Cleanliness is a hot topic in the high-tech industry and not without reason. The machines of OEMs in this industry need to cope with more and extreme accurate processes, combined with higher speeds and reliability. Increasingly stringent requirements in the field of contamination control affect all those targets. 'With this in mind, we see cleanliness as an integral part of our proposition’, says Marcel Kouters, System Lead Engineer and member of the Cleanliness Competence Team at NTS. 'We offer customers a grip on cleanliness in all steps of high-tech product creation.'
About three years ago NTS established its Cleanliness Competence Team (CCT) in order to build up, secure and archive cleanliness competence and to set design guidelines. Although contamination control had been a natural part of a lot of projects within the enterprise, this marked the official recognition of cleanliness as a core competence that had to be embedded in all layers of the organization.
Marcel was involved in the setup and growth of CCT. At this moment the team consists of nine employees within the three divisions of NTS; Development & Engineering, Component Manufacturing and Systems Assembly. One of the goals is generating, securing and spreading knowledge, and not only within the company.
Marcel: 'The importance of our investments in the field of cleanliness, in knowledge and on the level of projects, is evident. The technology and applications of our customers - mostly renowned international high-tech OEMs and highly innovative newcomers - are becoming increasingly complex. As a consequence contamination control grows in importance throughout the entire process of development up to and including the production of their modules and machines. This is not just about guaranteeing the quality of their equipment. Engineering and manufacturing with a focus on cleanliness consumes time and money. Thus, we are talking about a challenge in the full width of our proposition. After all, we derive our reason for being from our contribution to the success of our customers. This means we must offer them grip on all steps in high-tech creation, also in respect to designing and building for cleanliness. '
‘We don’t shy away from talking to fellow suppliers in our surroundings', states Marcel. ‘The leading thought is that a reinforcement of the high-tech ecosystem in our region makes NTS stronger too. But we are of course, first and foremost, in the business of adding value for our customers and evolving our company. That means that we have to address a variety of questions about cleanliness such as ‘How do you translate cleanliness requirements to specs', ' How do you offer clarity about your work in the field of contamination control in quotations’ and ‘How do you verify your actual results during the creation process?’
A way of working. This is how technical specialist John Timmermans and member of the CCT of NTS characterizes contamination control. The awareness of cleanliness is important. Procedures and rules are never sufficient to eliminate all risks. Daily routine and a negative working atmosphere are deadly for instance. Creating the right conditions for an intrinsic motivation and discipline is thus very important to excel in the field of cleanliness. In addition, it is also a matter of the purchase of the necessary diagnostic tools-for example RGA-lineups, particle meters, otoscopes - and making sure that they are being used in a correct way. We also organize training courses for our specialists, for example with regard to the use of cleanrooms, vacuum technology and Residual Gas Analysis (RGA). In addition, our team discusses cleanliness issues in current projects every week.’
‘And we haven't even talked about the necessary control of our supply chain yet', adds Marcel. 'Cleanliness is also a responsibility of our suppliers. All in all, elevating cleanliness to a core competence is an extremely complex operation. At the same time: this is what our customers ask of us. Therefore we work together, for example by adorning specific cleanliness projects, in the common belief that investing in cleanliness is profitable for both.'
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