Bunny Suits or Clean Room Suit and Their Importance in Semiconductor Industry
Semiconductors are unique substances which act as a conductor or insulators of electricity. Semiconductor processors turn one of these substances into an integrated circuit which is also known as microchips.
The semiconductor industry is not a joke. It is the industry which is not only a giant business in itself, sales revenue as in 2018 being over $481 billion, but also helps backup other giant businesses. Any business in this modern world runs on computers, and these computers, in return run on these chips. So one can imagine that despite their tiny size, these chips are a force to be reckoned with.
So let’s dig a little deeper and try to unveil a very important tool which makes it possible for all the world computers to do their work in an efficient manner. It is a tool that is used in the manufacturing process. It is called a ‘bunny suit’. It is so-called because a person who wears it looks like a bunny but just without ears and tails. The bunny suit is a type of agent which prevents lint and other particles from contaminating the cleanroom.
Bunny suits, also called cleanroom suits, can be a single piece of clothing or can have various pieces worn together containing boots and hood. The suits are generally white in colour, are worn in clean rooms where the manufacturing or inspection of the chips take place. They help to prevent any unwanted particles such as dirt, flint or even a speck of one’s skin from falling on the conductors and ruining the intricate device.
The name might sound comic, but the functionality of these suits is absolutely essential. It prevents any unwanted particles that fall on the chip during the manufacturing process and hamper its efficiency or damage it altogether. To put this in perspective the words of Hank Halverson, a line maintenance technician at NEC electronics chip factory, might be quoted, “When you look at a chip under a microscope, it’s like a city. A particle on that chip is about as big as an asteroid landing in the middle of that city.”
Intel Cleanroom Suit Which Recalled the New Coverall “Bunny” Suits
These suits weren’t always worn by people in the industry. Instead, when intel was founded in 1968, the cleanroom standards were rather lax. The facilities which were provided were reasonably clean, but employees used to wear their own clothes, and the environment was not sterile. Bunny suits that sealed particles would be required to maintain semiconductor yields.
By 1971, Fab 2 required its employees to wear smocks but not head coverings or leggings. This became popular to shorten the garments into mini-smocks or cut off sleeves. The personal touches made it more fashionable but hindered their already limited effectiveness. The employees used to take the smocks to home and wash them; it was the conventional cleanliness but did nothing to prevent the small particles like dryer lint which can destroy the microchip. Personalizing the smocks with embroidery or other embellishments exacerbated the problems.
Later in 1973, in California, the more rigorous clean suit protocols began at Intel with the opening of Fab 3. Gene Flath, who manages the wafer fabrication at the three fabs, recalled the new coverall bunny suits. It received a lot of attention for its novelty. These suits had gradually spread over the intel facilities of became a companywide standard by 1980. These designs were in progress, always keeping pace with the increasing intricacy of microprocessors.
In 1997, the bunny suit entered the American consciousness and became associated with Intel when the dancing “Bunny People” made their debut in a commercial for Pentium MMX during Super Bowl XXL. It was one of the successful and recognizable corporate mascots in history. It also became the icon of Itel. The bunny suit would remain a popular company emblem thereafter. In 2012, a student from Rosemary Elementary School in Campbell, California provided the illustrations for “The Adventures of Chip and The Intel Bunny”. A book which Intel developed to help the children in understanding the company’s technology. The suits were also incorporated in various campaigns of the company and became a popular corporate mascot for it.
Industry Started Following Bunny Suit Cleanroom
It is not only workers from Intel but workers from other development fabs such as Advanced Micro Devices, National Semiconductor and LSI Logic who don these bunny suits.
The putting on and off of the suits is an entire ritual in itself. The process can involve as much as 43 steps, though it might vary as every cleanroom has its own requirements. And even while working the breaks have to be kept to a minimum and there might be accompanying little problems like rashes, itches, etc. and every time you just want to rush home, you just cannot cause you still gotta get out of that suit!
But it might seem that these suits are so fascinating and intrinsic to the manufacturing of semiconductors might soon become a thing of the past because of automation and robots. And you might only hear of them when you visit some sort of museum of the industry. Who knows?