Understand your thin film process BEFORE engaging an equipment supplier: 

  Modern vapor deposition tools have become a sophisticated "erector set" technology, composed of many highly-proven, modular components (pumps, vapor deposition sources, sensors, logic control systems, robots, flow controllers, valves, HMI's, etc.), each of which nowadays has come to conform to quite standardized interfaces.  

The vast majority of modern vacuum technology (a very different scope, relative to
 "thin film process technology") is fully embedded within these highly-evolved, off-the-shelf, components; wherein each of these components is, in turn, provided by multiple component OEM's (e.g., Agilent, Leybold, Helix, MKS, Pfeiffer, Edwards, etc).  

Because of present-day levels of standardization, a competent engineering graduate can be taught to fabricate an elaborate and impressive-looking PVD tool within a matter of months (productivity/performance notwithstanding).   Any resulting tool, 
however, requires commitment to a specific sub-set of possibilitiesselected from a vast matrix of possible equipment solutions, each of which will provide a different set of material outcomes.  It is worth noting that, while being an assembled tool "OEM" requires an initiation into vacuum science and technology, integrating these various pre-manufactured components into a complete system requires exceedingly little practical experience in thin film process development.  Results may vary.

  Many mechanical contractors have profited handsomely, and many customers have paid a heavy price, embracing the illusion that such mechanical expertise of equipment contractors somehow represents thin film process know-how  or even particular depth in the process tooling.  

Or, customers often embrace the illusion that the ability to copy thin film equipment for relatively undemanding processes (e.g., most purely metallic coatings) or standardized, turn-key applications (e.g., sputtered ITO on glass, etc), is adequate process expertise for success in new process development scenarios, particularly those involving reacted compounds or an otherwise process-sensitive materials chemistry/behavior, wherein a specific film/substrate/process application is yet to be commercially proven   Only the customer loses in these illusions.  

  In recent years, a more widespread recognition that there is significant difference between such mechanical contracting and actual process expertise has resulted in many thin film equipment manufacturers, refurbishers/re-branders, and "fabless" mechanical firms re-positioning as seasoned thin film process developers.

Critically, such re-positioning typically involves also re-positioning poorly-adapted legacy equipment for any emerging application market that is creating buzz.   Particularly in the reactive "PVD" arts, extent of process expertise of such mechanical contractors is, generally speaking, broadly misrepresented. 
 In the "wild west" (risky and relatively unaccountable) technical frontier that is thin film and "nanotechnology" development, continual, healthy skepticism is prudent.

  A gram of critical preparation is worth far more than a kilogram of adapting the wrong thin film tool.  Particularly so, since the purchase of vacuum thin film equipment typically incurs additional investment extending well beyond the initial purchase price.  

We strongly advise clients to be certain that they first 
develop well-advised documentation of their equipment requirements, critically supported by tangible empirical support (i.e., actual functioning films in the needed product application, with supporting data), before investing significant resources (money or time) into any specific equipment "solution."  

  In short, vetting your thin film process by asking the people who are selling the equipment is risky business Selecting your equipment supplier comprises an essentially non-reversible choice in process outcome.  If your organization is pursuing a non-standardized application, then fully understanding the specific physical requirements of your thin film application is the critical due diligence before selecting thin film manufacturing equipment; alternatively, not doing so is a common choice, one that frequently proves fatal to product development.  The practice of banking on an expectation that particular equipment suppliers will help develop one's needed know-how "along the way" also represents an asymmetrical marriage - and a conflict of interest - that is, on several fronts, in the contractor's favor.

  We advise development programs to pursue a deterministic path to a complete thin film specification, before becoming wed to an equipment supplier.  If timing is a factor, we also advise seeking a strong track record of ground-up, hands-on thin film development (rather than merely academic, operational, managerial, or peripheral support) to pursue such ends.  

As process experts providing services, and delivering physical results, continuously in reactively-based thin film process development and implementation for over 25 years (never have we engaged in equipment sales, nor are we ever compensated by any OEM for our recommendations) we encourage you to contact us
 if such services might be beneficial in your product development. 

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