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Welcome to Fluoropolymers 101

Why Do We Use the Materials That We Use?

My marketing director has been bothering me for a long time to make a blog on why we use the materials we use and how the materials we use relate to the semiconductor industry.

I grabbed a couple of scraps and stuff out of stock and highly recommend watching the video to see the demonstrations. In the video, I am holding up a little piece of ¾” ID Finger Lakes tubing that I sliced down the middle for a little demonstration and I did the same with a piece of ¾” inch PFA tubing that we have in stock. The question is, why do we use fluoropolymer tubing instead of something like PVC or vinyl tubing there are some very good reasons why. You could look at what 1” PVC flexible tubing’s cost is and right now it is generally about $3 a foot while our cost on PFA right now is running somewhere between $14 and $18 a foot. Right off the bat, you can see that there’s a big price difference but there are some clear differences. For one, clear vinyl tubing is only good up to about 140° F, and if you go down too much below freezing it gets very brittle almost glass-like where you can shatter it. With PFA you’re talking a temperature range that goes down to -328°F and up to 500°F continuous operating temperature so there’s a big swing there.

With fluoroplastic tubing, we’re talking principally PTFE, PFA, and FEP and most of what we do here is PFA, which is perfluoro alkoxy or polyfluorinated alkoxy. The reason we use PFA is the high temperature, but the other thing is that it is what’s called fully fluorinated; it is the strongest organic chemical bond known to man. It’s a covalent bond, essentially carbon and fluorine atoms with very minimal side chains make up the resin and once you put it together those bonds do not want to break apart. It’s nearly Indestructible, and so for very strong organic chemistry, either acids or bases, non-organics, strong solvents, etc. PFA is ideal.

If you watch the video, you can see that one of the advantages of PFA is that the interior surface is super smooth. It’s what’s called .25 RA or essentially 250 nanometers in terms of average surface roughness and that’s according to the SEMI 57 specs. I can’t sell this tubing as semiconductor-grade tubing unless it meets that. What’s interesting is that if I’ve got one of these big Sharpies here, and you’ll need to watch the video to see the demonstration but if I try to mark this tubing it won’t. It tries but the ink just wrinkles up and won’t stick.

Conversely, as you see in the video, if I do that on PVC it marks easily even though the PVC tubing is also very shiny. It is a great choice for food-grade processing, and it has a lot of applications, but it doesn’t have chemical resistance.

One of the other great things about PFA is the surface profilometry and the surface tension allows it to shed particles and not build up inside the tubing which keeps bacteria from growing on the inside of the tubing. This is true with PFA, FEP, and PTFE which is why it’s used a lot in life sciences, pharmaceutical, surgical, and even medical implants where the devices are being put inside the human body.

I’m recording the corresponding video to this blog post on my iPhone, which for a fun fact, my iPhone has 10,000 times more computing power than all the computing power they used on the Apollo 11 flight back in 1969 to land a man on the moon. That’s just to give you some idea of how much we’ve advanced in several short decades. In the past, when I told people that the average clean room is at least 100 times cleaner than a surgical theater they would be shocked and now they are about 10,000 times cleaner. Currently, we’re making microcircuits down to the nanoscale level and your normal clean room at Intel, Samsung, or TSMC is 10,000 times cleaner. Just to give you some idea of how much has changed and things are going to continue to get smaller. They’re trying to get stuff down into the 2-5 nanometer scale, which is something I have a hard time even comprehending. I used to think that it was crazy when not too long ago many years ago they were doing microcircuits at .18 microns (please note, I mispoke in the video saying 1.8 microns). Now we’re down in the nanometer scale to nearly atomic levels. Just to give you some idea, a human red blood cell is typically 5-8 microns in diameter and now we’re talking about things on a nanometer scale which is 1000 times smaller than that and we’re now making microcircuits at that size.

I hope you enjoyed my quick blog on why we use fluoroplastic tubing, particularly in the semiconductor industry. It’s going to continue to get cleaner and cleaner and smaller and smaller. See you next time for another quick blog on all things related to Crist Group and the industries we work in. Thanks for tuning in!

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