9.000 km and a nanometer

“When we first met, Nearfield Instruments employed 40 people. By the time we packaged and shipped the first machine, Nearfield employed 80 people. Now there are almost 100.” Account Manager Bas Driendijk at IPS and Roland van Vliet of Nearfield Instruments are looking back upon an exciting and successful project.

 

Try to explain it to someone who is not familiar with the world of microelectronics, semiconductors, and chips. Try to explain that a wafer is a thin slice of monocrystalline semiconductor material. And that by an intensive and expensive process these wafers are made into chips and that that output must be the superlative degree of perfection.

 

Olympic

That is why chip manufacturers are very committed to measuring and monitoring chips, to detect possible errors at an early stage. Roland van Vliet is COO at Nearfield Instruments (NFI). A company that has achieved a unique position in this field. “Where others measure critical dimensions and other process parameters in 2D, our QUADRA system goes further.” This results in a form of mechatronics and nanotechnology at Olympic level.

It took years to build the first machine. At first TNO worked on it and then since 2016 Nearfield Instruments, a spin-off of TNO. Since the last week of 2020 QUADRA is at a chip manufacturer in Asia. It is impossible to underestimate the importance of that success for Nearfield Instruments. IPS Technology can imagine what it’s like, as it was actively involved in the process.

 

Exciting book

“I had never worked as closely together with a client before,’ says Driendijk. How that came about? “Because we got involved when the machine was still under development. Specifications, wishes, and requirements changed regularly. It is as if you are looking over the shoulder of people writing an exciting book. Indeed, as if you are allowed to write one of the chapters of that book.”

Van Vliet smiles and says: “We soon realized that we needed a specialist for the packaging and transport of the machine. Our motto is: outsource work that can be outsourced and do it yourself if you have to. If you contact a packaging specialist at an early stage, such a company is confronted with all sorts of changes during the process. That calls for flexibility.”

 

Asia

Driendijk says that this flexibility was required and offered until the last moment. “In the last few weeks, it happened that my colleague got an email from a developer in the middle of the night. An email with what should really the last question or remark.

IPS is a division of Meilink, the biggest industrial packaging company in the Netherlands. Therefore, it could offer the entire chain from the design of the packaging to delivering the machine at the other side of the world. Meilink supplied personnel for packaging the optimally cleaned components. This happened at the site of Nearfield Instruments, partly in the clean room of the company. “We could have done it at our site as well,” says Driendijk. “We adapt ourselves to what is most convenient for the customer.”

 

Dutch solidity

Eventually under the auspices of IPS fourteen crates were flown from the Netherlands to Asia, a distance of 9,000 kilometers. IPS ensured that vibrations, shocks, high and low temperatures, and massive G-forces had no influence on the extremely sensitive components. The secret: solidity. As Driendijk puts it: “Even ground-breaking technology must be packaged with Dutch solidity.”

Van Vliet nods and says: “The sizes of the machine are 3 x 2 x 2.5 meter. It couldn’t be transported in one piece. Disassembling, shipment, reassembling. It was a complex process. Especially since we were dealing with extremely sensitive, ultraclean components.”

 

Machine number 2

Could we have done an even better job? “We already know what we are going to do differently with machine number 2,” confesses Van Vliet. “The efficiency can be improved.” Driendijk adds: “With the first machine we just followed the changing wishes and circumstances. Thanks to that experience we can immediately develop the most optimal solution for the second machine.”

And there will be a second machine. Nearfield Instruments and IPS are sure of it.


9000 km and a nanometer

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