Thin Film Equipment Information

Thin film coatingThin film equipment is vacuum process equipment for the deposition or modification of thin films or surfaces using CVD, PVD, plasma etching, and thermal oxidation or ion implantation. Thin film equipment is widely applied in the semiconductor or wafer processing, cutting tool coating, and optical films.


Coating system types of thin film equipment are:

  • batch systems (single chamber or multiple wafers)
  • cluster tool (multi-chamber or single wafers)
  • factory or free standing
  • laboratory or bench top

Batch systems can pass several wafers or samples simultaneously through in a single process, usually in a single chamber. An oxidation furnace is an example of a batch processing system. Some batch systems also have the capability to apply several processes simultaneously. Cluster tools consist of multiple chambers for different processes. The cluster tool usually has a central robot to feed multiple process chambers. Cluster tools are commonly used to perform multiple process steps on a series of single wafer or samples and therefore may improve process control and cycle time compared to a batch processor. Factory or freestanding systems are large, floor-mounted vacuum deposition systems designed for high-volume factory use or processing large components. Laboratory systems are small, bench-top mounted vacuum deposition systems designed for low-volume experimental or analytical applications. Sputter coaters for SEM or TEM preparation would fall into this category.


There are several technology choices available for thin film equipment. These include chemical vapor deposition (CVD), physical vapor deposition (PVD), ion implantation, plasma etching or cleaning, rapid thermal processing (RTP), and vacuum annealing. In chemical vapor deposition (CVD) processes, a precursor gas or mixture of gases is fed into a chamber and reacted with an energy source (usually heat) to form thin film coatings. Physical vapor deposition processes form thin film layers through evaporation or sputtering (glow discharge processes) of atoms from a source and then condensing or depositing the material onto the surface, substrate, wafer, or part. In an ion implantation process, a highly accelerated beam of charged atoms (ions) is directed at a surface resulting in the capture of some of these atoms in the surface of the substrate or wafer. Plasma ashing, plasma cleaning, sputter etching, sputter pre-cleaning, or ion milling are processes that use plasma to remove layers of material from a substrate or wafer for cleaning purposes. In rapid thermal processing (RTP), silicon wafers are rapidly oxidized to form a silicon dioxide dielectric layer by a brief exposure to high temperature steam. Vacuum annealing is an extended thermal processing using a longer cycle or process time for oxidation; wafer annealing, head magnetic annealing, or driving dopants into a substrate. Multiple process thin film equipment has the capability of running substrates or wafers through several processes simultaneously or sequentially.


Applications for thin film equipment include semiconductor manufacturing, flat panel display manufacturing, cutting tools or wear component manufacturing, optical coatings, magnetic storage, medical, and research and surface analysis. Materials processed by thin film equipment include metals, dielectrics and ceramics, aluminum, silicon, diamond like carbon (DLC), dopants, germanium, silicides, compound semiconductors (GaAs), nitrides TiN, and tungsten and other refractory metals.


Specifications important when considering thin film equipment include maximum diameter or width of the part to be processed, integral process controller, metrology or thin film monitoring capabilities, automated loading of parts to be processed, multiple sources of materials, and gas control units. Vacuum or pressure ranges can be rough or low, medium, high, ultra-high, and elevated pressures. High vacuum pump types include turbomolecular, molecular drag, diffusion or vapor, ion, cryogenic or cryosorption, and getter, TSP, or NEG sorption.

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