The manufacture of computer chips, flat-panel displays, mobile phones and solar cells relies on processes carried out in a vacuum environment, with the semiconductor industry alone making up around 40 % of the vacuum market. Vacuum is also an important and indispensable tool for many other industrial processes in the lighting, pharmaceutical and food packaging sectors. Modern vacuum systems need to meet demanding performance requirements as the quality of the vacuum directly affects the quality of the products being made while the speed at which a vacuum can be achieved affects process efficiency. Improved measurements of very-low and rapidly-changing pressures as vacuums are created, as well as leak and contamination detection, are necessary for efficient and effective process control.
Prior to this project, existing vacuum measurement standards provided traceability from 10-9 Pa to 105 Pa for pure gases under stable equilibrium conditions. Industrial processes, however, very rarely work in such conditions. The project developed facilities, methods and reference standards for improved traceability of industrially-relevant vacuum and low-pressure measurements, including:
- A new dynamic vacuum facility to calibrate industrial vacuum gauges for rapidly-changing pressures (from 100 kPa to 100 Pa within 23 ms).
- A calibration system for partial pressures to characterise and calibrate quadrupole mass spectrometers used in industrial settings, available for the first time in Europe.
- Reference outgassing samples for a range of important industrially-relevant gas species, such as water vapour, providing traceable and comparable measurements of the outgassing (i.e. the release) of the unwanted contaminants from vacuum equipment.
- A practical guide for leak measurements using commercial leak detectors, for users of leak detectors and the standards-developing committees.
The project team worked closely with measurement instrumentation manufacturers and standardisation bodies, ensuring that the project’s outputs are used to improve instrumentation and incorporated in relevant specification standards. New technical specifications on characterisation of quadrupole mass spectrometers and outgassing rate measurements will be drafted under the ISO vacuum standards committee (TC 112), and a manufacturer of vacuum instrumentation has developed and validated a commercial ultrafast pressure measurement gauge. These developments will significantly improve industrial vacuum measurements, reducing set-up times and improving process control and product quality.
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