Physicist F.D Edwards began importing vacuum equipment from his garage in South London, UK in 1919. 100 years later the vacuum is a critical process enabler and plays an ever more crucial role in science and technology.

This year Edwards Vacuum is celebrating a century of technological innovations.

“Whilst F.D Edwards might not recognise the scale of Edwards’ operations today, he would undoubtedly recognise the innovative spirit of his company and the tremendous importance of vacuum in enabling industry and technology, as he did back in 1919,” said Ian Stones, Vice-President of Technology at Edwards Vacuum.

Many of the critical applications of vacuum the physicist was so familiar with – light bulbs, CRT TVs, vacuum valves – have been replaced with completely new technologies – LEDs, flat panel screens, semiconductor transistors. The requirement for vacuum as a critical process enabler has intensified and the demand for innovative vacuum solutions in new applications is scaling at a phenomenal rate.

Science and technology

Edwards has enabled significant advances over the last 100 years and continues to play an ever more crucial role in science and technology.

“Even in the last decade we have seen many new vacuum applications emerge and grow including the production of smart phones and tablets, HB LED lighting, solar PV panels and Li-ion batteries for electric vehicles,” Stones continued.

“If we simply look at a modern smart phone, the amount of manufacturing content requiring vacuum as a critical process enabler is tremendous, from the advanced semiconductor devices such as processors and memory, mems sensors, high resolution LCD/LED screens, LED flashlights and li-ion batteries to the enclosure forming and anti-reflective, oleophobic screen coatings. It’s hard to imagine life today without the products enabled by vacuum.”

Semiconductor processes 

When it comes to semiconductor processes, vacuum and abatement are two of the most critical functions of the sub-fab enabling Moores Law.

“Vacuum pumps evacuate the process chambers to provide the required pressures and flows for each process step and at the same time remove unused process gas and by-products, which then get passed to the abatement systems for treatment, so they are safe to release or dispose,” explained Stones.

“In the 1980s new semiconductor processes and increasing gas flows led to problems with aggressive chemicals and solids collecting in the oil used in oil-lubricated ‘wet’ pumps, resulting in short service intervals and high cost of ownership. These were resolved by the development and introduction of oil-free ‘dry pumps’.”

Edwards’ Henry Wycliffe patented the roots/claw dry pump in 1984 which quickly became adopted as the new technology enabling complex semiconductor processes.

“Since then, Edwards has continuously innovated the technology to enable the rapid advances in semiconductor processes and the complex and challenging chemistries being used to accelerate along Moores Law,” Stones said.

“In many cases, new processes would not have been possible without major innovations in the vacuum and abatement equipment.”

The environmental impact of Edwards’ products also receives extensive innovation focus. Vacuum pumps alone can represent up to 25% of the total energy consumption of a semiconductor manufacturing facility, and the company has a strong track record of innovations which deliver more efficient and sustainable products whilst also solving the increasing chemistry challenges of the gases being pumped.

“Our latest fifth generation semiconductor dry pump, for example, uses less than 50% of the energy of its predecessor whilst providing higher levels of performance, extended service intervals and a much smaller footprint to improve sub-fab space utilisation,” highlighted Stones.

“Similarly, our abatement systems enable the safe management of ever more challenging gas chemistries and our worldwide installed base prevents the release of approximately 14 million tonnes equivalent of CO2 emissions every year.”

Future

“Mr Edwards was an extremely successful entrepreneur who created an environment which enabled innovation to thrive and this has remained in the DNA of Edwards ever since,” said Stones.

“Many of the markets and applications we serve are very dynamic and have frequently changing and new challenging requirements for our products. Therefore being able to develop innovative solutions to complex challenges is a critical enabler for Edwards and for our customers.”

To stay ahead of all the new vacuum critical applications, Edwards has developed a stream of successful innovations and new products and technologies. Today the company has more than 20 different principles for creating vacuum and abating gas and a portfolio of more than 2,300 active granted and pending patents.

Concluding, Stones said, “Whatever the future may bring, vacuum will continue to play a critical enabling role. The scale and number of applications requiring vacuum continue to expand and while technology shifts are certain to occur, Edwards is well positioned to enable them with innovative solutions.”

“I believe Mr F.D Edwards would be extremely proud of what Edwards has achieved over its entire 100-year history, and our continued focus and investment on innovation puts us in a great position for the next 100 years!”