Title:
Method for safely storing an object and apparatus having a storage box and a stocker for storing an object
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A method for safely storing an object includes loading the object into a storage box for receiving the object, sealing the storage box, spraying a cleaning gas into the storage box containing the object through a first valve connected to the storage box by providing the cleaning gas from an outside source, and exhausting the cleaning gas from the storage box through a second valve connected to the storage box by increasing a pressure of the cleaning gas in the storage box.



Inventors:
Lim, Chang-su (Osan-city, KR)
Ahn, Yo-han (Yongin-city, KR)
Kim, Tae-hyup (Yongin-city, KR)
Im, Suk-hee (Suwon-city, KR)
Park, Sun-wook (Yongin-city, KR)
Kim, Young-min (Suwon-city, KR)
Kim, Hyun-ok (Suwon-city, KR)
Application Number:
10/740572
Publication Date:
08/19/2004
Filing Date:
12/22/2003
Assignee:
LIM CHANG-SU
AHN YO-HAN
KIM TAE-HYUP
IM SUK-HEE
PARK SUN-WOOK
KIM YOUNG-MIN
KIM HYUN-OK
Primary Class:
International Classes:
H01L21/02; H01L21/00; H01L21/673; (IPC1-7): B65D85/84
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
JOYNER, KEVIN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
LEE IP LAW, P.C. (FALLS CHURCH, VA, US)
Claims:

What is claimed is:



1. A method for safely storing an object comprising: loading the object into a storage box for receiving the object; sealing the storage box; spraying a cleaning gas into the storage box containing the object through a first valve connected to the storage box by providing the cleaning gas from an outside source; and exhausting the cleaning gas from the storage box through a second valve connected to the storage box by increasing a pressure of the cleaning gas in the storage box.

2. The method as claimed in claim 1, further comprising: operating the first valve by varying a pressure of the cleaning gas provided to the storage box from the outside source; and operating the second valve by varying a pressure of the cleaning gas in the storage box.

3. An apparatus for storing an object, comprising: a stocker having a first housing and a gas inflow member, wherein the first housing has an open face and an opposing face defining an opening, and the gas inflow member is connected to the first housing through the opening; and a storage box having: i) a second housing including an open upper face, the second housing being received in the stocker, ii) a cover coupled to the upper face of the second housing, iii) a gas supply member including a first valve for controlling a flow of a cleaning gas into the storage box, the gas supply member being installed at a first end portion of the second housing, and iv) a gas exhausting member including a second valve for controlling the flow of the cleaning gas from the storage box, the gas exhausting member being installed at a second end portion of the second housing.

4. The apparatus as claimed in claim 3, wherein the gas inflow member comprises: a gas supply pipe for providing the cleaning gas; an inlet connected to the gas supply pipe; a supply passage formed in the inlet and connected to the gas supply member; and a third valve installed in the supply passage for opening or closing the supply passage.

5. The apparatus as claimed in claim 4, wherein the inlet and the gas exhausting member include quick coupling sockets and the gas supply member includes a quick coupling plug.

6. The apparatus as claimed in claim 3, wherein the storage box further comprises a cassette separated from the second housing at a predetermined interval and inserted into the second housing, and wherein at least one slot is formed on an inner wall of the cassette and at least one gas hole is formed adjacent the slot.

7. The apparatus as claimed in claim 3, wherein the gas supply member further comprises a first gas passage connected to the second housing, and wherein the first valve is disposed in the first gas passage for opening or closing the first gas passage.

8. The apparatus as claimed in claim 7, wherein the first valve comprises a pressure valve operated in accordance with a variation of a pressure of the cleaning gas provided through the first gas passage.

9. The apparatus as claimed in claim 3, further comprising an insertion groove formed at an end portion of the gas exhausting member in order to receive a gas supply member of an adjacent storage box; and a second gas passage formed in the gas exhausting member to connect the insertion groove to the second housing, wherein the second valve is disposed in the second gas passage for opening or closing the second gas passage.

10. The apparatus as claimed in claim 9, wherein the second valve comprises a pressure valve operated in accordance with a variation of a pressure of the cleaning gas in the second housing.

11. The apparatus as claimed in claim 3, further comprising a plurality of additional storage boxes connectable to the storage box.

12. A stocker for receiving a storage box, comprising: a housing having an open face and an opposing face defining an opening; and a gas introducing means having a gas inflow member extending into an inside of the housing through the opening, and a gas supply member for providing a cleaning gas to the gas inflow member.

