Spiegel werden auf Hochglanz poliert bis deren Oberflächen nanometergenau glänzen

In Oberkochen, future technologies are not only developed and made ready for series production – but also manufactured on site. The SMT plant is one of the most modern and cleanest optics production sites in the world.

Somewhat different production

Anyone walking through the production buildings of the Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology (SMT) segment will notice it immediately: The high level of cleanliness in the buildings and corridors. Access is only granted to those wearing appropriate overshoes. This is due to the generally high cleanliness standards in the production of lithography optics, which even increase from one SMT production area to the next. After all, this is the only way to achieve the high precision of SMT products. Even the production of optical blanks requires accuracies that are initially one to two orders of magnitude finer than the width of a human hair – and ultimately smaller than the diameter of a hydrogen atom. If larger particles from the ambient air were to enter this process, this precision would quickly be lost. But the eye doesn't see everything: Chemical impurities could also affect the properties of the mirror and lens surfaces. To avoid this, SMT also clearly regulates which materials may and may not be used.

In some buildings, mirrors and lenses are ground, in others they are polished to high precision and in the next they are coated – the latter happening in so-called cleanrooms. It takes many process steps for the optics to achieve the required surface accuracies in the tenths-of-a-nanometer range. The precision of the mirrors can be illustrated with a comparison: scaled to the size of Germany, the largest unevenness on such a mirror would be just under a tenth of a millimeter!

Cleanroom suits and face masks for employees as well as special air filter systems and extraction devices in the production hall ensure maximum cleanliness

A triad of perfection: mechanics, optics and assembly

The coated optics continue their journey through operations into one of the cleanest rooms in Germany. In a cleanroom at ZEISS, only 3,500 particles are suspended in one cubic meter of air – compared to the 100 million that are common in normal room air. Cleanroom suits, overshoes, hair covers, gloves and face masks for employees, as well as special air filter systems and extraction devices in the production building, ensure maximum cleanliness. This is necessary because even the smallest particles on these optics can later disrupt the performance of the overall optical system and thus the structuring of the integrated circuits in semiconductor manufacturing. In the cleanrooms at ZEISS, the frame parts from the high-precision mechanical production are assembled with the lenses and mirrors and adjusted with sub-micron precision – either manually or with robotic assistance. This is how the world's most sophisticated lithography optics are created, enabling the manufacture of the most powerful microchips for the global digital revolution.

The machine operator follows the production of a kilogram heavy, extremely complex, but highly precise metal ring at the CNC machine

Where visions take shape

All in all more than 2,700 people are employed in Oberkochen to produce optical systems for semiconductor manufacturing. Not only on CNC machines in mechanical production, in optics manufacturing, in the cleanroom for assembly and adjustment, but also in coating and logistics, for example, and not least in metrology – because you can only produce parts as precisely as you can measure them. ZEISS also has similar production sites for other products from its portfolio for semiconductor manufacturing in Wetzlar and Jena.

Mirrors are polished to a high gloss until their surfaces shine with nanometer precision

Hands-on high-tech

Obviously, there are specialists at work here who are masters of both high-tech and craftsmanship – because decisions often still require the experience and knowledge of these experts when it comes to achieving atomic precision. And that's why ZEISS employs not only visionary developers and researchers, but also precision opticians and technicians, machine operators and mechatronics engineers – to name just a few examples. Some colleagues have joined us coming from external companies, but many have been with ZEISS since their vocational training. They learned their respective trades from scratch: for instance, turning and milling different metals or polishing optical lenses and mirrors – first by hand in the training workshop, then using some of the most modern machinery far and wide.

Porträt Andreas Dorsel in seiner Funktion als Chief Operations Officer und Digital Transformation Officer der ZEISS SMT in Oberkochen

This is where some of the most sophisticated optics in the world are created.

Dr. Andreas Dorsel

Former Chief Operations Officer and Digital Transformation Officer at the SMT (2015-2022)
An associate works on important technologies for the semiconductor industry

We are looking for passion

What counts here is not brawn or lucky one-offs, but primarily experience and precision – and above all the passion and ambition to build the world's most powerful optics for chip production. As we believe, this can only be achieved in a good environment where every employee can develop according to his or her personal and needs-oriented goals and thus give his or her best. We do not plan from quarter to quarter, but much more long-term. High-tech serving people: This approach makes us so successful, by having us grow with our employees. That's why we are always open to applications. This year alone, we are looking for about 1,000 more people who want to join us in making the world a little better in this area. Whether in optics production or in the cleanroom, for R&D or logistics: with us, you will shape the technology of the future while working towards the foundation of the digital revolution.

Optical Lithography

Microchips have become an indispensable part of our everyday lives. Light and lithography optics play a decisive role in the production of microchips. So-called optical lithography is a key process in semiconductor manufacturing. Lithography is used to deposit billions of tiny structures onto silicon wafers. These structures are combined to form microchips. The more structures fit on a chip, the higher its performance will be. For this reason, lithography system manufacturers are working on making these structures smaller and smaller. The rapid progress in computer technology is essentially based on the further development of optical lithography.

Porträt Andreas Dorsel in seiner Funktion als Chief Operations Officer und Digital Transformation Officer der ZEISS SMT in Oberkochen
Author Dr. Andreas Dorsel Former Chief Operations Officer and Digital Transformation Officer at the SMT (2015-2022)

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