Cluster ToolA new semiconductor manufacturing system composed of multiple process components cuts two years off the time normally needed to develop the control equipment. The open-automation controls from Micro C, Grand Rapids, Mich., also produce more uniform, repeatable, and reliable chips than previous proprietary systems driven by C++ or other code-based control programs.

Micro C worked with Rockwell Automation, Milwaukee, to set up a system called a cluster tool -- an automation hub that holds thermal processing, annealing, and chemical-vapor deposition as well as a cooling chamber. The new system is based on Allen-Bradley's 1794 Flex I/O modules that connect system devices to the controller, and a RAC 6180 industrial computer running RSView32 software on the operator interface. Micro C President Imad Mahawili says the Rockwell Automation control system has brought 25% more throughput in wafer handling .

Another plus: The system incorporates a standard interface that the semiconductor industry requires for all software systems, called the GEM/SECS (Generic Equipment Model/SEMI Equipment Communication Standard). The GEM/SECS lets users transfer data, write instructions to the controllers, and control the system from a common interface.