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Robotics Maker Looks To Kaman For Precision Parts, Value-Added Services


Hine Design Robotic Components

When Silicon Valley's Hine Design needed a special high-quality, precision component to drive the robotic arm they make to move incredibly fragile semiconductor silicon wafers, they went to Kaman Industrial Technologies.

"We teamed up with Kaman a year and a half ago," says
Hine Chief Operating Officer Fred Moreno, "but not before we had conducted a long and expensive search."

"We were looking for a company that could provide exactly the quality products we need to give our customers the performance they demand. We reviewed a great many providers before we finally selected Kaman. We are pleased with the quality of the product, with their response, and with our working relationship," says Moreno.

Kaman supplies Hine Design with the custom lead screw that moves the robotic arm up and down, says Kaman's South San Francisco, Calif. Branch Manager Niels Rifbjerg. He explains that the arm, which rotates 360 degrees, is multi-axis, that it moves in different directions. The lead screw, which he likens to a corkscrew, drives the arm vertically, so it's able to reach out, go over, pick up a compact disk-sized silicon wafer and place it into a chamber. "Kaman does custom machine work to adapt the part to Hine's standards and ships it to us for distribution. We also supply them with specialized bearings and clean-room greases," Rifbjerg said.

Serving some very demanding customers

The robotic arm has to be very precise and move extremely smoothly so it doesn't vibrate the wafer even slightly. "We have very demanding customers," says Moreno. "It used to be that if you broke a silicon wafer, which contains 100 or 200 microcircuits, it was like buying a new car. Nowadays, if we damage one, it's the equivalent of buying a new house here in Silicon Valley. So our customers are understandably very fussy about how our arm handles their wafers."

Located in Sunnyvale, California, Hine Design was incorporated in 1983. The company, which has 110 employees, specializes in the design and manufacture of wafer transports and indexers.

"We are at the bottom of the semiconductor 'food chain,' " says Moreno. "At the top you have consumers of electronic products. Underneath you have people who make the semiconductors that go into those electronic products. Next are the companies that supply the $2- and $3-million machines that make the semiconductors. We design, assemble and integrate equipment that fits inside these tools, using components we buy from suppliers like Kaman Industrial Technologies."

Building trust takes time, good communication

"We sell more than parts in a box. We also provide service and value," says Rifbjerg. "We work closely with Hine Design, which is just 40 minutes south of us, to make sure we continue to meet their needs."

Building trust takes time and good communication. "I have contact with the people at Hine two and three times a day. Max Weber, our outside salesman, is there two or three times a week, meeting with their purchasing and engineering people. The more we understand their needs the better we can meet them," says Rifbjerg.

As part of the added value Kaman provides Hine, the branch maintains an inventory of custom lead screws and supplies them as needed. "The company that makes the original part has a six-month lead time. Hine cannot afford to wait that long, so we stock the product and release it as required in the customer's production cycle," says Rifbjerg. "They get the parts they need when they need them, and they save money by committing to an annual quantity."

"We have built a good relationship with Hine Design," says Rifbjerg, "based on mutual respect and trust. They depend on us to provide them with components of the very highest quality. It means a lot to have a company with an outstanding reputation like Hine so pleased with the components and service we provide them."

"Economics is the new measure," he said. "We've proven that we can fly and do any kind of aviation. We must use aviation to enhance the welfare of mankind, just as we have done in the past and as we will continue to do in the future." "We live in a difficult world, but we must not lose faith. We must preserve the faith and console ourselves by doing even greater things than we've done in the past, to use our increasing intelligence, our increasing power, our increasing strength to overcome adversity in all forms. Such is America; such is our history."