Industry News, Trends and Technology, and Standards Updates

David Francis: Director of Product Management

David Francis has worked in the semiconductor industry for more than 26 years providing software and services in manufacturing automation. He has experience providing control software for automated material handling systems, scheduling and dispatching systems, SECS/GEM and EDA communications, and equipment control. Francis has lead teams to effectively use software development practices such as CMM/SEI and Agile.
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Recent Posts

Do you need help with GEM Testing?

Posted by David Francis: Director of Product Management on May 22, 2019 11:21:00 AM

A few years ago, I went through the process of building a new house. It was exciting to work with the architect to design the house and imagine what the finished product was going to be like. The architect created a 40-page set of drawings detailing all the components that would go into the house, like the electrical, plumbing and flooring. I thought everything was covered. I was a little surprised when things didn’t go exactly as detailed in the drawings. There were exceptions! However, having the detailed drawings made it easier to identify where things went wrong and helped clarify what needed to be done to correct the problems.EquipmentTest-Software-Control

Communication standards like GEM are like a set of architectural drawings for how to connect equipment to factory control systems. They define what needs to be communicated, how the communication needs to take place and provide a great roadmap for getting there. But like building a new house, there are usually a few surprises along the way. A standard, consistent way of testing the interface that can be used by both the factory and equipment manufacturer, greatly reduces the unknown and simplifies the process.

The new Cimetrix EquipmentTest™ product is the fastest way to achieve GEM Compliance for factory acceptance testing of new equipment. Whether you are an equipment manufacturer or factory, making sure the equipment interface is GEM compliant is critical. Having an easy-to-use testing solution to determine if the equipment is GEM compliant is critical.

There are two versions of EquipmentTest depending on your needs. The EqupmentTest Basic version is ideal for both Smart factories and equipment manufacturers to quickly and easily test the basic capabilities of an equipment’s GEM interface. EquipmentTest Basic includes a simple testing scenario, called a plugin, to evaluate the equipment’s ability to connect to a GEM host and communicate events, data and alarms. This version also includes the ability to send/receive individual messages to/from the equipment for discovery or diagnostic purposes. With the messaging functionality, you can also create macros to send and receive groups of messages.

For more complex testing, there is the EquipmentTest Pro version. In addition to all the features of the EquipmentTest Basic version, EquipmentTest Pro includes a full, rigorous GEM compliance testing plug-in and an operational GEM compliance testing plugin. The Pro version includes development tools to allow you to create your own custom tests/plug-ins using .NET languages. The GEM compliance plugin generates a GEM compliance statement that shows the areas and level of compliance to the GEM standards. There are also other tools only available in the EquipmentTest Pro version that allow you easily test and interact with the GEM functionality on the equipment.

As with all our products, Cimetrix supports the industry connectivity standards so you never have to wonder if your equipment is keeping up with the rest of the industry.

You can purchase either version of EquipmentTest directly from our website and download the software immediately. You will need to provide a valid Mac ID and email address for licensing purposes. You will receive your license agreement no more than 48 hours after purchase. Be sure to learn more and get your EquipmentTest download today!

Buy EquipmentTest Today

Topics: Industry Standards, SECS/GEM, Smart Manufacturing/Industry 4.0, Cimetrix Products

SECS/GEM Series: User Interface

Posted by David Francis: Director of Product Management on May 23, 2018 11:04:00 AM

secs/gem user interfaceI remember as a new Boy Scout, we planned a hiking trip up into a primitive area in the mountains near my home. One of the first things we learned about reading a map was where to find the legend. The map legend contains important information needed to read a map, like indicating which direction is north. Now that we knew where to find the legend, we could orient the map so it made sense as we were planning our hike.

Most equipment in a typical semiconductor or electronics assembly factory has a user interface that contains a lot of information about the equipment. Most equipment also contains many screens that are used for controlling or operating the equipment. With the use of GEM, a factory host system can control the equipment and collect important data generated during processing.

Like a map, there is a lot of information available on the user interface of a piece of equipment. It can sometimes be difficult to know where to find the important information the host system needs to properly control and communicate with the equipment. The GEM standards provide guidelines on how critical items on the equipment user interface should be presented and controlled. For example, if the host sends information to the equipment operator about tasks they need to perform, the GEM terminal message guidelines state that the information must remain on the user interface of the equipment until the operator acknowledges that they have read it.

