Ultracompact valve island

When semiconductor machine manufacturer STS required an ultracompact valve island to drive actuators and control the flow of process gasses into its machines, global pneumatics expert Norgren created a custom prototype in just 10 days. STS is a manufacturer of specialist machines that are used in semiconductor manufacturing. The machines are used to etch away materials or deposit them onto silicon wafers that end up in devices such as MEMS (micro electromechanical systems). Each machine employs three pneumatic valve islands. Because these machines are installed in semiconductor clean rooms, where floor space costs around GBP 60 per square inch due to the ultraclean conditions required, STS needed a valve island design that was as compact and reliable as possible. Norgren’s design engineers at its UK Technical Centre in Lichfield rose to the challenge by offering a custom product that met STS’s unique specifications. Although a new product, the custom valve island was based on Norgren’s core competencies. The flow rate required from STS was low, just 30 lpm. Off-the-shelf valve islands available from other suppliers were all too large so Norgren designed a pilot valve with the smallest possible footprint, while maintaining visibility and access to critical functions such as LEDs and manual override. Because the required flow rate is so low, the valve is based on poppet technology, dramatically increasing reliability and life expectancy to around 100 million operations. Another key advantage of the low flow rate valve is that the solenoids need just 0.3W to operate, resulting in reduced heat build up within the machine. Norgren’s custom valve uses a body made from an advanced polymer, so it could be moulded to the exact specification required with a configuration that exactly matched STS’s requirements, and being face mounted, it allows the pipes to enter straight into the valve island through the mounting panel, saving yet more space.

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