the systems view blog

Applying our perspective to industry topics and trends

December 22, 2017

2017: The Year of Innovation and What It Taught Us

As we ring in the New Year, it is always enlightening to look back at what’s happened the last 12 months, and glean from it trends that could impact what’s to come in 2018. When we consider what drove our business in 2017, there was a common theme that spanned industry verticals and kept us constantly engaged in interesting gas delivery projects: evolving innovation.

This innovation came in several forms, but permeated our customers’ processes and, in turn, the equipment that we delivered across environments – from R&D facilities to semiconductor fabrication plants. In this blog, we take a closer look at the advancements that shaped our 2017, and how they might help us all focus in on ripe opportunities for the near future.

Innovation via Evolving Outputs:
From Cleaner Energy to Denser Wafers

An exciting aspect of this past year has been seeing our equipment support the rapid advancement of our customers’ outputs. There has been increased demand for our gas delivery systems in the clean energy, solar, and electric car markets, which tracks with last year’s predictions for increased industrial gas usage in photovoltaic (PV) and alternative energy applications.

These organizations are conducting exciting R&D work that has the potential to change our world’s energy future, and our VERSA-GAS™ systems and Applied Solutions are playing an integral role in powering their experiments. For example, our high purity gas delivery equipment is being used in clean fusion energy experimentation, and we’ve been working with Brookhaven National Laboratory to develop a comprehensive gas handling system (GHS) for its X-Ray Powder Diffraction (XPD) Beamline, which is used for nanoscale resolution energy analysis. We also saw greater demand for our equipment among solar customers, which aligns with the trend reported in BMI’s recent Global Renewables Outlook that the capacity of renewable energy will double between 2016 and 2026. With these types of energy sources expected to represent almost 75% of the world’s investment in new power-generating technologies through 2040, we see our opportunities in this market growing further, and will continue to evolve our products to fully support the gas delivery needs of energy innovators.

On the production side, semiconductor fabs are continuing to use our SEMI-GAS® systems to support evolving manufacturing processes that have enabled them to achieve unprecedented transistor density. Fab equipment spending has reached record highs, and we saw this trend play out as our customers invested in specialized ultra high purity systems to support their highly specific gas applications. With wafer innovation rapidly advancing, it seems that fabs are relying more and more on equipment that sets their processes apart to give them their competitive edge.

As we look ahead to 2018, we see only see this trend growing. Predictions that the Moore’s Law-driven pace of semiconductor development may soon become too hard to keep up with are compelling the semiconductor industry to consider new methods for adding greater storage, processing, and transmission capabilities into semiconductor technology. This will ultimately drive new manufacturing processes that will likely need to be supported by custom equipment, and AES will work to ensure our systems can be flexibly configured to power these process innovations.

Innovation via Evolving Inputs:
From IoT-Enabled Data Capture to Industry 4.0 Integration

A major discussion across markets over the past year has centered around Industry 4.0, which is ushering in the era of “smart factories” by connecting equipment and robotics to machine learning-enabled computer systems. These systems can then communicate and cooperate with each other in an Internet of Things (IoT) environment that drives new production efficiencies through real-time data exchange and automation.

Operators that collect machine and sensor data from equipment have been able to use those insights to input back into their processes for continual system optimization. For example, data collected on a gas cabinet through continuous system monitoring and alarm logging can be assessed against data on losses in a fab’s yield, helping to identify the production step(s) causing issues to be readily addressed. Our customers have been increasingly interested in opportunities to gather real-time data on their gas delivery equipment’s performance and health, and AES has been, and will continue to be, focused on continually improving our control technology to accommodate those communications needs.

2017 may have been marked by innovation, but its evolution won’t stop there. It seems that we will continue to see exciting advancements in 2018 that build upon the trends above, and go beyond to new areas yet to be explored. It will take a gas delivery systems partner with the agility to keep up – and our team here at AES is ready and excited for the challenge!

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