The SEMI E30 standard defines the Specification for the Generic Model for Communications and Control of Manufacturing Equipment (GEM). In addition to providing the definition of the common set of equipment behavior and communication capabilities required for manufacturing automation, the standard also provides requirements on which items must be present on an equipment user interface and how they should be represented. User interface requirements spelled out by the standard address communication state, terminal service new message indicator, terminal services message recognition button, communications state default and communications state selector.

This may seem like a small thing, but just like knowing where to find the legend on a map enabled understanding of the lines and symbols on the map, so too the GEM standards can help provide an understanding of information presented on an equipment interface that is essential for communication with a factory host system.

Click here to read the other articles in our SECS/GEM Features and Benefits series. 

To download a white paper on an introduction to SECS/GEM, Click below:

SECS/GEM White Paper

Topics: SECS/GEM, Smart Manufacturing/Industry 4.0, SECS/GEM Features & Benefits Series

SECS/GEM Series: Alarms

Posted by David Francis: Director of Product Management on Feb 14, 2018 10:30:00 AM

Previous posts have talked about functionality that allows data to be collected through the GEM interface so the factory applications described in the most recent post can analyze this data. With this posting, we return to a discussion of specific features and capabilities of the SEMI E30 GEM (Generic Equipment Model) standard, specifically the management of error conditions on the equipment.

In a perfect world everything goes according to plan, but in reality, things always go wrong. The secret to success is being able to know when something goes wrong, and then responding appropriately.

Minion_alarm.pngJust like a home alarm system, semiconductor fabs want to know when something bad has happened. They want to prevent the material being processed from being scrapped. Alarm management enables the equipment to notify the host when something goes wrong, and provide information about what has gone wrong. The GEM standard defines Alarm Management as the capability to provide host notification and management of alarm conditions occurring on the equipment. 

In GEM, an alarm is any abnormal situation on the equipment that may endanger people, equipment, or material being processed. For example, if a technician opens an access panel to replace a component, the equipment should send an alarm notifying the host that it is not safe to operate the equipment in its current condition. Another example might be if an equipment requires a high temperature for processing but a sensor detects a low temperature condition, it should trigger an alarm, since running the process under those conditions could damage the material being processed. It is also the responsibility of the equipment manufacturer to inhibit unsafe activities on the equipment when an alarm condition is present. The equipment manufacturer knows best what specific alarms are required on the equipment to ensure safety for people, equipment and material.

Often it is useful to have more information about the conditions in the equipment at the time an alarmflashing-red-light-1.png condition occurs. Communicating that additional information to the host is valuable, but cannot be done through the normal Alarm Report Send/Acknowledge messages. To provide a way to get this additional information, GEM requires that two collection events be defined for each possible alarm condition on the equipment – one event for when the alarm is set, and another for when the alarm is cleared. These collection events allow the GEM event data collection mechanisms to be used to send the additional related information to the host when an alarm changes state.

In addition to providing the time of an alarm state change, Alarm Management on the equipment must allow the Host to request a list of all alarm IDs and associated alarm text. The host must also be able to enable/disable individual alarms on the equipment, and query the equipment for the list of alarms that are currently enabled for reporting.

The state diagram for an Alarm is not very exciting, but it fills a vital need. The picture below illustrates the Alarm State diagram:

on-off-switch.jpg

GEM alarms only have 2 states: each alarm is either SET or CLEAR. It’s simple but effective.

Alarm Management isn’t rocket science, but through effective use of Alarm Management, fabs can carefully monitor the health of their process equipment and minimize negative impacts to their production yield. 

Click here to read the other articles in our SECS/GEM Features and Benefits series. 

To download a white paper on an introduction to SECS/GEM, Click below:

SECS/GEM White Paper

Topics: Industry Standards, SECS/GEM, Smart Manufacturing/Industry 4.0, SECS/GEM Features & Benefits Series

Leveraging GEM

Posted by David Francis: Director of Product Management on Nov 28, 2016 11:30:00 AM

One of my favorite gifts when I was a kid was an erector set. I could build all kinds of machines and robots. The set I had even included a simple motor, so I could make things move. I spent a lot of hours building machines and robots and dreaming of doing that on a bigger scale.

When I graduated from college I worked for a small company that did warehouse automation and automated transport control systems. It took me back to when I was a boy building robots with my erector set. Except these robots could actually move things and had a full set of commands to control them, not just on or off. The company I worked for had a small group that did firmware programming for the robotic controllers. I worked in the software group that wrote the software systems for controlling the whole automated warehouse. I soon learned that each type of automated equipment had its unique set of commands and that just because two pieces of equipment might perform the same function, didn’t mean they used the same commands.

