SurfX Technologies have taken a unique approach to atmospheric plasma treatment and has attracted the attention of some of the leading technology integrators in the industry. Trevor Galbraith spoke to Alan Vucetic about their technology at SEMICON West.
Alan, SurfX Technologies has a fairly unique proposition. You’re one of the first companies to do in-line atmospheric plasma for microelectronics. Tell us a bit about your proposition and how you’re different from other plasma companies?
Yeah, we’re definitely not the first to do in-line plasma, but we’re the first to do it with argon. So there’s a lot of different ways to create plasma. Some of it’s in vacuum, some of it’s in atmosphere. Some of it uses inert gases, sometimes you use clean, dry air. We’ve had a massive breakthrough in about 2018, four or five years ago, where we were able to create atmospheric plasma using argon. Prior to that, it was helium. And helium, as you know, is in dwindling supply and it’s becoming very, very expensive. And sometimes you can’t even get it unless you have the right
priority access to it, such as medical processes. Argon on the other hand is ample.
You can ship it in liquid form, so you can get a lot of it. And it’s cheaper and it’s just a lot more practical. And that has, among other things, allowed us to branch off into many high volume areas and industries, including microelectronics, semiconductor packaging, and really make an impact where we couldn’t before that.
Now I see as part of your presentation, you’ve tied up with Mycronic Axxon. So I guess that’s obviously helping you to deliver some of these high volume automation systems. Tell us how that operation works?
Yeah, so that’s the other piece of the puzzle, along with the argon plasma. About two or three years ago, Mycronic made an investment into Surfx Technologies. They believed in us enough to actually partner up with us. And that allowed us to go from a benchtop style robot that we’d have to integrate or engineer ourselves on manufacturing lines to now leaning on them and partnering with them to use their automation, their turnkey systems, where we can meet industrial demands and commercial demands in ways we couldn’t before. And it’s been a tremendous partnership. It’s been extremely valuable to us. And we’re already seeing a lot of that partnership come to fruition, so to say, with that. So tell us a little bit about the process itself. You’re doing obviously flux removal and
have been able to stop oxidization of the parts. Talk to us a little bit through how that works?
You can get really technical. There are entire courses taught on plasma. So I’ll try not to put everyone to sleep. As I said, there’s a couple different ways to create plasma. Some of it’s in vacuum, some of it’s an atmosphere. When you use clean, dry air to create plasma, you need a lot of power. So you need 20,000 volts to ionize clean, dry air plasmas and ionize gas. When you do that, that clean, dry air is going to collapse into an arc very quickly because the ionization rate is just flying up. Its at an exponential rate. On the other hand, if you have vacuum, you can
create something called a weakly ionized plasma, where you can control the plasma and it’s not going to arc, it’s not going to run away.
That’s in a vacuum though. In a vacuum, you use an inert gas to create
that. That can be a lot better because it can be safer in certain ways for substrates or for the operator. You can imagine if you have a 20,000 volt clean, dry air plasma. Well, that can be a little bit dangerous depending on the process that you’re using it for. What makes us unique is that we can use those inert gases that vacuum plasmas use, but we can create
plasma in atmosphere. And that gives us a ton of different benefits. We can treat parts without damaging them at all. So we don’t have any etching or we don’t change the integrity of a surface when we treat it. And you do it low temperature as well. Is that right?
At low temperature, that’s correct. There’s very little heating of our parts. So we can treat things like wafers, electrical components, boards, biomedical devices that go in your body, things that if you mess with the integrity of that surface, you could lose the conductivity, you could lose the usability of it. And if a pacemaker breaks or that bond isn’t good, that could be a real problem for a lot of people. Similar to your phone, when you’re putting things together, when you’re bonding two components, if there’s any contamination between those two layers, that’s going to interfere with the bond and the strength of the bond. And so what we can
do is we can treat those components that are sensitive, clean them, activate them for that bonding process, and not cause any issue. So finally, I want to look at the different types of products you’ve got. You’ve got a benchtop model here, which I think customers who are not sure about the process or whether it’d be right for them can take that, I believe, to test it, as it were, and see if it works for them. And then if
it does, then, of course, they can move up to the in-line systems or whatever size or capacity they need?
Yeah, absolutely. So it’s a big challenge to get someone to invest money
in a commercial or industrial process. You have to find space in the line. You have to work with all the engineers. And there’s the CapEx involved as well. So we do have tabletop or desktop sized machines. The technology is the same. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a desktop machine or one of these high volume machines that can do multiple dozens of thousands of units per hour The technology’s all the same. So we let people rent the machines or we can actually bring them to client sites with us to treat parts. And the rental obviously is much cheaper for a short time. And usually, the onsite demos are complementary. So that gives us a really flexible applications process when we’re testing applications because people can send us coupons, we can go to them. If they have a secretive process, maybe they’re one of these high tech companies, they just want to test it themselves. We can give it to them for a month or three months, whatever they want. And we also give people credit for rentals as well towards a purchase.
That’s a great idea actually. It’s a really interesting system, Alan and I want to thank you for telling us about it today.
Absolutely. Thank you so much,