in Vol. 24 - September Issue - Year 2023
Efficient and Sustainable Parts Cleaning: Optimally Adapted Solutions for Precision and High-purity Applications
Volker Lehmann is responsible for Business Development and Sales in the field of high-end or so-called high-purity and optics cleaning
The UCMSmartLine is an immersion cleaning system based on standardized modules for washing, rinsing and drying. It not only meets exceptional cleanliness requirements for final cleaning but also is extremely cost-efficient.
High-purity Test Centers with cleanrooms and the appropriate analysis equipment are available for developing processes and determining part-specific cleaning parameters
The High-purity Test Center in Dettingen (near Stuttgart) has been inaugurated in November 2022. In the final cleaning area that is validated as an ISO Class 7 cleanroom with ISO Class 6 zones, cleaning tests with the highest cleanliness requirements, such as Grades 2 and 1, can be carried out.
Apart from a work chamber made of electropolished stainless steel, the high-purity configuration of solvent cleaning systems comprises units suited for high-purity applications, as well as special piping and filtration systems
Solvent-based full vacuum cleaning systems may feature an integrated low-pressure plasma treatment process for the final cleaning stage
The SBS Ecoclean Group develops, produces, and sells future-oriented systems and services for industrial component cleaning and surface treatment. Innovation drivers are the two Competence Centers based in Germany, which support the global Group companies with technical expertise, research, and pioneering developments. In this interview, we talk to Volker Lehmann, Business Development Manager for High-purity Business at Ecoclean GmbH, one of the Group’s Center of Competence in Filderstadt of Germany, about current industry trends and future-oriented solutions for industrial parts cleaning of demanding precision and high-tech components.
(?) MFN: Hello, Mr. Lehmann, thank you for taking the time for this interview. To start with, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your job at Ecoclean?
(!) V. L.: I started my professional career in the technical department at Ecoclean Filderstadt. Besides establishing a Sales and Service Center in the USA, I have also been Managing Director at the Swiss company UCM AG, and since 2009, I have also been a member of the SBS Ecoclean Group specialized in the design and production of immersion cleaning systems for precision parts cleaning. Today, I am responsible for Business Development and Sales in the field of high-end or so-called high-purity and optics cleaning.
(?) MFN: Today, we want to talk about industrial parts cleaning and adapted solutions for demanding applications. What are current industry trends and which developments do you recognize lately?
(!) V. L.: At the moment, the economy is in a state of upheaval. Megatrends such as energy transition, sustainability, demographic change, mobility, automation as well as communication and digitization lead to technological and social changes at an ever-increasing speed. This calls for much more flexibility and agility of companies as well as adjustments to manufacturing technologies and in the range of products and services. This can also be seen in the field of industrial parts cleaning. It feels like just yesterday, the automotive industry was still setting the standards in terms of cleanliness requirements. Today, there are completely different industrial sectors setting the pace.
(?) MFN: Interesting! What are typical “new” industries and how is this affecting your business?
(!) V. L.: We are talking about a large variety of sectors, for example, the semiconductor supply industry, optical and optoelectronic industry, thin-film technology, vacuum, laser, and analysis technologies, as well as the medical device industry. Indeed, one critical aspect of achieving excellence in these applications is parts cleaning. The cleaning process not only ensures the removal of contaminants and residues, but also directly influences product quality, performance, and reliability. The demands have increased enormously, and they continue to rise. Of course, this has not only an impact on parts cleaning in general, but also on the way we design and manufacture our cleaning machines, our product portfolio, and the services we offer to meet these specific demands.
(?) MFN: Of what kind of parts and components are we talking about? Do you have some examples?
(!) V. L.: The work pieces are very different. The diameters, for example, can range from one millimeter to over one meter in size. Also, this range is constantly increasing. The parts are often very complex in shape and are made of diverse materials. Some examples are components for semiconductor production equipment, wafer steppers and scanners for EUV lithography, vacuum components used in ultra high vacuum (UHV), extreme high vacuum (XHV) and ultra clean vacuum (UCV) applications such as high-power laser systems or high-tech measuring and analysis equipment. Also, precision optics like mirrors, lenses, prisms and micro-optical parts, aerospace components and medical parts such as tools, instruments and implants.
(?) MFN: Can you tell us some more about the specific cleanliness requirements for these components?
(!) V. L.: In precision industries, even the smallest particles or residues left on components can have catastrophic consequences. Contaminants can cause product defects, reduce the lifespan of equipment, compromise performance, and lead to costly recalls or repairs. Thus, achieving high-purity levels during the cleaning process is of utmost importance. Industries dealing with high-purity applications, such as semiconductor manufacturing and medical devices, require an even higher level of cleanliness. Specifications regarding particulate, filmic organic and inorganic cleanliness are becoming increasingly stringent. The value of the components to be cleaned is immense, and the scrap rate must be kept extremely low, since the costs and time loss for each error are enormous and have a massive impact on value creation. An example: the smaller chip structures become, the larger and more complicated the components for production become. Coupled with new surface processes such as coating and decoating, this results in very special individual requirements for cleanliness. In order to ensure compliance, sophisticated analytical methods must also be used.
