The perfect partner for wet process equipment?
TOBIAS BAUSCH, CMO & CTO AT AP&S INTERNATIONAL, discusses with Philip Alsop, SiS Editor the company’s batch processing, single wafer processing and support equipment technologies, with the emphasis very much on continuous innovation to deliver cost-saving, operationally-optimised and sustainable customer solutions. The conversation also covers some of the current industry challenges, including ongoing supply chain issues and skills shortages, as well as the opportunities offered by new and emerging markets.
PA: The obvious place to start would be if you can give me a little bit of background on the company, the history and some of the key milestones.
TB: The company itself, AP&S started in 2003, but the history starts in 1995. The current shareholder, Horst Hall, started the business in 1995. Then, from 2001 to 2003, we were part of the SEZ Group and we were called SEZ Germany. The batch part during this time was that SEZ Austria had a single wafer portfolio and in 2003, Alexandra (Laufer-Müller) and Horst, the current shareholders of the company, did a management buyout and founded the company AP&S. So, as I’ve tried to explain the history is much longer than 2003. Which means this year we have the 20 year anniversary. In July we celebrate this with the company employees and the partners.
And yes, over the last 20 years we developed several tool platforms, mainly in the wet process sector. So all our machines are used in the wet departments of our customers. And during this time, sure, we have several milestones - we invested in an in-house lab where we can run demonstrations for customers, the demonstration lab starting in 2012. And as I said, over this time we have a lot of redesigns or redevelopments of machines, new developments of existing machines or new machines.
PA: And it would be good then to move the actual technology solutions you provide. If you can run us through the batch processing solutions - one of your main sort of strengths?
TB: We have the existing three platforms, it’s the batch, the single wafer and the production supporting equipment or facility logistics as we call it. And the batch is this one where we’ve grown up. Since 2003 we’re starting with the batch tools. We have there several platforms, semi-automated and fully automated platforms. The smallest platform is a two-tank solution where customers can have etching and the cleaning application in one equipment. And mostly this tool will be used by customers who coming from manual operations - where the operator handled the wafers manually and they want to go to some kind of automated production. And the next platform is a tool which is called multi or giga step. It’s a bridge tool. It was developed in the 2009-2010 years and we have the possibility to run in these platforms very easily, six and eight inch in a bridge combination without any kind of modification between the wafer sizes. So at the moment this will be very requested related to the Silicon Carbide issues and the Gallium Nitride request. And this tool platform itself is very modular and flexible.
So the customers could also decide by today to go with a tool configuration for a cleaning application and, in the future when their needs change, the product is changing or whatever, we could reconfigure easily, by adapting the modules or insert or disassemble modules or insert new models, the tool configuration. So that’s one of the key benefits of this platform.
And then we have a high throughput platform, a new development - it’s called Nexus Step. It’s up to 12,000 wafs per day, mostly for cleaning applications. We run in this case with 100 wafer batch per load. And therefore we have this year within the year, by end of the year, let’s say we will have the market launch of the Nexus Step, which is a new development. But I think we discuss later on about developments more in detail.
And last but not least is a very special tool. It’s eless metalization equipment for underbump metalization, we call it Volcano. We start this development in 2009. And I think by today we are at most of the customers in Europe. The process of record for this eless metalization, where we can have nickel, palladium, gold metalization on copper or aluminium pads and, yeah, this tool platform was one of the biggest success stories in the history of AP&S.
Our target is to have a clear enlargement of the bath lifetime, because the eless chemistries are quite expensive compared to standard chemicals in the semiconductor industry and we want to ensure that the customer can run on a higher throughput base on a better total cost of ownership.