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Factory Automation

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contact me at:
justin (@) deepdrift dot com


GyozaQuest is a non profitable site,

Just what is it that you do?

And what are all these companies that you've worked for?


– Intel is the microprocessor leader in the world. I’ve worked for them twice, once as a co-op engineer my Jr. year in college, and again after they bought out the company I was working for. I have a lot of respect for them as a company. They do a lot of things right, There’s a good reason why they’re such a big company.

I worked for them in 1993, and again in 1998 upon which I took an early retirement/severance package.

Digital Equipment - No longer exists

I moved out to Hudson Massachusetts in the summer of 1996, to work for Digital Equipment Corp, when I had graduated from college.

– At the time Digital Equipment was the leader in microprocessor design and technology. In 1996 when most Pentiums were operating at 200 mhz, their 21264 Alpha processor, a true 64 bit RISC processor was running at 600+ mhz. They were leading the technology in both design, and process. 

- In an ironic twist, Digital equipment sued Intel for patent infringement, for utilizing some of the Alpha Microprocessor architecture in their Pentium processor, which is attributed to be a major contributor to the performance improvements from the 486 processor. The final result of Digital’s successful legal challenge was an undisclosed discount on Intel microprocessors, to aid the computer portion of Digital’s PC division

- The semiconductor division of Digital Equipment was sold to Intel. The final result of all this action was that Digital Equipment was acquired by Compaq Computer. As it happens, the semiconductor division which I was working for eventually became an Intel fab.

The groundbreaking Alpha chip, was continued for a little bit and then the rights were sold to Compaq, it was rumored that it was licensed to Samsung, who even tried to manufacture it for a while. In the end the chip never gained a critical foothold in the market.

PRI Automation - No longer exists

– At the 200mm (8 inch) process fab node they were the leading supplier of Automated Material Handling systems. As a co-worker from Digital Equipment put it. “The Stockers and Overhead track kept all the operators from running into each other all over the Fab.” PRI Automation had systems worldwide, in Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, the United States and Europe. (but alas, limited business in Japan) As a result their competitors Daifuku and Murata, now seem to be dominating the 300mm (12 inch) process node. PRI Automation possessed a broad offering of factory automation tools, from precision wafer handling robots (Equipe Robots), to Automated Material Handling and Overhead Track Factory systems(at the time it was known as the Factory Systems Division, and the product was AeroTrack, and TransNet), factory host control software systems (MES, MCS, ERP - They had purchased Promis, encore!). PRI was uniquely positioned to be the leader in Factory Automation solutions.

Rumor has it that they got into competition with Brooks Automation. PRI made robots, Brooks made robots. Although their businesses were different initially, as the wave of mergers and aquisitions as they started to buy out other companies, they started to overlap on each others markets. Conflct was inevitable.

As the industry shifted away from their highly profitable 200mm products to more standarized 300mm products. It has been said that PRI had an extremely large customer base with Intel. But their new products didn't catch on for the next generation of orders. Thus they fell with the rest of the industry as the economy faced the downturn of of 2000 and 2001.

As it happens, late in 2002, PRI was purchased by Brooks Automation. The competition was over.

Adept Inc - No longer exists

– Adept Inc was a technical staffing company, broadening it’s offerings to full project solutions. As a leader in filling positions for web services and e-commerce applications it seemed like a natural progression (in 1999 at least) to enter a Solutions Consulting division. After fits and starts, a solid business was established. The final result was the technical staffing company was sold to TMP worldwide – owner of Monster.com, the largest technical staffing, and executive recruitment firm in the world. The solutions division was spun off as it’s own entity, Coriva Inc.

- Ironically there is another company called Adept Technology, which makes factory automation equipment. They make robots, equipment front end modules and other hardware necessary for automating processes. They have a presence in the semiconductor automation industry, and may be considered a competitor to the major robot manufacturers as well as the automation equipment suppliers (such as Asyst, or Brooks Automation).

New Vision Systems (NVS) - No longer exists

Towards the end of the Internet Era in 2001, I quit Adept and decided to go back into the semiconductor industry.

I found this job as an applications engineer for NVS. I thought it was great, they had offices on Massachusetts Avenue, right next to my house, I could walk (or skateboard) to the office. The culture was a startup, casual yet dilligent. There were video games in the back room. The fridge and kitchen had free sodas, and snacks. More often than not, the company would buy us lunch or dinner.

NVS had exciting technology, they had a process control tool, which would feedback information from a offset metrology tool to a lithography stepper, in real time. I would be using both the materials science background, as well as the chemical engineering training I had been taught. Plus it was in an industry I was very familiar with. I would be able to travel, see the world, and see technology in action. I think the best thing I took from that job was one of my co-workers who I explained how the semiconductor industry worked, she would later introduce me to her friends in Taipei.

Unfortunatley, I only worked for them for a short period of time. Although I really didn't do anything wrong, there was a snowstorm, I went in anyways, ice got stuck in the air conditioning unit on roof. The server room got really hot. A couple of hard drives stopped working. I really didn't quite know what to do. I went skiing. The next day I was terminated. They claim it had nothing to do with the meltdown.

NVS was bought by Inficom in 2002.

ADE – Advanced Dimensional Equipment. - My current employer 

- ADE has carved out it’s own niche in the wafer metrology node. They supply wafer flatness, Nanotopography, and Wafer inspection tools to the semiconductor wafer makers. They set the standard for bare wafer metrology.

Other stories of places I've worked-

Micron Technology - They still Exist

Micron is a chip company in the middle of Idaho, land of potatoes.

Consequently at one time Micron is largely owned by a man named J.R. Simplot. Roughly speaking he's a potato king. JR Simplot founded a company, that still bears his name, which made it's mark selling dehydrated potatoes to the Army during World War II. In addition to developing a way to continuously deep fat fry friench fries, and then freeze them (allowing the houswife to finish them off in the oven) the company developed a cozy relationship with an end user named Ray Kroc.

JR Simplot retired from Micron's Board of Directors in 1998.

I worked for Micron Technology in the Summer of 1995. I was a TEM technician. The previous year I had worked for Intel, although I was an intern engineer, I spent a lot of my time running a SEM. As a result I got to know the service people for the microscope quite well. As a result through my contacts through Philips I had heard that they had installed a new microscope at Micron, in Boise. Not knowing exactly where that was I decided to go anyways.

A SEM is a scanning electron microscope. it illuminates a surface with a beam of electrons, and then displays an image. The sample needs to be small enough to fit under the microscope, and durable enough to be able to withstand a vaccuum. Preparing a cross section can be an art form. It will resolve features about 50 Angstroms in size. I spent a lot of time at Intel pumping down the SEM chamber.

A TEM is a Transmission Electron Microscope, in addition to using electrons as the illumination source, it transmitts them through the substrate. Thus the sample must be very thin. Although quite impressive images can be generated, the sample preperation can be excrutating difficult. This will resolve features less than 10 Angstroms in size. Be aware that the bond distance between two silicon atoms is only 2.5 Angstroms, thus it is possible to see the detailed crystaline structure, atom by atom, if the sample is prepared correctly.

When I graduated from college in 1996, I had a choice of staying around Berkeley in California, or moving to Boise ID, Albequeque NM (Intel), or Hudson MA (a suburb of Boston). Somehow I chose to go to Digital Equipment in Massachusetts.