Moving forward in design and building for cleanliness

The demands for cleanliness are increasing and therefore weigh heavier on the development and production of advanced high-tech equipment. As a consequence, contamination control is increasingly important for business cases of machine builders regarding quality, functionality and aesthetics versus cost of goods and development. According to John Timmermans, Technical Specialist and member of the Cleanliness Competence Team at NTS, it is therefore only logical that NTS elevates cleanliness to a core competence. ‘It’s a matter for all parties involved and it revolves around human awareness and action. This requires a dedicated, focused organization with motivated operators.'


We are living at the dawn of a new era. Our technology is rapidly becoming more intelligent and enables us to do things which were held impossible just a few year ago. We spend our days online with our mobile devices, use surgical robots, print 3D aircraft parts and food and can see atoms. This kind of innovation is made possible by the significant increase of the process accuracies of high-tech machine builders, for instance in developing advanced software. But the speed of innovation in the hardware domain is also stunning, for example in the field of creating incredibly small structures. To make this all possible cleanliness awareness is becoming extremely important.    

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.

Serious impact

‘These achievements are enormous and still the limits of technical possibilities are shifting steadily, states Timmermans. This provides new challenges for OEMs and their suppliers. Cleanliness is one of the current major themes. Evidently- when you work exactly to the nanometer or create a high voltage field in a vacuum for example - the least amount of contamination can have harmful effects such as faltering production processes, failing or improper applications and limiting the lifetime of machines. And in addition: products simply have to look okay. Nobody buys a new car with a scratch or weird spots. So when we talk about cleanliness, we are talking about  a potential of serious harm to the business cases of OEMs.' 

Optimal balance

NTS is a multidisciplinary company that serves OEMs worldwide. It’s work domain covers both the development and assembly of high-tech modules and machines, and the production of key components. Timmermans emphasizes that, regarding this proposition, NTS sees cleanliness as an integral task that requires a deep and broad knowledge, the right tools and specific skills.

‘Preventing contamination starts with concept designs and process definitions. In these early phases, as well as later down the track, we look at this theme from the perspective of creating an optimal balance. Nothing is clean. There's always pollution. We don't want it as clean as possible but as clean as needed. Overdesigning is never productive because of the negative impact on the speed and costs of projects. A substantial part of those first steps is therefore creating clarity on the level of cleanliness required. Pollution can be anything: dust, water, oil, bacteria, degassing, you name it.'

Taking the lead

‘Contamination control is a matter of thresholds and limits; what is permissible and what is not, and how to build in checks during manufacturing to prove the contamination is still within these limits.’ So says Marcel Kouters, System Lead Engineer at NTS, in addition to his colleague. 'All these things make  the impact of cleanliness requirements particularly complex. Moreover, as a development and production partner our role and responsibilities vary case by case. Some OEMs lay their requirements down to the smallest detail on the basis of ISO standards or their own criteria. During other projects there is room for collaboration in translating demands regarding cleanliness into the most  cost effective measures in Technical Product Demands and ways of working. And sometimes - usually when start-ups are involved -  the customer sometimes have not thought about the impact of contamination and taking the lead is up to us. In short, everyone has his own view on cleanliness and how to achieve an optimal result.'


Contamination control will keep growing in importance in the creation of advanced technology and equipment. According to Timmermans this is only logical. ‘the major players in the semicon industry. still follow Moore's law. This automatically results in heavier requirements for cleanliness. And we see the same trend in every high-tech market we serve. moving forward in designing and building for cleanliness is a shared responsibility of the entire value chain. This means NTS also has to increase its focus on contamination control with clear procedures for:  specification of the required cleanliness, guidelines to design for cleanliness, work instructions for clean production, recipes for cleaning and facilities for clean assembly and packaging. At the same time, we must all realize that contamination control is all about people at work. You can capture a lot in norms, agreements and technological solutions. But it all starts with awareness and ownership of all stakeholders and working together on every level.'  With involvement of all engineers and operators we proudly work on advanced  high tech systems to make an exciting future.

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