13. The stocker as claimed in claim 12, wherein the gas inflow member comprises a supply passage connected to the gas supply member, and a valve installed in the supply passage for opening and closing the supply passage.

14. The stocker as claimed in claim 13, wherein the valve comprises a pressure valve operated in accordance with a connection between the gas inflow member and the storage box or a separation between the gas inflow member and the storage box.

15. The stocker as claimed in claim 14, wherein the gas inflow member comprises a quick coupling socket.

16. A storage box for receiving an object, comprising: a housing having an open upper face; a cover for sealing the housing; a gas supply member having a first valve for controlling a flow of a cleaning gas into the housing, the gas supply member being installed at a first end portion of the housing; and a gas exhausting member having a second valve for controlling the flow of the cleaning gas from the housing, the gas exhausting member being installed at a second end portion of the housing.

17. The storage box as claimed in claim 16, further comprising: a cassette separated from an inner wall of the housing and inserted into the housing, wherein at least one slot is formed on a side portion of the cassette, and at least one gas hole is formed adjacent the slot.

18. The storage box as claimed in claim 16, wherein the housing includes a first connection hole formed at one end portion for fixing the gas supply member, and a second connection hole formed at an opposite end portion for receiving the gas exhausting member.

19. The storage box as claimed in claim 16, wherein the gas supply member further comprises a first gas passage, wherein the first valve is disposed in the first gas passage for opening and closing the first gas passage.

20. The storage box as claimed in claim 19, further comprising an insertion groove formed at an end portion of the gas exhausting member to receive a gas supply member of an adjacent additional storage box, and a second gas passage in the gas exhausting member for connecting the insertion groove to the housing.

21. The storage box as claimed in claim 20, wherein the first valve includes a pressure valve operated in accordance with a variation of a pressure of the cleaning gas provided through the first passage, and the second valve includes a pressure valve operated in accordance with a variation of a pressure of the cleaning gas in the housing.

22. The storage box as claimed in claim 21, wherein the gas supply member includes a quick coupling plug, and the gas exhausting member includes a quick coupling socket.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0001] 1. Field of the Invention

[0002] The present invention relates to a method for safely storing an object and an apparatus having a storage box and a stocker for storing an object. More particularly, the present invention relates to a method for safely storing an object, the method being able to remove contaminants on the object effectively using an adequate flow of a cleaning gas and being able to efficiently prevent an inflow of external contaminants into a storage box containing the object. In addition, the present invention relates to an apparatus having a storage box and a stocker for safely storing the object using the method.

[0003] 2. Description of the Related Art

[0004] In general, a conventional apparatus for storing an object only serves to protect the object from an external impact and to prevent contamination of the object. To provide effective storage of an object, however, additional elements or expensive apparatuses are required. An object that is highly sensitive to its surroundings, such as a semiconductor device or other expensive device, may be damaged or corroded in a storage apparatus when the object is stored for an extended period of time. More specifically, when the object is stored in one apparatus for an extended period of time, the object may be affected by factors like weather, temperature and the like.

[0005] Primary contaminants of the object stored in the conventional storage apparatus include minute dust and moisture in air. Minute dust has been considered as the primary contaminant in the semiconductor industry. Although a semiconductor manufacturing process is performed in a closed environment in most of the semiconductor industry, the inside air circulates with much less diluting ratio of contaminants. In addition, a degree of pollution of the inside air by construction materials like woods, metal plates, etc., is severe. Thus, many failures of a semiconductor device result. Recently, areas or buildings are being sealed and insulated at an accelerated pace in an effort to save energy, thereby resulting in severe pollution of inside air. As compared to the past, because outside air itself is polluted due to industrialization, a matter such as increasing pollution of inside air is becoming a significant factor.

[0006] In the semiconductor industry, a cleaning process for removing contaminants, such as minute dust and moisture, has been mainly developed as an important process in semiconductor manufacturing technology because the minute dust or moisture may cause serious failures of a semiconductor device.

[0007] In a highly technical industry, especially in the semiconductor industry, an air cleaning technology is an absolute factor for improving a production compatibility of the semiconductor. Further, at a point where a beginning of a full-scale production of 300 mm diameter wafers starts in the memory industry field, the cleaning technology is recognized as a focal point that must be provided. Among semiconductor and LCD manufacturing processes, the cleaning process, wherein contaminants are removed, occupies more than about 30% of a whole process.

