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CONTACT STAFF Flowmetering in Ultra-Pure Applications
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by: Walt Boyes
Pages: 41; September, 2000
2003 Process Industries
Exposition The enormous expansion of the semiconductor industry has created a market
March March 31 - April 2, 2003 for flow control devices all its own. There are significant differences between
New Orleans, LA
INTERPHEX the semiconductor "ultra-pure" industry, and other high-purity flow control
March March 31 - April 2, 2003 industries, such as bottled water, pharmaceutical or food. There are
New York, NY similarities, but enough differences exist that make it necessary to treat
2003 Offshore Technology applications in these markets differently.
May 5-8
Houston, TX In the food and pharmaceutical industries, there are basic standards of •A
AWWA cleanliness, along with the ability to be Cleaned-in-Place, that a manufacturer
June 15-19
Anaheim, CA
of flowmeters or controls must meet. Usually, stainless steel is the material of •F
Semicon West choice for both piping and sensors. In addition, in the food industry, the object
July 14-16 is to keep a reasonably clean product, with a relatively short shelf life, from
San Francisco, CA becoming contaminated during processing. •G
Search for More Events •L
In the pharmaceutical industry, there are additional criteria, including •M
maintaining chemical purity, documentation and validation and accuracy in •P
batch processing applications. •P
Semicon Strict •R
It is in the semiconductor industry, however, that we find the most rigorous •S
requirements for material compatibility and purity, product performance and •S
price sensitivity. •S
In the manufacture of semiconductor wafers, the presence of contaminating
material in the submicron range can ruin an entire run of chips. This has led to
an increasing search for piping, fittings and valves and meters that are •T
compatible with the widest possible range of fluids, from ultra-pure deionized •V
water, to high-purity chemicals, to silicon slurry. The industry has migrated from
commonly using PVC to PVDF (often sold under its original trade name,
Kynar), to PTFE (originally, Teflon), to PFA. Now, the semiconductor industry
uses these three basic materials: PVDF, PTFE and PFA.

PFA is preferred wherever possible, and PVDF is only used where either PTFE
or PFA are unsuitable for mechanical reasons or expense. For example, PTFE
is very hard to injection mold, while PVDF and PFA are relatively simple
molding materials. PTFE machines easily, but does not take pressure well, and 4/4/03
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is porous to some commonly used high-purity chemicals, such as hydrofluoric

acid. PFA also machines well, and is much less porous, but is often 10 times
the cost of an equivalent amount of raw PTFE stock.

The semiconductor industry, surprisingly, is extremely cost conscious.

Traditionally, most liquid flow applications were done with paddlewheel
flowmeters, usually made of PVDF. Many applications still are. The problem
with these flowmeters is their basic inaccuracy, and the tendency to shed
debris, both from the bearings and from the PVDF itself. Even shafts made of
rare alloys and ceramics shed large enough particles to be dangerous to the

The semiconductor industry has long looked for a flowmeter that would meet
some very basic requirements:

• No moving parts;

• Capable of being made entirely of PFA;

• Reasonably high accuracy (one percent of span or better);

• Able to handle clean liquids and slurries and

• Very low cost.

Three of a Kind

Three types of flowmeters meet most of these requirements. None, however,

meets them all. These meters are the Transit-Time ultrasonic; the Vortex-
shedding and the Coanda effect. The Coanda effect meter has not yet been
made in high-purity materials. This leaves Transit-Time ultrasonic and Vortex-
shedding flowmeters as the preferred methodologies.

Two basic methods are being used to make Transit-Time work in ultra-pure
flows: embed the sensor in an axial or coaxial spool section; or make a sensor
assembly capable of being non-invasively attached directly to a piece of
existing PFA pipe or tubing. These meters only handle clean liquids, and are
not low cost. (The cost of using Transit-Time flow in ultra-pure applications has
reduced significantly over the last four years.)

Vortex-shedding flowmeters have the advantage of being able to work in both

clean liquids and some slurries, although when they are exposed to abrasive
slurries, they quickly become worn and inaccurate. Vortex-shedding flowmeters
also have the advantage of requiring less costly electronics than Transit-Time.
Transit-Time meters, on the other hand, use multiplexed controllers. Most
Vortex-shedding flowmeters are manufactured in PVDF. If they were made in
PFA, their cost advantage over Transit-Time flowmeters would almost be
entirely eliminated. PFA Vortex-shedding meters have reached the market just

Enter the Paddlewheel

The issue of reducing the cost of high-purity measurement of flow is one that
still needs to be addressed. A PVDF paddlewheel is still commonly used in
applications, even where the product is inappropriately applied. There are
plenty of stories about paddlewheels being used in scrubber slurry flow
applications. They are used because they are inexpensive. 4/4/03
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Single-jet Pelton-wheel style flowmeters, from a variety of manufacturers in

PVDF, PTFE and PFA, are common in the semiconductor industry. These units
share the extremely inexpensive nature of paddlewheel flow sensors. They
even, in some cases, share the paddlewheel. These meters can be used, but
they are invasive. For high accuracy and wide range, they need jeweled
bearings and abrasion-resistant shafts, such as zirconium or silicon carbide.
However, these parts can produce pockets that are difficult to keep clean, as
well as submicron debris.

Meeting the performance criteria of the semiconductor industry's ultra-pure

water requirements in an ongoing challenge for flowmeters manufacturers.
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