(?) MFN: It is truly a very complex field. How do you make sure that the high demands and specifications of your customers are met?
(!) V. L.: The cleanliness requirements vary depending on the product, area of application and company concerned. As a rule, particulate cleanliness specifications - which extend into the nanometer range for precision and high-purity applications - are defined by surface cleanliness classes. The specifications for the required filmic, organic, and inorganic surface cleanliness are usually based on individual specifications or factory standards, for example, outgassing rates, which are evaluated by mass spectrometry. In order to solve these tasks in a needs-based, efficient and sustainable manner, it requires not only comprehensive technological know-how, but also knowledge of the applications and respective physical relationships. As an experienced full-service provider of solutions for precision and high-purity cleaning, Ecoclean has both, which ensures cleaning solutions designed and equipped to meet requirements, enabling defined cleanliness specifications up to the highest current requirements, for example, Grade 1, to be consistently achieved.
(?) MFN: How do you select the right cleaning machine and process for your customer’s specific needs?
(!) V. L.: Key criteria for selecting the most suitable cleaning process and plant technology are the required level of cleanliness, the type of contamination to be removed, the material portfolio, and the throughput and geometry of the respective component. Based on this, it is possible to determine which and how many process steps are necessary, as well as what cleaning fluids and which mechanics are required. Aspects such as the quality of the rinsing fluids and the drying technology are included just as much in this consideration, as are cleanliness-compliant parts handling and the prevailing environmental conditions, for instance, connection or integration into a cleanroom. Which system concept is the right one in terms of cleanliness and cost-effectiveness is determined via cleaning trials with original components or test blocks.
(?) MFN: So, do you have your own Test Centers to conduct these trials? How do you handle this?
(!) V. L.: Yes, Ecoclean has appropriate High-purity Test Centers for this purpose. One in Dettingen near Filderstadt specialized in high-purity and optics applications and one in Monschau specialized in the medical field (MedTech). You may picture it like this: Customers and users have fixed production processes into which their systems are integrated. Tests during operation are not possible as they cause disruptions in production. However, we are also talking about large investments here. So, you can either buy on the basis of a theoretical definition without a practical test at high risk or we as the system manufacturer can support you with tests in our test center. These run outside of the customer process. In this way, both the risk for the user and for us can be minimized. We check in advance how we can achieve the required specifications, which system and processes make sense. In our test centers, we also have all the technologies currently available on the market that are not always available to customers. There is also the possibility of absorbing overcapacity in the form of contract cleaning via our test centers.
(?) MFN: Let’s have a look at how these developments have changed your product portfolio?
(!) V. L.: We proactively react to developments in the economy and in our market by diversifying our portfolio of solutions for industrial component cleaning. As a result, new solutions for high-tech sectors can now be offered in addition to plants and systems for the tasks in the previous industrial sectors such as the automotive and supplier industry, mechanical engineering, connection technology, jewelry and watchmaking. Classic cleaning processes are still used, for example, in pre-cleaning, for higher requirements we have systems specially adapted to the respective needs. We offer a full range for a wide variety of industries and requirements - from solvent cleaning to aqueous, chamber and immersion systems, coupled with new processes such as Ultrasonic Plus, our vacuum supported pulsated pressure cleaning for very complex geometries, drying processes, and optimized fluid management. We now have two focal points: our traditional business, classic cleaning, and the area of precision cleaning with users from high purity, MedTech, optics and other precision manufacturing (e.g., aerospace, etc.).
(?) MFN: Has this also affected your way of working?
(!) V. L.: The projects for high-purity, high-tech and also MedTech applications are very complex, and special approaches are required, for example, in the analysis of the process chain. This is viewed much more holistically: working media, procedures and processes, materials, and environmental conditions. This also entails new demands on the people involved, production processes run differently to ensure that no unwanted materials are introduced. Employees must be much more sensitized and trained. So pre-cleaning, intermediate-cleaning or final-cleaning is just one part of the value creation of extreme parts cleanliness. Such projects are very complicated and specific.
(?) MFN: A lot going on. A last question: What is your outlook?
(!) V. L.: We see great opportunities in the development. A lot of investment is made in sectors such as high-tech and MedTech. We are in the middle of it, it is a constant development process, and change has always been a challenge for any company. We have the necessary specialist knowledge and in-house experts and can look back on a long tradition in industrial component cleaning since our beginnings in the 1970s. We have always looked ahead and continued to do so. This is the only way we can offer needs-oriented and innovative solutions to our customers, so as to meet their issues and challenges.
MFN would like to thank Volker Lehmann for this interview!
Kathrin Gross, Marketing
70794 Filderstadt, Germany