Episode # 60: Electric Actuators for Clean Room Applications

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The Motion Control Show

Cleanroom applications have particular requirements for keeping the environment that they are in super clean in order to not just keep the environment clean, but keep the particles in that environment from getting onto the product with which they are working.  This is typical in the semiconductor and electronics industries and many R&D-type environments.  We are going to talk about the requirements and how they pertain to electric actuators and maybe even customizing electric actuators.  I am Corey Foster at Valin Corporation.  Let us see what we can learn.  Reach out to us at this e-mail address here.  We are always happy to help.

Let us take a look first at what the clean room requirements are like.  There are a few different standards as shown here on the screen all relating to the quantity and size of particles per some volume of air.  Class 10, for instance being the one I hear about most often, is here under the English heading which might be 10,000 particles of a certain size per a certain volume of air.  That is the one I hear about most.  I do hear about the ISO classes periodically.  I do not ever hear anyone talk about the metric sizes, but that is probably in other areas where I do not happen to work.  But those are the classifications and those are easy to look up as to exactly what those standards are.

How is that tested?  Well, it is tested with a particle counter or a sniffer, as I always hear it referred to.  For instance, here is a ball screw actuator.  The sniffer can be placed underneath it in order to catch the particles as they come off of it.  It is the moving of the mechanics, the wearing against each other like the bearings, ball screws and ball nuts, that are creating the particles that create the problem in a clean room environment.

Let us look at a few factors here…

Airflow: Oftentimes we ask what the airflow is.  It might be a laminar, not a chaotic, airflow, but a laminar airflow coming down is typically what customers will use.  But, we want to ask about that.  And then, because as the air is coming down, and as this actuator is moving, it is creating these particles, as I just mentioned.  If the sniffer is placed underneath it, it is going to catch those particles.  It will count how many particles it is capturing.  But if you put the sniffer over here where it is not underneath the actuator, then it is not going to capture nearly as many particles because they are coming down here and it is measuring over here.

What is the payload mass?  How hard are those bearings and ball screws in the mechanics working?   How much are the mechanics grinding against each other in order to support the load?

How about the motion profile?  How fast is it moving?  Again, how hard are the mechanics working and grinding against each other in order to accelerate, decelerate and move quickly?

How about the orientation?  Is the actuator just horizontal with its carriage up or is it on its side?  Is it upside down or is it vertical?  Those are all factors as to how many particles it is going to emit.

The point of interest: where are you measuring?  Measuring underneath it with the air flow down or measuring over on the side?

Another factor is the technological factor.  What technology, what type of mechanical transmission, are you using?  You might be looking at a ball screw, which is typically better than a belt and pulley.  Belt and pulleys are really not designed well for clean rooms, typically because the wearing of the belt around the pulley.  The ball screw though has a lot of mechanical motion going on, but the bearings are supposed to be rolling the balls as they go around that screw.  A lot of ball screw actuators will have a strip seal or some sort of cover.  This strip seal goes up inside the carriage and then comes out of it to here.  Well, that is some more wearing creating more particles, so you might want an actuator where that strip seal is removed so it is open like this.  Then there are linear motors.  This linear motor shown here is an ironless one, so it has a U-channel and it has a magnet going through it so there is no mechanical contact.  There is no mechanical wear and tear right there.  There is on the bearings, of course, which both the ball screw and the belt and pulley actuators have.  But a linear motor itself has no mechanical contact, so it might be better for your cleanroom environment.

We can do quite a few things to customize solutions to help the cleanliness.  We can remove the needlessly wearing components like the strip seals I just mentioned.  We can give cleanroom compatible lubricants or other materials, finishes and coatings.  There is the cable management routing.  Maybe the cable management does not need to go side-by-side with the actuators.  Maybe it can be routed elsewhere.  Maybe you want to use a particular type of cable management because as those cables bend and the cable management bends with it.  Again, that is mechanical wearing creating particles.  Lastly, there is the packaging.  We actually are performing some special handling for customers where the products come to us and we send them out to be cleaned.  They come back specially wrapped in a particular packaging and then we put it inside of another packaging.  So, we are double packaging product and making sure that they are cleaned before they go to the customer.

That is quite a bit of information about cleanroom environments, requirements and different factors, particularly about the actuators and cleanroom environments.  I am Corey Foster at Valin Corporation.  Reach out to us again at this email address and website.  We are always happy to help.

If you have any questions or are just looking for some help, we're happy to discuss your application with you.  Reach out to us at (855) 737-4716 or fill out our online form.