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The Machine

The machine

In March 2022, we told the world we had ordered a machine. In October 2023, we announced that it is ready for delivery. But what kind of machine is it? What does it do? Why has it taken so long? Where will it be located? How will it be used? You will find the answers here.

Now it’s ready: Our machine for large-scale man­u­fac­tur­ing of car­bon nan­ofibers. You can read about this in a press release. But a press release says only so much. There is much more to say about “the machine,” as we call it. So buckle up, let’s talk about it.

It’s an oven

First, you may won­der what kind of machine we are talk­ing about.

If you ask our research­ers and developers, it is a sys­tem con­sist­ing of a PECVD react­or cham­ber and tools for high-volume production.

PECVD stands for Plasma Enhanced Chem­ic­al Vapor Depos­ition. The tools include a load­ing device, vacu­um pumps, cab­in­ets for gases, and a con­trol module.

If you ask me, I would describe it as an oven for high-volume “bak­ing” of car­bon nan­ofibers on wafers and oth­er sub­strates. (Wafers are sil­ic­on discs pro­cessed in sev­er­al steps to cre­ate integ­rated cir­cuits, com­monly known as chips.)

It’s a beast

The machine con­sists of sev­er­al parts:

The reac­tion cham­ber is where the magic hap­pens. It has valves to let a gaseous car­bon com­pound in and out of the cham­ber. It has an elec­trode in the ceil­ing that cre­ates plasma – free-float­ing elec­trons – that causes the gas to release the car­bon atoms that build our car­bon nan­ofibers. And it has a heat­ing plate on which pre­pared wafers are placed.

The load­ing device puts the wafer into the reac­tion cham­ber and takes it out when fin­ished. Load­ing is done auto­mat­ic­ally from a cart­ridge that holds 25 wafers. We use 8‑inch dia­met­er wafers. This is the most com­mon size in the industry.

The vacu­um pumps evac­u­ate the cham­ber of air so that we can con­trol the pro­cess con­di­tions and the samples are not con­tam­in­ated by unwanted substances.

The gas cab­in­ets are needed to store the gases going in and out of the reac­tion chamber.

The con­trol mod­ule, the cherry on the cake, mon­it­ors and con­trols the whole process.

Alto­geth­er, the parts take up a floor space of more than 4.5 × 2 meters and weights more than 3.6 tons and. It’s a beast.

The Machine Explained

It’s a beauty

The react­or cham­ber is designed in close col­lab­or­a­tion between the man­u­fac­turer and us, and it is cus­tom-built to meet our specifications.

It con­tains sev­er­al innov­at­ive tech­nic­al solu­tions. Many things have been con­sidered: mater­i­al selec­tion, mech­an­ic­al design, com­pat­ib­il­ity with our pat­ent-pro­tec­ted pro­cess, and more. And the con­trol mod­ule soft­ware is spe­cially designed for our machine.

So, it is no exag­ger­a­tion to say that the machine is the only one of its kind. It is truly unique. It’s a beauty.

A peek into the react­or cham­ber through an obser­va­tion port. The char­ac­ter­ist­ic purple col­or comes from elec­trons emit­ting photons as they jump from high­er to lower energy states. They are excited to the high­er energy state by an elec­tric field formed between the elec­trode at the top of the cham­ber and the heat­ing plate at the bot­tom when con­nec­ted to a power source to cre­ate plasma.

Long wait

It took a year and half to build this machine. We knew it would take a long time for the machine to be fin­ished when we placed the order in March 2022.

We anti­cip­ated that the man­u­fac­turer would have to make some tinker­ing here and there. It’s nat­ur­al; you rarely get it one hun­dred per­cent right the first time you do some­thing so com­plex. And one hun­dred per­cent right is what we demand. We can’t com­prom­ise on qual­ity. So, it took a few iter­a­tions to meet our high standards.

The man­u­fac­turer, CVD Equip­ment Cor­por­a­tion in the US, is very pro­fes­sion­al and has done an out­stand­ing job. We are delighted with the car­bon nan­ofibers grown dur­ing the accept­ance test.

What remains to be done

Now, all that remains is to get the machine delivered.

But first, all parts must be CE marked, which means that the man­u­fac­turer declares that the parts com­ply with rel­ev­ant EU legis­la­tion and can be brought into the European Eco­nom­ic Area (EEA). This work is ongo­ing at the time of writing.

After that, the machine has to be packed and shipped. It sounds more straight­for­ward than it is. A cus­tom-built machine requires cus­tom pack­aging and spe­cial ship­ping. It isn’t an ordin­ary piece of equip­ment we have bought.

If everything goes as planned, the machine will be shipped around the turn of the year.

Where it will be located

We plan to place the machine at a foundry we choose to work with. But we have not yet decided which one. So, for now, it will be stored at Chalmers Uni­ver­sity of Technology.

Why not set it up at Chalmers, where our older machines are already loc­ated, or anoth­er tem­por­ary loc­a­tion while wait­ing for the right part­ners to be chosen?

We have con­sidered that but con­cluded that it is bet­ter to await the choice of a partner.

Remem­ber, it’s a beast. It takes up a lot of space. Requires a lot of energy. And above all, it has to be in a clean room. There are no suit­able places avail­able for tem­por­ary use. We would have to pay for extens­ive rebuild­ing and install­a­tion work. Money that could be put to bet­ter use.

How it will be used

Once in place, the machine will be part of man­u­fac­tur­ing CNF-MIM capa­cit­ors

The through­put is one wafer each half hour. Each wafer con­tains 48,000 CNF-MIM capa­cit­ors. We plan to pro­cess 500 wafers per month. That’s 24 mil­lion capa­cit­ors per month. And that’s just the begin­ning. The machine can be built out to pro­duce 10X more wafers, that is, 5,000 wafers per month.

We can­not do that volume with our cur­rent machine, which can pro­duce far few­er capa­cit­ors per wafer, takes four times as long, and must be oper­ated manu­ally. The new machine is simply neces­sary for high-volume pro­duc­tion of CNF-MIM capacitors.

The new machine is also scal­able. We can expand it with sev­er­al par­al­lel reac­tion cham­bers to mul­tiply the volume.

I lied to you

By the way, I lied to you at the beginning.

We don’t call it “the machine.” We call it “the high-volume machine,” or HVM for short. But it doesn’t sound as good as “the machine,” so I gave myself an artist­ic license to shorten the name. Sorry. Now, over to you. Head over to Linked­In and tell us what more you would like to know about “the machine.”

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