Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thin Film Goliath Hypes ALD Sensor of Puny Capability

Have you heard the latest out of East Syracuse? Apparently Inficon wants to break into the thin film for ALD market. Their first attempt to enter this emerging market involves taking an old product - a bakeable sensor - and rechristening it the “ALD Sensor”.

Normally such an odd decision by a competitor would present little more than passing amusement in the hallways of Colnatec. After all, Inficon has traditionally devoted itself exclusively to stifling new technology and maintaining the status quo. So, we are left to wonder what prompted Inficon to make this move.

The only answer we could come up with is that this repurposed sensor is intended to directly mimic (albeit poorly) Colnatec’s exceptional line of ALD sensor technology; for the ALD Sensor employs concepts unmistakably similar to technology that Colnatec began manufacturing years ago.

Colnatec designs and manufactures the only technology of its kind, using a temperature-centric design approach that our friends at Inficon have forever dismissed as either "impossible" or "pointless". Now with the recent release of Inficon’s ALD Sensor - as imaginative in name as design (sarcasm) - we discover that Inficon is suddenly open to the "impossible" and the "pointless".

Perhaps Colnatec should be flattered that a technology Goliath like Inficon would seek to emulate the technology of a much smaller competitor. Or maybe this is a sly attempt at irony on the part of Inficon: Take an old product, call it a new product that has functionality similar to Colnatec products, and then use the product to try to eventually crowd Colnatec out of a niche market that Colnatec helped create.

A bit paranoid of us? When it comes to Inficon, we think not. Inficon has developed a reputation in the industry for buying technology in order to eliminate competing technologies. Technology they cannot buy, they marginalize and denounce. In these ways they’ve built a pseudo-monopoly in the thin film metrology market. This stale corporate recipe has enabled Inficon to successfully maintain a product line containing technology that was in use 50 years ago. And now they sell a “high temperature” ALD sensor - perhaps their most innovative piece of technology - as if it’s a new idea (let alone, their idea). Outrageous.

Colnatec was the first – and until now, the only – manufacturer of temperature-centric thin film sensors and control electronics. With years spent developing temperature-centric thin film sensors and control electronics, Colnatec in a sense has created solutions to problems that no one had yet conceived at the time. As the technology evolved, Colnatec engineers recognized that temperature is central to thin film science and that unless it has temperature tolerance, measurement, and control, a thin film sensor should probably be considered outdated, imprecise, and basically irrelevant.

One feature of a temperature-centric sensor, such as Inficon’s ALD Sensor, is the ability to withstand high temperatures. Inficon claims the ALD Sensor can operate at a temperature of 450°C. That may be true, but it’s worth noting that Inficon does not offer a crystal that can operate at those temperatures. As far as we know, Colnatec is the sole manufacturer of a crystal that can operate at 450°C. In fact, Colnatec makes a crystal and sensor that can operate at temperatures above 500°C.

Further, the list of what Colnatec technology can do that Inficon technology cannot do might as well be infinite, given this technology is designed to operate on the scale of nanometers (where precision is crucial and imprecision is unforgivable).

Here are some key differences between Colnatec and Inficon thin film sensors for ALD:

Colnatec™ Tempe™ SensorInficon™ ALD Sensor
Requires only ONE crystal for ALL Temperatures up to 500°CYesNo
High-Temp, Fail-Proof Contact SpringYesNo
Controls Temperature to +/- 1°CYesNo
In-Situ, Real-TimeYesYes
Crystal Can Be Used As Sample SubstrateYesNo
Self-Cleaning (Under 2 Minutes)YesNo
Air or Water-CooledYesNo
Fit(s) All Commercial ReactorsYesNo
Frequency vs. Temperature CorrectionYesNo
Responsive Customer ServiceYesNo
Noise above 50°CNoYes
Requires Back PurgeNoYes

Given these clear distinctions between products, all that remains to be seen is how much money Inficon intends to spend peddling its mocked-up “ALD” technology and whether the ALD industry will reward Inficon for its arrogant belief that people will purchase anything simply because it has the Inficon logo stamped on it.

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