Our commitment to client relationships
Samples In – Data Out – Repeat!
This is how some analytical labs operate. But at Cerium Labs our scientists aren’t just here to run your tests and send you a report. We want to be part of your team! Beyond giving you the results you need for success, our secondary goal is to help you and your engineers understand the results and implications of those results on your products and processes. This is how we approach all the requests that come into Cerium Labs. With this client-focused philosophy, we have built many very valuable relationships over the years.
One such relationship is the one we have with Dr. Judy Runge. Dr. Runge is an expert in metallurgy with over 30 years of experience. We have worked with Dr. Runge on several projects related to the growth of aluminum oxide on aluminum also known as anodization. Anodizing the aluminum surface increases the strength of the surface. Many everyday household objects are made from aluminum that has been anodized to improve performance and wear.
One such project of note was related to an issue where the anodized aluminum on a particular product was blistering. This was not esthetically pleasing for the manufacturer of the product. Beyond this, there was also a potential reliability concern in that the coating with the blisters would wear more quickly than one without blisters. Our team of scientists, along with Dr. Runge, investigated further into the underlying issue. We ran a variety of tests to look at the physical and chemical composition of the aluminum alloy, and the oxide layer. The results pointed to an interfacial reaction that came about due to the other elemental components of the aluminum alloy that was being used for the product. This work was very valuable to the metallurgical community. Dr. Runge and Cerium’s Dr. Tim Hossain presented a paper on it titled, “Interfacial Phenomena in 7000 Series Alloys and Their Impact on the Anodic Oxide”. The paper was presented at the Aluminum 2000 conference in Florence, Italy.
While most metallurgic testing is done at a macroscale, Cerium provided a microscale look at various anodized surfaces for Dr Runge. In order to do so, we used Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) to image the fine structure of the anodized aluminum. The oxide naturally grows in a honeycomb-like structure that is both intriguing and beautiful. Like a honeycomb, there is a network of walls with open spaces or pores in the middle. Below are two images that capture this honeycomb structure remarkably. The first is a cross-section at the interface of the aluminum film where the oxide is grown. In this image, you can see the columnar structure or pillars of aluminum oxide.
The dark areas are the aluminum oxide and the bright areas are the pores. The second image is called a plan-view image because the perspective is looking down at the surface of the aluminum oxide. In this image, you can see the pores (bright) and the walls (dark). Dr. Runge was so impressed by Cerium Labs’ capability that she asked us to provide all the TEM images for her recent book, The Metallurgy of Anodizing Aluminum, Springer, 2018. We were happy to be a part of such amazing work!
Over the years we have helped people like Dr. Runge solve customer issues and contribute to the science and understanding of aluminum anodization. Cerium’s scientists want to be part of your team too. This is just one way we show our commitment to customer relationships! If you have a project or manufacturing problem, let us hear from you. As we work to solve your problem, our professional connection with you will flourish as well!
When we say our team is part of your team, we mean it! The scientists who are part of Cerium’s team are always looking for ways to help our clients. Whether we are solving a specific problem, assisting in process improvements, or verifying the quality of a product, Cerium’s team of scientists get in the trenches with our clients. We have many happy customers who can attest to this!
We have been making our clients happy for many years. Cerium’s team of scientists meet with our client to learn more about the process and the failure. The failure was described as a “blue stain” that developed on the surface of a package. We had a good working hypothesis to explain the stain, but after some analysis we were surprised to learn that it wasn’t what we thought. The analysis performed by Cerium’s team was critical in proving our client’s product wasn’t contaminating the packages. Additionally, we learned valuable information that led the client and their team to a better understanding of the root cause of the stain.
We have so many more stories like this! Another client has worked with Cerium’s team many times in the last several years. Dr. Judy Runge is an expert in metallurgy with over 30 years of experience. We have worked with Dr. Runge on several projects around the growth of aluminum oxide on aluminum, also known as “anodizing.” Anodizing the aluminum surface increases the strength of the surface. You would be surprised how many of your everyday objects are made from aluminum that has been anodized to improve performance and wear! While most metallurgic testing is done at a macroscale, Cerium provided a microscale view of various anodized surfaces using Transmission Electron Microscopy. With the TEM images, Dr. Runge and Cerium’s scientists, Dr. Tim Hossain, and Dr. James Conner, were able to determine what was causing bubbles or blistering in the finish of one client’s anodized aluminum product.