Along the way I had the opportunity to work with Motorola to develop cell controllers for one of their new, state-of-the-art fabrication facilities in Austin, Texas. This opened up a new world of automation for me. The SEMI Equipment Communication Standards (SECS) were fairly new and still trying to gain wide acceptance. There were a lot of similarities to the automated material handling equipment I had been working with. Each piece of equipment had a defined set of SECS messages it supported, but each tool had to be carefully characterized in order to know how to create the cell control application that would interface with it. It was exciting to bring new tools on line and see the benefits in reduced scrap and improved throughput. But it took a lot of time to develop the cell controllers and there wasn’t much code that could be reused from one to the next.

During this time, I had the opportunity to attend some SEMI standards meetings and participate in discussions about the development of a Generic Equipment Model (GEM) to achieve more consistency across different companies’ SECS interface implementations. It made so much sense! I had built a good business doing equipment characterizations for semiconductor manufacturing companies, but it seemed like there should be a better way of interfacing with the equipment – a more standard way. As the adoption of GEM grew in the semiconductor manufacturing industry, the cost of developing equipment cell control applications decreased. Much of the code could be used across different pieces of equipment, because there was a standard for interfacing with all equipment.

While GEM was developed by and for the semiconductor industry, it could also benefit many other industries. GEM provides a standard way to control a factory and gather equipment and process data that can be used to measure and monitor Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), implement Statistical Process Control (SPC), manage material queues and WIP levels, and a wide range of additional factory applications. Several parallel markets (PV, LED) have adopted the GEM standard to take advantage of commonality required by the standard. Other markets would also benefit by adopting the GEM standard to help increase software reuse and productivity

 

Topics: SECS/GEM

Learning from Others

Posted by David Francis: Director of Product Management on May 10, 2016 2:37:12 PM
blueprint.jpg

Almost everyone I know that has built a house has given me a list of things they would “do differently next time,” but a lot of those same people would also say that they would never build again. So does that mean everything they learned through the process is lost? Is it possible to get it right the first time? Maybe not, but there are a lot of things you can do to learn from the experience of others. For example, you can buy house plans that have been used before and are designed to leverage standard components. Rather than designing and building everything from scratch, you can use pre-built sub systems like fabricated floor joists and manufactured roof trusses. Using proven components saves a lot of time and worry about whether or not they will work properly and as expected. This allows you to focus on the customizations that will make the home meet your unique needs.

Implementing an equipment control application is a lot like building a house. You can design and build a complete control system from the bottom up—building all the components necessary to handle communication with the hardware, display information to the operators, manage user access, log relevant event and data information—but it doesn’t add value to the core competency of your equipment. The best option is to leverage proven design that has been built through multiple prior applications and leverages those lessons learned along the way.

Cimetrix's CIMControlFramework provides all the standard components necessary to build an equipment control application. With working samples for both atmospheric and vacuum equipment, it can easily be customized and extended as needed to meet specific control needs.

There is an old saying that goes, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

If you would like to learn more about CIMControlFramework and how it can help you on your next project, give us a call or feel free to contact us here.

To learn more about CCF, visit the CIMControlFramework page on our website!

Topics: Equipment Control-Software Products, Doing Business with Cimetrix, Cimetrix Products

Choice is Good!

Posted by David Francis: Director of Product Management on Mar 30, 2016 1:00:00 PM

grass.png

The snow on the north side of my house finally melted the other day. That is a sure indication that spring is coming. I don’t have anything against winter, but I do love spring — except that it means a lot of yard work. One of the first tasks is to get some fertilizer down so the grass will be green and healthy during the summer months. So I went to the store to get some fertilizer and couldn’t believe all the choices. There are fertilizers for pre-emergent control, organic fertilizers, granular, liquids, and the list goes on. The nice thing about this is that you can choose the right fertilizer for your needs.

Advances in semiconductor manufacturing are now driving equipment OEMs to look at new ways to meet growing manufacturing requirements. Not all OEMs will have the same processing requirements. Some may have large data sets or image files they need to deal with. Others may not. For some, speed of execution may be very important, while it may not be for others.

Starting today Cimetrix makes available the new release of CIM300. For CIM300 customers that develop on 64-bit operating systems, you now have a choice to develop 32-bit applications or 64-bit applications. This allows greater flexibility in speed and memory use options when using CIM300. Choose your target when you compile your application, no coding changes are needed.

