Nanometrics, a Milpitas, Calif. company that specializes in semiconductor metrology systems, recently faced the challenge of integrating a robotic stage into one of its designs. Its initial approach, based on past collaborations with third party vendors, was to separate the control panel and mechanical stage. Doing so, however, increased the tool's complexity and footprint, creating a costly problem for chipmakers constrained by space limitations.

With integration the only option, Nanomotion engineers turned to Agile Systems, Waterloo, Ont., for its expertise in motion control and amplifier technologies. Working together, engineers from both companies set out to eliminate the external control panel and produce a compact, submicron accuracy tool.

The engineers incorporated the control module inside the robotic stage for a clean integration with a minimum of external cables. Ordinarily, the host PC sits 15 to 20 ft from the robotic stage, requiring 15 separate cables at least 18 ft in length. With Agile's architecture, however, network and power lines are the only external cables needed.

The design employs a four-axis motion controller with FireWire interface, digital amplifiers, general-purpose I/O, and a high-resolution sin/cos encoder port. Its footprint is only 3 × 5 × 2 in., replacing an external box the size of a large PC chassis without sacrificing power, precision, speed, stability, and bandwidth.

Under the command of high-force, direct-drive motors, Nanometrics' new metrology systems can continuously rotate 300-mm wafers 360° in 400 msec. They also reach a top speed of 21 in./sec over their 7-in. translation range.

Manufacturers respond to market growth

Two major motion control firms have responded to growing needs of the semiconductor market by focusing a segment of their business in this area.

Bosch Rexroth Corp., Hoffman Estates, Ill., opened a new technical center in Pleasanton, Calif. to provide local engineering and application support for customers in the semiconductor and medical industries. The center, says North America president and CEO Wolfgang Dangel, is a direct link to Bosch's technology groups including electric drives and controls, linear motion and assembly, and pneumatics.

Dangel says the market is expected to grow, due to an increasing trend of equipment builders outsourcing their motion control needs.

Earlier this year, Heidenhain Corp., Schaumburg, Ill., announced an internal restructuring, which divided the company's sales force, product management, and support systems into three groups. The electronics division encompasses semiconductor, medical, and metrology markets.