The Importance of Maintaining Research and Development Tools

It is a known fact that that maintenance in the R&D sector is more reactive than pro-active. In the production sector, maintenance is essential to maximize the return on investment, while of course there is a constant pressure to enhance consistency and reduce the cost of ownership.

OIPT’s Maintenance Policy

Oxford Instruments Plasma technology (OIPT) is well aware that many R&D customers are more keen on just making the initial purchase, and that funding structures often fail to cover maintenance costs. Due to this, extended warranty and flexible maintenance agreements have been developed to respond to these needs. One may wonder why it is necessary to implement preventative maintenance. Acting reactively and fixing things as they break does allocate the money where it’s required and can be a realistic method.

OIPT’s maintenance credit accounts are sympathetic to this approach. The company feels that there is a change in the behaviour of R&D tool users over the last ten years. Today’s tools are often central to the delivery of a joint research project, so an extended repair period can lose the institute credibility with project partners, and even impact future funding. It is highly important to be sure that the tool will be fully functional at specific times. It is not possible to ensure this using a reactive strategy. Preventative maintenance is better than reactive maintenance as it can minimize the total bill, and can help to ensure the tool is available when needed. Simple visual inspection of all the joints in the cooling system is inexpensive, but can prevent a much larger task of dealing with wetted electronics.

Preventative Mainteneance

Certain preventive measurement techniques include the following:

  • Checking fluid flow rates periodically;
  • Inspecting electrical and RF cables for signs of stress;
  • Verifying gas flow rates;
  • Checking the performance of a baseline process

It is well known that no one recognizes maintenance personnel with Nobel prizes. No one in a research institution gets promoted for keeping their lab tools totally functional. Journal publications on hardware reliability are very rare.

Preventative maintenance also ensures operator safety. For example, the wafer table in a plasma system is often biased with RF power, and is not therefore earthed. Some tables for example, the OIPT cryo table also contains electrical heaters running at local single phase voltage.

Certain questions that need to be addressed include the following:

  • When was the insulation for this heater last checked?
  • Failure to check this periodically could leave the operator at risk of electric shock.
  • Who is responsible for maintenance? and so forth.


The tradition of using student labour for tool maintenance is fine, where the student has a broad skill base. OIPT supports this by offering training courses to users, some of whom inherit a tool with little knowledge of the hardware. It must be noted that the responsibility for personal safety shifts when you approach a tool with a spanner in your hand. Anyone working inside the tool needs to know what hazards they may encounter, or must be under appropriate supervision. Three phase power, hazardous gases, heavy weights and RF power must be handled carefully. Tool safety and consistency are also supported if there is a local tool ‘owner’ who can receive advisory notices from OIPT. As part of our care for customers, we inform users of issues impacting tool reliability or operator safety. In case you bought a high performance car, you would like to maintain it on a regular basis. In the same manner it is equally important to subject a high performance plasma tool to regular preventative maintenance.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Oxford Instruments Plasma Technology.

For more information on this source, please visit Oxford Instruments Plasma Technology.


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