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When Good Parts Go Bad: Repair or Replace?

by Denny Huebner

In today’s fab environment, many device makers run production around the clock, 365 days a year, so tools are pushed hard to keep cranking out high-yield wafers at the lowest possible cost. Reducing cost of ownership (CoO) is always a high priority for fab managers, especially as competitive market pressures increase.

Unfortunately, all the CoO reduction efforts in the world can’t overcome wear and tear on parts. Like the engine in your car or the motor in your dishwasher, sooner or later, parts will break or wear out. When they do, what are your choices?

The decision to repair or replace a part often comes down to just a few factors: the age and overall condition of the part, replacement part availability, and of course, cost. If it’s a low-cost or consumable part it’s an easy decision to pull one from inventory and replace it. But some parts, such as robots, pumps, and chillers, carry high price tags and may be too costly to have sitting in inventory until needed. In many cases, repair or refurbishment of these expensive parts is a good alternative to buying a new one if you can count on a trusted, reliable source to do the work. A repaired part can provide a savings of as much as 30–60% over the cost of a new part, and with the right supplier, immediate replacement or parts exchange programs can result in very limited wait time and lower inventory-carrying costs.

Once you’ve decided to repair rather than replace a part, it’s obviously important to select a repair service provider who is experienced and delivers consistently highquality service at a competitive price. You want the part to perform to new-part standards with a price that represents a good savings over new-part pricing.

You may also want a comprehensive assembly repair solution that returns your part in “like new” condition rather than simply replacing a failed component within the part itself. Component repair, while cheap, may not be an optimal solution. It’s like replacing a single failed robot bearing without replacing the other bearings and seals in the assembly. You’ve temporarily fixed your problem but you’re risking another failure in the near future. That next breakdown will become another period of tool downtime with more negative impact on your costs, so a seemingly cheap repair becomes multiple repairs. Comprehensive assembly repair will return to you a part that will perform as new: one incident, one refurbished part versus multiple incidents, more wait time, and increased CoO.

Applied Materials offers a suite of parts repair and refurbishment services that is one of the broadest in the industry. We handle repair and refurbishment for more than 2,000 different parts, including chillers, robots, MFCs, RF generators and matches, and pumps. Our repair services deliver comprehensive assembly solutions and the results are parts that operate “as new.” Serving customers from our network of repair centers and suppliers around the globe, Applied will repair more than 10,000 customer parts in 2013, saving customers nearly $75 million over new-part prices. Currently we have repair centers in Korea, Singapore, Europe, North America and Taiwan with plans to expand local capability. In addition to Applied’s own repair centers we have many prequalified regional repair suppliers that can bring focused expertise to provide a high-quality, timely repair solution.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Customers have realized significant savings by having parts repaired instead of buying new ones, whether they need one part or many hundreds of parts.

Flexible Repair Programs

Applied’s parts repair services address the varied needs of customers, from straightforward transactional repairs to quick turnaround services for both standard and process-critical parts.

  • Recondition Parts Service (RPS): Applied RPS is a perfect solution for customers looking for a simple way to repair broken parts and save the most money. With RPS, your broken parts are repaired and returned to you within an agreed time frame. The closed-loop RPS covers both process-critical and non-process critical parts so you can monitor the part’s history and past process exposure. You get your own parts back, fully reconditioned to perform to new-part quality standards.

    For example, one customer wanted to upgrade a key part on all their Applied tools in order to improve wafer performance. Replacing all of the existing parts with new ones would have been extremely costly. However, it was determined that the legacy parts could be refurbished into the new design and a spec was jointly developed with the customer. As the refurbishment got underway, Applied was able to make some additional change recommendations to further improve the part.

    Upon completion of the project, this customer was able to upgrade their existing installed base, refresh the lifetime of these critical parts, and improve wafer performance—all at a savings of more than 50% over the much higher cost of buying new parts.

  • Parts Exchange Services: When time-to-repair is critical, parts exchange programs such as Applied Materials Express Exchange (ExE) and Express Repair (ExR) eliminate wait time by providing a fast exchange service for repaired parts. These programs are usually paired with our Total Parts Management (TPM) program, which consigns your inventory and manages your repair exchanges.

    Applied ExE offers an exchange solution from a pool of Applied’s previously repaired parts. This is an excellent option for obtaining parts that are not considered process critical. For process critical parts the ExR program ensures that broken parts are quickly replaced with repaired ones drawn only from your own pool of repaired parts held in inventory at our repair center.

Applied’s RPS, ExE and ExR programs are proven parts repair solutions. By delivering potential savings of 30% to 60%, they offer you the opportunity to lower CoO through price, wait time, and reliability. And they offer one thing more: peace of mind that your repair will be handled right by a supplier you can trust.

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