CIM300_Window.jpg

The new release of CIM300 also has fixes and enhancements requested by customers as well as updated support for the latest SEMI GEM300 standards. With this release, customers will continue to enjoy the reliability of CIM300 with new benefits. Under the hood, we have increased our GEM compliance testing to ensure that interfaces developed with CIM300 will pass factory acceptance testing.

One new feature in this version of CIM300 is a new utility that allows logging to be configured at runtime. The CIM300 Settings utility works with the CIMConnect logging package. CIMConnect logging can also be configured through this utility.

So CIM300 customers, exercise your option to enjoy added flexibility and new features combined with the same reliability you expect from Cimetrix products.

Topics: Cimetrix Products

When Should I Upgrade My Cimetrix Product?

Posted by David Francis: Director of Product Management on Feb 11, 2016 3:39:46 PM

phone-evolution.png

We live in a world where cell phone upgrades have become a way of life. Some people upgrade every time a new phone is available so that they can have the latest, greatest features and gadgets. Others prefer to keep their old phone since they are familiar with how it works and are satisfied with the phone’s functionality. While others still may upgrade because they have encountered a problem with their current phone that either can’t be fixed or has been addressed in the new model.

There are similar reasons to upgrade to a new version of a Cimetrix product. Here are a few sample questions that will help an OEM determine when is the best time to do so:

  1. Is there an issue my customers are currently facing that has been addressed in the new version of the product?

Cimetrix works to fix customer-reported issues as well as issues found during internal testing. It is not possible to make these fixes in all previously released versions of the product, so they are made as a fix in the latest released version of the product. Upgrading to the latest version benefits the OEMs by providing fixes to issues they may have reported or, more often, to issues they haven’t seen but have been reported by other OEMs.

  1. Are there added features or capabilities in the new version of the product that will improve my ability to support my customers and/or allow me to provide new functionality to my customers?

Cimetrix strives to support our customers by providing high-quality software products. As new technologies emerge and as scenarios in which our products are used evolve, we discover new ways to provide additional benefits to our OEM customers. These new capabilities are made available in new releases of our products. These improvements can include things like enhanced logging and diagnostic capabilities, new utilities for managing configuration files, or new screens for making setup easier.

  1. Am I planning a new release of my equipment control software?

Like Cimetrix, OEMs are continually looking for ways to improve their equipment and provide new features and functionality to their customers. This means that they will periodically release new versions of their equipment that may contain new hardware and/or software functionality. This is an ideal time for OEMs to also upgrade their Cimetrix software so that their new platform can take advantage of the latest fixes and enhancements that are available.

This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list of questions to be asked/answered when determining the right time to upgrade to a new version of a Cimetrix product, but it does give you an indication of the type of things that should factor into your decision-making process. Each new software release has a set of Release Notes that describe the software fixes and new features that have been added in that release. These Release Notes are there to help you make the best determination as to when to upgrade, so be sure to read them carefully. And, as always, the Cimetrix Support team is available to answer any questions and provide additional information if you should need it.

Topics: Doing Business with Cimetrix, Cimetrix Products

Software Versioning Help Sets Users' Expectations

Posted by David Francis: Director of Product Management on Jan 14, 2016 1:02:00 PM

There are times in life when a surprise is a good thing. Like when you get a box of chocolates. We all remember the line from the movie Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” When you install a new version of software however, surprises aren’t as enjoyable. With a new software release, customers need to be able to assess the effort and impact the new release will have on their current systems and procedures. Then they can evaluate whether the new features and functionality will be worth the effort to deploy the new software release. One way software companies can help communicate the impact a new software release may have on customers is by using a clearly defined release versioning procedure.

Change is good and software products that grow and mature over time, adding new features and eliminating unwanted behaviors, can remain healthy and viable over a long period of time. However, consistency and predictability are also important characteristics of good software products. So how do software companies balance these two seemingly competitive objectives?

Itunes.pngsemantic-versioning.pngMany software companies can do this is through the way they use software versioning. It is common for software companies to use a major.minor.patch.build software versioning scheme, for example iTunes 12.3.1. This type of software versioning allows the software company to communicate the scale and impact of the changes in the release to their customers. A change in the “major” release number indicates to customers that there are some significant changes in this release that may impact the way it interacts with the product. The customer will likely need to make code changes or procedural changes when upgrading to such a release. A change to the “minor” release number denotes that there are multiple changes in the release, but customers should see only minor, or possibly no changes, in the way they use the product. A minor release may include some small new features that could potentially require code changes if the customers wants/needs those new features. A “patch” release is generally used to address a specific issue and should not change the customer experience with the software. The build number is most often provided to help the software company when researching a question or customer reported defect.

