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Case Study

The bigger the virtual prototype, the bigger the benefits

Veeco Instruments

A very large digital assembly created in Solid Edge helped shrink the development cycle for the world’s fastest atomic force microscope

Solutions for a nanoscale world

Nearly all of today’s consumer electronics products contain nanoscale technology – devices only a few billionths of a meter in size. Similarly nanoscale technology is at the cutting edge of much medical research. Veeco Instruments Inc. manufactures the equipment used to fabricate and measure nanoscale devices. The company has three business units: LED & Solar Process Equipment, Data Storage Process Equipment and Metrology Instruments.

Veeco Instruments AMF Business Unit, located in Santa Barbara,California, is best known for its atomic force microscopes (AFMs). These instruments differ from optical microscopes in that they use a tiny mechanical probe to scan the surface of the object being measured, achieving resolutions in fractions of a nanometer. Veeco’s AFMs have become industry standards and the company has the largest installed base of these systems. Its instruments can be found in nearly every major scientific or research organization in the world as well as leading semiconductor and data storage areas. Veeco Instruments also sells a broad array of other metrology and process equipment solutions to research organizations and industrial companies worldwide.

Adapting to competition

As the pioneer in AFMs, Veeco has been the market leader in the field for some time. To stay as a leader in the AFM market Veeco must continually introduce new products. It must also get them to market as quickly as possible while holding down development costs. “We’ve been working to decrease our development cycle, in order to maintain our edge over our competitors,” says Jon Wenzinger, design services manager at Veeco Instruments. Another issue related to having competition is that the appearance of the equipment has become more important. “Originally the instruments looked like lab equipment but we’ve been shifting to a more aesthetically pleasing look,” says Ken Tunmore, CAD engineer at Veeco Instruments. “We’re also doing more to ensure improved ergonomics for the operators.”

Veeco Instruments relies on the Solid Edge® design solution from Siemens PLM Software to meet the challenges of the current business climate. It has 30 seats of Solid Edge at the Santa Barbara facility as well as a several other seats at its Tucson, Arizona site.

Virtual prototypes

At Veeco Instruments, Solid Edge is used to model mechanical components and to create virtual prototypes of AFMs. It’s important to know that these are not the tabletop microscopes we remember from high school biology. These systems can be very large, and a virtual prototype can sometimes consists of thousands of components and many megabytes of data. In addition to digital data created in Solid Edge, a virtual AFM prototype includes digital components and subassemblies created by Veeco’s suppliers. Some of that information was created with other CAD systems and is imported into Solid Edge in the Parasolid or STEP formats.

“Many people wouldn’t attempt a digital model this large with a program such as Solid Edge,” says Wenzinger. “They think you need a high-end CAD program for this. But Solid Edge is robust and handles our a large assembly very well.” The first large AFM to be assembled entirely digitally was the Insight 3DAFM™. This system is used in a semiconductor production environment and provides the fastest throughput of any AFM available today.With three times the throughput and a 2X improvement in measurement accuracy and precision over previous AFMs, Veeco’s InSight 3DAFM “is attracting a lot of attention,” says Wenzinger.

Veeco found numerous benefits to designing the InSight 3DAFM in Solid Edge. Because they could make sure all the mechanical components and systems fit together onscreen before building a physical prototype, there were “far fewer engineering change orders (ECOs) compared to previous programs,” says Wenzinger. In addition, the physical prototype went together quicker. Another advantage was the ability to use the Solid Edge models as the basis for the InSight’s documentation. “It is significantly better than the documentation for some of the other products lines,” he adds.

Veeco’s designers have also been able to achieve the more sophisticated appearance they wanted for new instruments using Solid Edge’s shape creation tools.

Other advantages of Solid Edge

Veeco has an active internship program with participants from all over the world. Solid Edge has turned out to be a good fit with the internship program. Students who haven’t used Solid Edge before find it easy to learn. “We give them about a week and half training, and then they’re up and running and able to be productive right away,” says Wenzinger. “Also, many of the students who come from Europe are already familiar with Solid Edge, which is strong over there.”

The other key benefit of using Solid Edge, according to Wenzinger, is the support the company gets from Siemens. “Our sales rep has been wonderful and Siemens customer service is off the charts,” he says. “This is key to our success – that level of support and the technical capability of Solid Edge have allowed us to increase productivity and decrease design cycle time. We’re very happy.”

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