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PTO helps SDI reduce equipment maintenance costs

“PEER Group is now an extension of our engineering team and handles the bulk of our automation requirements.”

Andrew Findlay, VP of Sales & Marketing at SDI

In 2004, Semiconductor Diagnostics Inc. (SDI) developed all their automation software internally. Their connectivity software supplier offered an automation toolkit that enabled SDI software engineers to control all of the EFEM components, communicate with the Equipment Control System (ECS), create a user interface, and send/receive SECS messages to the fab host computer. The software development was an extensive effort, but SDI thought that this large initial investment would be followed by relatively minor maintenance over time.

“We really underestimated the amount of engineering effort to maintain our internally developed automation software,” said Andrew Findlay, VP of Sales & Marketing at SDI. “Each fab runs differently and our tool must adapt to these variations. Most of our fab customers’ requirements are handled by software, but the amount of effort required to adapt to the numerous changes continued to grow. After several shipments of our new platform, we realized that the cost to maintain our automation software was going to be much higher than anticipated.”

SDI was introduced to PEER Group by way of one of their fab customers. PEER Group has an extensive fab automation business, having tested and integrated over 200 equipment types at various fabs worldwide. “We figured that if PEER Group worked closely with our customers to help them test and integrate so many tools, they would be able to apply that knowledge and experience to their OEM product,” said Nick Kochey, VP of Engineering at SDI. “And our intuition was correct. Whenever we get an order from a new fab customer, PTO has most, if not all, of that specification already built-in.”

Engineers at SDI now quickly configure the award-winning PEER Tool Orchestrator (PTO) to adapt their tool to the fab’s specification (e.g., light tower, recipe management, operator interface, alarm handling, and so on). If a fab has a new requirement not yet built into PTO, PEER Group usually adds this new feature. If the OEM wants to add a special capability, PTO is designed to accommodate OEM-specific extensions, keeping the PTO core intact. This improves the reliability and maintainability of all tools running PTO.

“It takes us a lot less time to configure PTO for a new fab,” continues Kochey. “This, of course, reduces our costs, but we get an even larger cost savings by the greatly reduced time our field support and software engineers spend at the customer’s fab, writing and debugging customer-specific automation code.”

Decreasing maintenance costs doesn’t stop with faster configuration; on-going maintenance costs are also reduced. Every tool is running the same PTO core, which allows PEER Group to run extensive functional and regression testing to assure the highest reliability. This improves software quality and reliability, and drives down maintenance costs for both the OEM and the fab.

“The key to the success of this outsourcing strategy is the proper reorganization that can deliver the highest quality solution to our customers at the lowest cost,” concludes Findlay. “PEER Group is now an extension of our engineering team and handles the bulk of our automation requirements. This has freed up some resources internally, allowing us to focus on development of our metrology. We are now able to deliver robust manufacturing tools, with leading edge state-of-the-art capabilities, making us more competitive in the marketplace.”

About Semiconductor Diagnostics Inc.

SDI is a world leader in non-contact, electrical characterization and contamination control measurement systems for real-time production monitoring and process characterization in the semiconductor industry. Configured for either stand-alone operation or with multiple measurement technologies integrated onto a single platform, the FAaST™ 200 and 300 series tools can be set up locally or run in a fully automated factory environment.

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