Attention to Packaging Pays Off
By Nanochip Staff
Given the complexity of Applied Materials equipment and spare parts there are plenty of physical and environmental packaging challenges. To address these, Applied has expanded its staff of packaging engineers, set up a lab, and worked with suppliers around the globe to align its packaging specifications with customer needs.
In an era of increasingly complex parts and equipment and heightened concerns about cleanliness, industry suppliers have many aspects to consider when it comes to the proper distribution of packaged parts. From contamination, electro-static discharge, humidity and temperature variables, to vibration, environmental impacts and other challenges, Applied’s packaging engineers focus on all aspects of distribution of packaged parts.
Shock, vibration test, and drop tester systems.
"It all starts with people and infrastructure," said Daniel Nicely, Applied’s senior director of logistics operations, noting that in recent years the company has doubled the number of packaging engineers who are industry experts in packaging design, development and testing. "We have also built a sophisticated product and packaging dynamics testing lab in Santa Clara, California, equipped with a vibration test system, a shock machine for product fragility analysis and drop testers for packaging integrity tests," Nicely said. Other equipment includes a sample table for constructing foam and corrugated prototypes. "This lab enables quick turns of designs that can be easily tested to simulate the environment that the sensitive parts and systems are exposed to in transit."
Sample table for constructing foam and corrugated prototypes, enabling quick turns of designs that can be easily tested to simulate the environments the sensitive parts and systems are exposed to in transit.
As services have become an integral part of Applied’s overall business, the company has invested significantly in resources and partnered with vendors worldwide to ensure parts are shipped with the right packaging. “Our customers demand ever-cleaner materials and parts, and we work together to make sure contamination and other hazards are strictly controlled,” Nicely said. Those efforts include keeping temperatures constant for the highly engineered shipping containers used for state-of-the-art tools, and verifying that the particle counts, outgassing and mobile ion impurities for the cleanroom packaging materials are within acceptable limits. “We install data loggers with our high-value shipments to monitor the distribution conditions to ensure that the packaging has not crossed any critical thresholds. If the part is in any way compromised, we do not want the customers to go through the laborious process of installing it on the tool, only to find that it can’t meet our product specifications,” he said.
The appearance of the packaged product plays an important role as well. If an Applied Materials part arrives at a customer’s site in a crushed or damaged box, the perception is that there could be something wrong with the part itself.
If customers are rejecting shipments due to packaging damage, even in cases where the parts might be intact, Applied will develop and implement more robust packaging for the product to withstand the hazards of distribution. According to Nicely, “Perceptions are reality and we consider perceptions to be serious data indicators.”
Applied packaging engineer Divya Nadig said Applied’s drive toward sustainable packaging includes reusable packaging wherever possible, avoiding non-environmentally friendly materials such as packing "peanuts," PVC and others. Last year alone, more than 200 reusable packaging designs were implemented for parts that are ordered in relatively high volumes. Nadig said each of these reusable packages can be used for 30 to 50 trips between the customers’ fabs, warehouse locations, and cleaning vendors throughout the world. "As a result, almost 30,000 single-use packages were eliminated."
Another effort involves introduction of reusable cabinets, which are used to pick up repairable parts from multiple customer fabs in Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan). Nadig said these cabinets, each of which can hold an average of six parts, outperform traditional packages and eliminate the need for single-use packaging, such as boxes or crates, to transport broken parts from Asian fabs to Applied’s depots or warehouses.
Reusable cabinets are used to pick up repairable parts from multiple customer fabs in Asia
Nadig said Applied’s packaging development and implementation strategies involve a multi-pronged approach and consider the optimum solution to be the one that has the right design to protect the part, at the right cost and with on-time delivery. "We treat a package like it is its own product, with its own full life cycle, from design to implementation," she said.
"It does more than just contain and protect the part or system. Packaging establishes the first impression of our products, communicates product information, provides handling and shipping instructions, and supports product functionality."
Aligning Regional Suppliers
Applied Materials procures parts from suppliers based in the regions where the parts are consumed. That effort involves working closely with the suppliers in those regions to ensure that they provide packaging that meets Applied Materials standards. "If regional suppliers cannot procure the specified packaging locally, we might have to ship empty boxes from other locations, which can slow deliveries, and impact costs and carbon footprint," Nicely said. "We need to line up regional suppliers, at the right volumes, as packaging costs are very closely linked to volumes. If we can buy tens of thousands of the same box, we can get the cost down to fractions of a dollar. That involves extensive training of the supply chain." Applied offers packaging services and training programs to all suppliers who need help and has tested hundreds of supplier packages to make sure they meet protective goals and costs.
Increasingly, customers and customs officials require more information about package content, so labels must be more descriptive and user-friendly than in the past. "If a package contains any hazardous materials, or if there are batteries or magnets inside, we make sure the package has accurate, clearly descriptive labeling to identify and inform about potential hazards. Meeting regulatory requirements is extremely important, as is ensuring safety," Nicely said.
Nicely also noted that avoiding damage and contamination is part of the total effort to get Applied Materials products to market successfully at the best possible cost. "This is an exciting time for the semiconductor industry, and as the industry shifts, Applied Materials is molding and investing in new and innovative approaches to how our products are packaged and presented to our customers."
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