[0008] Recently, a line width has been micro-sized faster than expected. For example, in 1999, a line width was 0.18 μm, in 2002, the line width had decreased to 0.13 μm, and by currently, the line width is 0.09 μm (90 nm). Due to this rapidly decreasing size, an influence caused by dust or other contaminant has significantly increased during semiconductor manufacturing. For example, when a line width is 0.18 μm, a dust size of about 0.09 μm is allowed, however, when a line width is 0.09 μm, then a dust size has to be controlled to below about 0.05 μm (50 nm). Thus, to remove micro-sized dusts, the cleaning technique must be improved.

[0009] Additionally, because dust or other contaminant stains peel off a film from a substrate, even a small amount can turn the substrate into a defective product. Accordingly, a high level technology, such as an organic ELD display device, recognizes cleaning technology as a requirement. Therefore, use of a phenomenon that converts light energy into heat energy by colliding a light from a plasma or a laser at dust particles and a device that collects the dust particles have been developed. Such a device has been developed because a line width of a semiconductor has decreased to below 100 nm between cells, wherein even micro-sized dust can fatally harm the semiconductor.

[0010] A market size of the cleaning industry is greatly expanding. For example, beyond the fields of semiconductor, LCD, and electronics, where micro-sized particles are concerned, places like hospitals, pharmaceutical plants, grocery industries, or agricultural industries where microorganisms are also a major concern, have increased their demands for improved cleaning technology. Recently, the steel industry has begun to use cleaning technology to improve a compatibility of products. For example, in a color plates production line, equipment used in a paint spray procedure is kept as completely sealed due to the ease of attachment of dust or waste products to a painted area. For color plates for electronics that cannot have even a slight amount of damage, surroundings have to be kept clean.

[0011] Micro-sized dust is an often occurring reason for failure of manufactured products. Over a period of time, a pile of dust forms on a device. The pile of dust combines with moisture and causes a corrosion of a storing device. In a process that includes hard disks, semiconductors or precision machines, a clean environment is an important factor determining a percentage of failure products. A manufacturing industry of lenses for cameras or CCTV also manufactures in a clean environment, and when storing, the industry uses “clean cooling air” to reduce damage.

[0012] In general, damage by moisture occurs in many ways. Moisture provides a condition for a microorganism to grow, and it initiates a corrosion of a storing apparatus. In addition, humidity affects plants, such as rice, fruits, vegetables, etc., as well as products, such as clothes, leather, electronics, woods, semiconductors, etc. Thus, humidity is regarded as an important contaminant source that widely affects a variety of objects. In particular, electronics are very susceptible to damage caused by humidity. When humidity increases, many electronics cannot release internal heat, which leads to over-heating, electrical leakage or electrical shock. In a case of computers, computer manufacturers use dehumidifiers to remove moisture during a rainy season. Without the dehumidifiers, hardware may be damaged by internal condensation of moisture. Of particular concern is moisture including saline, which is reacted with metals leading to a corrosion of the metals. An example of this damage includes a digital camera that fails to perform properly due to a fuzziness of lens focus caused by mold.

[0013] In general, since electronic devices are easily damaged by moisture, moisture may cause various problems for electronic devices contained in a storage box. Additionally, when moisture accumulates in electronic devices, the heat generated in the electronic devices may not be dissipated so that a leakage of electricity or an electric shock may be caused. Furthermore, moisture containing salt may cause a serious corrosion of metal components in the electronic devices. Thus, a dehumidifying agent should be located in the storage box or the storage box having the electronic devices should be periodically ventilated when a moisture level increases. Particularly, in the semiconductor industry, semiconductor devices are generally stored in a storage apparatus during and after semiconductor manufacturing processes because most semiconductor components should be stored under a clean environment including controlled temperature, dust, moisture, pressure, etc. Since controlling temperature, humidity and pressure and clean working environment are compulsory, many different devices for providing a safe storage are introduced. For example, dust must be avoided and a same temperature should be maintained because the semiconductor manufacturing line requires a very precise technique. To further this goal, line workers wear dust-free uniforms and pass through a “clean room” prior to entering the line. Finally, completed semiconductors are packaged in special wrapping paper to prevent an outside influence.