Software versioning provides a way to set expectations with the customer about what is in the release and how it might affect the way they use the product. It can help take the surprise out of the process of installing a new software release. Life may be “like a box of chocolates,” but software releases shouldn’t be.

If you would like to learn more about the semiconductor industry, software best practices, and other topics related to new technologies, please subscribe to our email updates using the form in the upper right corner of this page.

Topics: Semiconductor Industry, EDA/Interface A, Doing Business with Cimetrix, Cimetrix Products

New Updates of CIMConnect and SECSConnect are Now Available for Download

Posted by David Francis: Director of Product Management on Nov 18, 2015 1:00:00 PM

My parents built a house in 1953 and still live in it today. It’s a good house and they haven’t felt any need to move, but over the years they have done projects to refresh the house and add new features that weren’t available when they originally built it. They have painted many times, installed new carpeting, updated the kitchen with new cabinets and modern appliances, and added a new room off the back of the house to provide a little extra space. Just like my parent’s house, CIMConnect has been around for a while providing reliable GEM Host connectivity to hundreds of semiconductor equipment manufacturers, so over the better part of 2015, we at Cimetrix have been giving CIMConnect a little refreshing.

Here are some of the updates we made to reinvigorate CIMConnect:

  • Created support for the latest SEMI GEM communication standards

  • Validated it on new operating systems

  • Developed a new control panel to make it easier for customers to interact with and monitor the application. The new control panel provides simplified checking and monitoring of variable values, better visibility of collection event states, and more efficient loading of large EPJ files

  • Added a new support tool to automatically gather information necessary for Cimetrix Support to help diagnose problems

  • Integrated a new 64-bit Value COM object for easier use with 64-bit equipment control applications

  • Included support for the new SEMI E173 – Specification for XML SECS-II Message Notation (SMN) standard

  • Improved logging and log message readability

  • Incorporated a new log file viewer with enhanced diagnostic tools

In addition, we have also released a new update to SECSConnect as it too was in need of a little sprucing up. This version also integrates the new 64-bit Value COM object for easier use with 64-bit equipment control applications as well as supports the new SEMI E173 standard just as the new CIMConnect does.

If that weren’t enough, Cimetrix has also added a new License Manager that will be included with all Cimetrix products going forward. The License Manager provides a better way for managing software licenses for Cimetrix products for our clients that we hope will make your life a little easier.

Just like my parent’s house, CIMConnect and SECSConnect have been around for a long time and they were due for a little freshening up. As always, Cimetrix is committed to continually providing reliable, stable products that our clients can count on for meeting their connectivity needs and so we felt it was time to release updates to both products. We will continually make improvements to our current products to provide support for our clients now, while we provide innovative new products to help our clients in the future.

Topics: Doing Business with Cimetrix, Cimetrix Products

SEMI Standard E164 Officially Approved

Posted by David Francis: Director of Product Management on Aug 10, 2012 3:52:00 PM

By David Francis
Product Manager

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about our SEMICON West experience and how we expected Ballot 5002B to soon be approved by SEMI as the E164 – EDA Common Metadata standard (see SEMICON West - Ballot 5002B Passes). E164 is now approved, and is available for download on SEMIViews at SEMI E164-0712 - Specification for EDA Common Metadata.

SEMI Logo

The purpose of the E164 specification is to encourage and promote those companies using EDA/Interface A connections to use a more common representation of equipment metadata that is based upon the SEMI E125 Specification for Equipment Self-Description. This will help establish more consistency from tool to tool and from fab to fab, making it easier for equipment vendors to provide a consistent EDA interface and for fabs to develop EDA clients.

The standard was developed because semiconductor equipment suppliers were developing equipment models that were compliant with the E125 standard, but very different from one equipment to the next. Even similar types of equipment had different models, which produced different metadata sets. That scenario was pretty frustrating for fabs as they tried to determine what data they could gather from each piece of equipment.

With E164 approved, equipment suppliers now have a standard they can use to generate the equipment models and fabs now have a standard they can use to generate their client side applications. GLOBALFOUNDRIES has been actively working to adopt the new E164 standard as part of their EDA acceptance criteria. This requirement will help accelerate the adoption of EDA/Interface A as well as the new E164 standard by OEMs and ultimately by other fabs.

Stay tuned – Cimetrix will have some solutions coming soon to support our customers through these changes. If you want to talk with us now about what we can do for an existing project, visit Contact Cimetrix.

Topics: Industry Standards, EDA/Interface A