While we like the sleuth work, several of our customers depend on Cerium Laboratories to provide a third party, independent quality check on their materials. Several clients produce chemicals that are sold to manufacturing facilities around the world. We verify that the material meets their specification before it is shipped. This work, while more routine than the previous examples, requires verified, repeatable analyses that can be done quickly. Our customers know they can depend on us to provide the highest quality and accurate results because Cerium Laboratories is an accredited ISO 17025 laboratory. ISO 17025 accreditation is a rigorous and continuous process that verifies all our processes and test methods.
Whether we are helping solve a specific issue or checking material before it is sold, Cerium’s scientists are always engaged with our customers. We want to be part of your team! Where can we help?
We’re so proud to announce that at Cerium Laboratories, we have hit 30 years and we’re looking forward to many more!
Who we are
Cerium Laboratories is a global, high growth, analytical services company that provides the highest quality, the quickest response time, and the best value to a diversified customer base. We have made a name for ourselves as leaders in the industry because we’ve been doing it now for three full decades.
How it all Began
Our lab was started in the 1990’s as a support group to Advanced Micro Devices’ Austin manufacturing facilities. Our lab provided manufacturing and yield support for the three Advanced Micro Devices’ semiconductor fabrication plants in Austin, TX. At that time Advanced Micro Devices was producing Eprom, Flash, Bi-Polar, and Logic microprocessors. When Advanced Micro Devices built their world class 200 mm semiconductor fabrication plant in Austin in 1994, our lab was critical in supporting the startup. Our lab was also an integral part of the launch team for Advanced Micro Devices’ K5® Processor. This exciting development was the first independently designed, socket-compatible x86 microprocessor. Over the next several years, the lab continued to support Advanced Micro Devices manufacturing and the startup of new semiconductor fabrication plants in Germany and Japan.
Big changes happened in 2004. This was the year we officially became Cerium Laboratories, a wholly owned subsidiary of Advanced Micro Devices supporting many semiconductor OEMs in addition to Advanced Micro Devices and the newly formed Spansion, LLC. Spansion (now Cypress) manufactured flash memory in the Austin semiconductor fabrication plant. As an exciting, brand new entity, Cerium Laboratories developed its own quality program. Through rigorous planning, documenting, and validating, we became an ISO 17025 accredited testing lab. This is an accreditation in which we still maintain today.
Further changes took place in 2011. This was the year in which Cerium Laboratories spun off from Spansion, LLC and became a fully independent company. At this point we had over 20 years of “hands-on” involvement in the semiconductor industry. During that time, Cerium had gained valuable expertise in process engineering, quality control, and yield management.
Our Customers and Services
Many major semiconductor OEMs use Cerium Labs’ services on a routine basis. These large companies may have internal capability but are unable to manage the volume of work or do not have the strict environmental controls necessary for ultra-pure testing. That is where we come in! Cerium Laboratories provides overflow support to these companies and serves as a backup when their internal labs are over capacity. Additionally, with our experience we can provide services to manufacturing startups that do not have the analytical equipment in-house to fully characterize their products. Analytical tools and facilities are expensive to operate and maintain, so it is more cost effective for small companies to outsource their lab needs to Cerium.
A lot has changed since the early days back in 1991. We now have a global customer base and are able to service customers in a broad range of industries. We provide chemical analysis to many semi-chemical and raw material manufacturers. In addition, we have customers in alternative energy, Lithium-ion battery production, fuel cell and solar technology. Plus, we regularly work with III-V materials, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices. As we continue to grow our partnerships, we will be adding support for environmental testing and the oil and gas industry. This is something we are thrilled to see come to fruition and believe it is the next step in our journey.
Cheers to the Future!
Cerium’s team of scientists have over 30 years of experience working with a variety of industries. Are you ready to be a part of what we offer? We will work collaboratively with you, just like our other clients, to help you understand the data and its possible implications for your materials or processes. The only thing left to do now is contact us and speak to us directly about what we can do for you!
Scientists report the size of a SARS-CoV-2 particle to be between 50-140 nm (https://www.news-medical.net/health/The-Size-of-SARS-CoV-2-Compared-to-Other-Things.aspx).
New microprocessor technology in devices from companies like Apple, Intel, and AMD produces chips with features as small as 5-10 nm. Shale rock that is mined for petroleum and natural gas contains a pore structure that can be as small as 5 nm. Wow- that’s very, very small!
