The success of developing and manufacturing complex modules and machines for high-tech OEMs is determined by ever stricter demands for cleanliness. As a consequence NTS regards contamination control as a core competence. It invests heavily in generating relevant knowledge and the necessary equipment, and applying these in development and manufacturing processes for customers. In doing so the bar is set high, not only in regard to the present needs for cleanliness, but also those of the years to come. Two current major projects are the significant upgrades of the cleanroom and cleaning facilities at the Systems Assembly division of NTS.
Contamination control is crucial to producing high-quality advanced machines and modules. This makes it into an important theme in the international high complexity, low volume, high levels of product diversity markets that NTS serves as a first-tier supplier. Olof Teulings, Process Engineer at the Systems Assembly division of NTS, experiences the increasing call for cleanliness on a daily basis.
‘Requirements are becoming ever more strict and customers expect more and more from us. An example concerns some of our strategic partners who explicitly share their development path and resulting requirements in cleanliness, enabling us to anticipate in their needs by taking the necessary steps to keep serving them in the future. This all underlines the fact that contamination control is a hot item in our high-tech world, and therefore also in NTS’ development, component manufacturing and assembly companies. We recognized this some time ago and made the explicit choice to elevate cleanliness to a core competence in the realization that if you can’t do it clean, now or in the future, you are going to lose business.’
Olof is a member of the Cleanliness Competence Team that NTS set up three years ago. One of the main goals is generating, increasing and sharing relevant knowledge, companywide but also with the partners of NTS. Thus the experts involved lay a firm foundation for NTS’ cleanliness competences and strategy. Moreover, they play an advising roll in projects where contamination control is an issue.
‘And in doing all these things we are not without ambition’, says Olof. ‘NTS wants to be one step ahead - a frontrunner in contamination control. Stable and robust processes from a cleanliness perspective give us a competitive edge. Sharing our expertise with customers - established OEM’s and newcomers - adds to our value. But of course being able to work clean is also a matter of having the right facilities. Momentarily I’m heading a project in which we expand our ISO 6 cleanroom, upgrade our ISO 8 to an ISO 7 cleanroom and adding ISO 5 (or less) mini environments where necessary. Among other things this involves installing new air treatment installations for particle and chemical filtration, changing the layout, the cleanroom equipment, dress code, way-of-working and the logistical and cleaning processes.
A real difference
‘All in all cleanliness may look simple but can often be very complex where success is determined by a sum of various measures’, states Process Engineer Martin Baan-Hofman. ‘The same goes for the optimizing our cleaning facilities which has been my responsibility over the last few years. Our automated cleaning line consists of 8 baths of 140 liter in which we clean all our stainless steel and aluminum components before transferring them to a cleanroom. We started this project three years ago with the aim of creating an effective and robust cleaning process. NTS didn’t choose to follow the beaten track by adapting already existing and widely used standards. Our challenge is to clean parts from a wide variety of suppliers and still have a consistent high cleanliness level. We managed to make a real difference - in close co-operation with chemistry suppliers and consultants - to find new combinations of soaps and recipes which elevated our cleanliness to the next level. This meant that we had to experiment a good deal to get it right, also in the field process control of measuring, handling and packaging products. It takes a lot of time, energy and creativity to excel in contamination control. But where’s the fun if it’s easy?’
Training and awareness
Martin stresses that - weather you’re talking about a cleanroom or a cleaning line - cutting edge technology and processes carry a lot of weight in clean high-tech assembly, but it’s the human factor that is decisive in contamination control. That’s why NTS invests a lot in training and keeping up the necessary awareness.
‘Over the last few years NTS has made big steps in cleanliness. At NTS we know what we do and which knobs we have to turn to optimize processes. The feedback we get from customers is great. But we also keep in mind that contamination control is a way of working and a state of mind. It needs to be fed constantly. It’s requires lasting discipline, attention and responsiveness of all involved, especially at NTS where we handle a big variety of products and meet a wide array of customer specific standards in a generic setting. That’s something you do together, by learning, stressing the importance over and over again and keeping everyone on their toes to maximize the results.’
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