Consider the financial benefits of this approach applied to a hypothetical semiconductor wafer fabrication facility. For sake of explanation, assume a 5 day/week, 3 shift/day manufacturing facility with a total operating cost of $75/hour/employee. It will be left to the reader to alter these assumptions for their particular environment, as appropriate.
With the current state of the art in automated wafer handling, one can load and unload practically any tool without human interaction. Thus a load/unload event can be initiated and control of all of the operations of a microscope can be handled from a remote location using a host/remote personal computer hookup.
Fully-integrated, computer-controlled microscopes are available for around $52,0007. Adding a remote personal computer with a 25Mbps link to control the host personal computer adds about $3,000.
Consider that an employer loses the productivity of an employee for at least 60 minutes a day while the employee is entering and leaving a clean room. At the burden rate of $75/hour, this is a loss of $18,900 per year.
With 3 shifts per day, the total cost of lost employee time would be $56,700 per inspection station. The cost of an integrated inspection station with remote control would be $55,000, and therefore the return on the investment is only about 1 year. Annual savings each following year would accumulate at $56,700 per year per inspection station.
More importantly, if the interface to an optical microscope can be redesigned to provide seamless remote control, then the interfaces of many other tools can also be redesigned using the appropriate technology.
Multiply the annual savings of a single inspection station by the number of tools that can be operated remotely and the number quickly becomes very significant. Add the impact of removing contamination sources (people) from the cleanroom and the savings grow even larger.