciplinary teams across the business. There were weekly project meetings with everyone involved,” says Paul.
“During this project we were also building up an NPI team in South Korea. They gradually started taking over the production commercialization process from us in the UK. Nowadays, the UK factory in Sussex does the core tech for the dry pumps and then the factory in Cheonan, South Korea, picks it up, but this project was a real learning curve for the team there. Even when I meet the team in South Korea years later, people still mention it.
“And remember that we didn’t have the video conferencing technology we do now, so there were communication challenges too, especially in wintertime when there’s a nine-hour difference between the UK and South Korea.”
Chris Shaw says the “vital relationship” between marketing and R&D always exists within a state of “creative tension”. “It’s tense and even strident sometimes, but it’s humorous too,” he says. “And that tension is vital to creating both value for the customer and profitable growth.”
The iXL900R can replace two pumps of the previous model. The energy savings from using the higher capacity pump mean customers can significantly reduce operating costs. Based on the cumulative run hours of iXL900R dry vacuum pumps in 2019 compared to the previous generation iXL500 pumps, 26.8 GWh were saved -- around 19,000 metric tonnes of CO2.
“Every time you look at a flat screen somewhere, the chances are that it probably used our equipment in making it, whether it’s your phone, your monitor or your TV,” Paul says. “When you think about how many screens there are worldwide and all that they’re used for, that’s good going!”
We started with the view that the process could be done with two pumps instead of four. That would save a lot of energy, decrease footprint and reduce the facilities costs of providing the power and utilities for each of the pumps. So our technology group wanted to achieve more capacity per footprint and more capacity per kilowatt of power consumption."
Chris Shaw Vice President for Business Development, Semiconductor division
Meet our innovators
Chris Shaw
Vice President for Business Development, Semiconductor division
How did you end up in the Atlas Copco Group? I always wanted to work in the science, engineering and technology market space. I co-owned a business, but when it wasn’t working out I started looking around for a science, technology and engineering company to join, and I realized that rather strangely, having been a customer of Edwards for so long, I’d never worked for them. As I did my research I realized they’d been losing a bit of business that they would previously have won. I had the urge to see if I could join the team and help them and here I am now, part of the Atlas Copco family.
Paul Neller
Vice President for Marketing, Semiconductor division
What motivates you in your work? It’s all about what our products enable. When you think about the rate of change and growth of technology and what semiconductor devices are doing for the world, whether it’s faster computing capabilities or better screens and devices or whether it’s about enabling things like healthcare or autonomous vehicles, I think it’s an exciting industry. The things that our products enable is the key motivation for me.