Montville Robots Make Microchips
S-Cubed is Montville's premier robot manufacturing location.
S-Cubed makes robots. The robots are designed to prepare silicon wafers so they will be suitable for microchip production. In other words, the robots are an integral part of S-Cubed’s photoresist processing equipment.
According to Joe Deghuee, an employee who has worked at S-Cubed “since day one,” there are many steps that a silicon wafer goes through to become a microchip.
Wafers may differ in size, from two inches to over eight inches. They can hold hundreds of microchip templates. A variety of coatings may be applied to prepare a wafer for microchip use.
Quartz, gold, copper and other substances are deposited evenly on each wafer creating a surface that acts like old fashioned photo paper. The type of coating material chosen is based on what the microchip will be used to program.
Quartz, for example, is often used in microchips that are associated with optical applications, like night vision goggles.
Coatings resemble the viscosity of honey, and, in fact, at S-Cubed’s Montville facility, honey or syrup are used to test each machine manufactured.
“We don’t use any toxic chemicals here,” added Deghuee.
Once a wafer is coated it is then receptive to light or temperature. Tiny repetitive images that map the circuitry of a finished microchip are projected onto the surface of a wafer to provide the layout for thin wires that will carry information in a phone, car, computer, game, or any number of microchip based products.
After the image is projected onto a wafer, the exposed segments of the wafer’s surface are washed away, leaving behind the blueprint for the circuitry that will become the microchip.
S-Cubed manufactures the robots that evenly apply the coatings to the surface of the wafers. They also produce machines that ensure that each wafer is consistently heated and cooled to protect the wafers from warping. Finally, S-Cubed robots uniformly wash and finish the wafers to protect against cracking and chipping.
On average S-Cubed manufactures seven or eight robots per year for a variety of industries.
“The cost of each machine ranges in price from $50,000 to $500,000,” explained Gary Hillman, owner and founder of S-Cubed.
“We don’t know all the products that chips, manufactured in our machines, are in,” explained Deghuee.
Hillman noted that phones, toys, cars, computers, almost everything, use microchip technology.
Each customized robot manufactured meets the specific criteria of each S-Cubed client. However, all robots have similarities in common. For example, the surface coating on a silicon wafer must be consistent from edge to edge. Each coating robot is equipped with a mechanism that ensures the wafer will be coated, spun, and edged accurately time after time. The thickness of the coating is controlled by the speed at which the wafer is spun.
Hillman got the idea for his robots when he went on a tour of an RCA factory.
“I always ask, ‘What do you need that you don’t have?’” said Hillman about the creation of his robots. “I went to RCA labs for a tour. I asked, ‘What else do you need.’ They said they didn’t need anything, but then I saw a boat puller [a person] slowly pulling a boat load of wafers out of the kiln by hand. A big sign said ‘Pull in seven minutes,’ and a big clock timed the puller. I asked, ‘What happens if the puller pulls too fast or too slow?’”
Hillman was told that if silicon wafers are pulled out of the fire too quickly or slowly, they can warp. At the time each load of wafers was worth $30,000.
Hillman told RCA, “I’ve got a machine that can do that,” and then he went home and invented one. S-Cubed is a continuation of Hillman’s original creation.
According to the website, S-Cubed photoresist equipment is compact and reliable.
Hillman explained that S-Cubed keeps manufacturing costs down by eliminating middle men suppliers. This results in a more affordable machine for customers.
The 72 year-old entrepreneur considers himself a problem solver. He said he is always interested in trying new things.
In his twenties, Hillman wanted to become an engineer, but was told, three times, by Georgia Tech, that he didn’t make the cut for acceptance. Undeterred, he kept on showing up for class. Finally, Georgia Tech conceded that Hillman is an engineer.
“I am a firm believer in showing up,” said Hillman. “Just show up and you’ll get in. I graduated with a degree in ceramic engineering.”
Hillman’s philosophy has formed the basis of his engineering career. For almost fifty years he has been creating problem solving products.
“It’s fun,” he explained. “The greatest moments occur whenever you see something in your mind’s eye become a reality.”
Hillman’s first job out of engineering school was at Corning Glass, where, within six months he, and the team he assembled, created the high pressure sodium vapor lamp.
It is technology that is “still used today all over the world,” Hillman explained.
High pressure sodium vapor lamps are widely used in streetlamps and airplanes.
S-Cubed stands for “two series of S's,” said Hillman, “Solid, Smart, Stable and Service Support Specialties, Inc.”
Despite the recent unevenness in the US and world economies, Hillman said S-Cubed, an international company, is growing.
S-Cubed employs highly skilled engineers, from a variety of backgrounds. They range in age from 19 to 72.
"We're like a little UN here," said Hillman.
S-Cubed robots are used to make microchips that are used in “almost everything,” said Deghuee. “I love my job ‘cause every place I go it’s different and it’s just cool what they do with this stuff.”
“The joy of creation,” added Hillman. “It’s exciting when you make it work, and we always make it work.”
S-Cubed is located at 9 Mars Court in Montville.