When people hear the word vacuum, most think about the machines used to clean your home. However, there’s an entirely different meaning in manufacturing that helps enhance how we live our daily lives. It may seem far-fetched, but various medical devices, handheld electronics, and studying the history of how our universe began all have something in common. The answer, you ask, is that all are created in a vacuum environment.
What is a vacuum environment?
A vacuum environment has had all the air and gases removed. Usually, this is contained in a chamber and accomplished by a pump. If you went into a chamber when vacuumed, you would have to wear a suit that provides oxygen to breathe, just like an astronaut in space (space is one giant vacuum). The reason certain applications are done in a vacuum is that it’s the cleanest environment possible. When all air, gases, and particles have been pumped out of the vacuum chamber, it becomes contaminant free. This is critical for applications that require absolute cleanliness, such as semiconductor manufacturing.
Staying contaminant free
The elimination of air and gases is a great start to be contaminant free, but a vacuum chamber won’t be empty of components when completing an application. Therefore, you should ensure nothing in the chamber will cause contamination. This begins when building the components for the instrumentation used in the chamber, including linear mechanics. Linear mechanic products can be manufactured to vacuum specifications. Although moving components may eventually particulate over time due to general wear and tear, linear mechanics can still be certified for use in a vacuum if you take into consideration where particulates will form and how much while manufacturing. Also, the likelihood of contamination will decrease if proper preventative maintenance is done as recommended.
Importance of vacuum environments
Vacuum applications are of growing importance due to technologies that can only be applied in vacuum environments. Different applications require different levels of vacuum, so it’s important to know the level needed beforehand to provide linear components manufactured correctly. You must make sure the raw materials (metals, lubricants, epoxies, etc.) are all suitable for vacuum environments. It’s critical that there aren’t any virtual leaks - trapped volume connected to the vacuum side of a chamber. Also, these applications require precise movements to usually the micron level, but sometimes even down to nanometers. Those mechanics must have the structure, guidance, and drive train that are acceptable to use in a vacuum as well. With all these factors to consider, how can you be sure that you have the proper components for your chamber to execute your application successfully? The answer is to work with Parker for your vacuum application needs.
Factors for customers to consider for a vacuum application:
- Pressure level needed
- Bake out and ambient temperatures for application
- Gases being used in the vacuum chamber
- Acceptable lubricants/grease (if any) needed on mechanics
- Anodized aluminum allowed?
- Composition of components, such as ball bearings and gears
- You should always provide full application details to design engineers to obtain the best solution
Parker offers a wide array of precision linear positioners suitable for applications in a vacuum environment. This includes linear motor stages, something not all competitors can do provide. Guidelines are followed for all our linear mechanics to be used in a vacuum to ensure they meet the required customer specifications. In addition to its standard product offering, Parker will work directly with you to provide custom engineered solutions as needed. We like to form a partnership throughout the process to ensure you receive the best customer service. You provide the vacuum environment and application, and Parker will provide a solution. The following is a list, but not a complete one as Parker is always taking on new challenges, of vacuum applications that Parker can assist with providing precision linear mechanics:
- Semiconductor manufacturing
- Electronics manufacturing
- Medical device manufacturing
- Sealing and coating applications
- Optics (lenses) technology
- Fiber and laser optic technology
- Solar energy technology
- LED manufacturing
- Research and Development
- And more!
To learn more about linear positioners for vacuum environments, visit our website or contact us to discuss your application needs.
Article contributed by Patrick Lehr, product manager for precision mechanics, Electromechanical and Drives Division North America, Parker Hannifin Corporation.