Virologists, Electrical Engineers, Petroleum Engineers and Geologists; these are all very different professions. The one thing they have in common is the need to study things that are extremely small, nano-sized particles and materials. It’s hard to imagine because this is smaller than anything we can see with only our eyes. As a quick refresher, a nanometer (nm) is one-billionth of a meter. For reference a single human hair is ~50,000 nanometers in diameter. Scientists and engineers who need to study nano-sized particles or structures require a unique microscope called a Transmission Electron Microscope, or TEM for short.
Before we go any further, we should take a step back and discuss a few basics of microscopy. When we look through the eyepiece of a microscope, the magnified image we see is created by a series of lenses, each behaving like a magnifying glass. Various lenses give us higher and higher magnification. How well that magnified image can be resolved is dependent on the wavelength of the source used. In a standard light microscope, the wavelength of the light is about 500 nm. Thus, we can resolve objects that are about 250 nm or more apart. Anything smaller than this is too fuzzy, and the objects are blurred together. Secondly, in a light microscope the light reflects from the sample and is projected to our eyes or perhaps to a detector that generates a digital image.
To see smaller objects with clarity we need to use a source with a wavelength less than that of visible light. This is where electrons come in! The benefit of the electron source is that the wavelength of the electrons in the beam is only a few picometers, 1 picometer = 1000 nanometers. With the electron beam as the source of the object being viewed, it can be magnified even more and the details of a material or cell that are only 0.5 or 0.25 nanometer can be seen clearly.
As the name indicates, in a TEM the electrons are transmitted through the sample. Fundamentally, the TEM is analogous to a slide projector. In a slide projector, a light bulb is used as the “source.” The beam of light is collimated and passed through a photographic slide that is transparent. Then the beam is focused and projected onto a screen. If you grew up in the 1970s this is how you captured all your family memories and replayed them. In a TEM the electron source replaces the light bulb, the beam of electrons is focused with a series of lenses and passed through a very thin (100 nm or less) sample of the material being studied. The electrons change a little as they pass through the sample and thus when they are focused and projected onto a special screen, they produce a picture of the object. Below is an example of a TEM image of carbon nanotubes. In the image you can see the details of the sub-nanometer layers that make up multi-walled tubes!
Scientists at Cerium Laboratories use TEM daily to investigate a variety of samples for our customers. We evaluate the internal structures of microprocessors that operate your cell phone, laptop and car. We evaluate devices used for generating solar power. We look at geological formations to help scientists better understand where natural gas and oil deposits are located.
We analyze the finest details that are so minute but are so critical! We have a team with extensive experience in material characterization and research and development programs, including TEM but certainly not limited to it. If you’re ready to find out exactly what we can do for you, we want to hear from you!
Metal contamination in a semiconductor manufacturing environment can greatly reduce wafer yield or create long term product reliability issues. For these reasons’ manufacturers are constantly monitoring their tools for low level metal contamination. Vapor Phase Decomposition Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectroscopy (VPD-ICPMS) is the preferred analytical technique to measure trace metals on silicon wafers. VPD-ICPMS can measure levels of metals in the parts per billion and even parts per trillion range. However, to do this the process requires class 1 cleanroom areas and strict protocols so the samples are not contaminated in the lab prior to analysis.
Appropriate handling prior to submitting the wafers to the lab is also very critical. Below are 6 very important rules to follow to prevent cross-contamination from sources such as an unfiltered environment or human contact.
- Always handle wafers with vacuum wands, never with hands (gloved or not) and on the opposite side of the wafer from which you want analyzed. Touching the wafer with a gloved hand can deposit calcium and zinc on the surface.
- Open wafer boxes and perform all wafer movements in a cleanroom or at least in a laminar flow hood.
- Ship wafers in a cleaned wafer box (cassette, FOUP (Front Opening Unified Pod or Front Opening Universal Pod) or FOSB (Front Opening Shipping Box)). In our experience analyzing 1000s of wafers, single wafer carriers (aka pucks or clamshells) are dirty and result in an increased level of metals on the wafer.
- Place wafers in the cassette with the side to be analyzed facing up. Automated wafer preparation tools are designed to run the top surface so there is no extra handling required.
- After wafers are loaded in the wafer cassette, tape the cassette closed to prevent accidental opening and contamination from the outside air. Outside air can contain significant amounts of aluminum, calcium and other elements that can deposit on unprotected wafers.
- Double bag the cassette with plastic and seal before placing in a box for shipping.
Improper wafer handling can lead to confusing and inaccurate data. We take extreme measures to ensure our processes are clean. For the best results, however, the process starts at the customer site. Following these simple steps will ensure your samples are not contaminated by secondary sources.