[0014] With respect to the semiconductor manufacturing processes, methods for storing an object, like a silicon wafer, are generally divided into two parts: a first part for sealing an apparatus including the silicon wafer on which semiconductor devices are formed, and a second part for ventilating an apparatus including the wafer using a clean gas.

[0015] FIG. 1A illustrates a perspective view of a conventional apparatus 10 for storing an object.

[0016] Referring to FIG. 1, a conventional apparatus 10 includes a storage member 12 having a plurality of plates and storage boxes 14 for receiving objects therein. In use, an object is stored in one of the storage boxes 14 and then the storage box 14 is sealed with a cover. The storage member 12 is positioned near a workspace and the sealed storage box 14 is positioned on one of the plates of the storage member 12.

[0017] The apparatus 10 is mainly used in a semiconductor industry as an apparatus for storing a reticle. The apparatus 10 has a simple structure in which the storage box 14 for receiving the reticle is placed on the storage member 12 having the plates.

[0018] Since the reticle is stored in the storage box 14 under an atmosphere similar to that of the workspace, however, the reticle may be seriously damaged when the reticle is stored in the storage box 14 for an extended period of time or the storage box 14 is physically damaged. For example, various harmful and corrosive gases are used in semiconductor manufacturing processes. About 20 to about 40% of these gases are consumed during the manufacturing process and about 60 to about 80% of the gases are exhausted. After the gases are treated in a predetermined process, the gases are finally exhausted into an external environment. In this case, the gases may escape into the workspace or the apparatus 10. More specifically, a gas including halogen compounds is generated during an etching process. The halogen compounds are very harmful and corrosive so that the apparatus 10 and the object, like the reticle, may be seriously damaged due to the halogen compounds. Recently, a scrubber has been employed to treat this gas. Other harmful gases, besides the gas containing the halogen compounds, are used during various manufacturing processes. For example, an ammonia gas and a silane gas are used in a chemical vapor deposition (CVD) process; an ammonia gas, a phosphine gas and a silane gas are employed during a diffusion process. Additionally, a silane gas, a tetraethyl ortho-silicate gas and a tetramethyl benzidine gas are used during a thin film process.

[0019] If these gases escape into the apparatus 10, they may cause a growth defect or a haze defect on the reticle. Though the semiconductor devices may only have minute defects, most semiconductor devices may have to be discarded because the minute defects may cause fatal failures of the semiconductor devices. Meanwhile, when the reticle is stored in the apparatus 10 for an extended period of time, the haze defect may be caused on the reticle or the growth defect on the reticle may occur due to minute moisture in the apparatus 10. The haze defect is generated on a surface of the reticle due to a reaction between chlorine (Cl) and moisture. Specifically, the haze defect is caused by absorptions of hydrogen chloride (HCI), ammonium hydroxide (NH4OH) and ammonium sulfate (NH4SO4) on the surface of the reticle. The haze defect may reduce a processing margin of the semiconductor manufacturing process or may corrode an inner wall of a chamber employed during the semiconductor manufacturing process.

[0020] FIG. 1B illustrates a perspective view of a conventional stocker for storing semiconductor substrates.

[0021] Referring to FIG. 1B, the stocker 24 includes a nitrogen gas supply pipe 21, a flow rate measurement member 22, a stocker housing 24a, a nitrogen gas inlet 26, and a nitrogen gas heater 23.

[0022] A valve 20 is installed in the nitrogen gas supply pipe 21, and the flow rate measurement member 22 is disposed at a portion of the nitrogen gas supply pipe 21 in order to measure a flow rate of a nitrogen gas provided through the nitrogen gas supply pipe 21. The stocker housing 24a receives various parts of semiconductor devices or wafers after the parts or wafers are cleaned. The nitrogen gas inlet 26 guides the nitrogen gas provided from the nitrogen gas supply pipe 21 into the stocker housing 24a. The nitrogen gas heater 23 is disposed between the nitrogen gas supply pipe 21 and the nitrogen gas inlet 26 and heats the nitrogen gas flowing therein.

[0023] Two nitrogen gas inlets 26, each including a plurality of gas holes 25, are installed at two portions of the stocker 24. Considering a flow of the nitrogen gas, a plurality of holes 27 are formed through a bottom 29 of the stocker housing and plates 28 on which the parts or wafers are to be placed.

[0024] After the nitrogen gas is heated to a high temperature of above about 50° C. using the nitrogen gas heater 23, the heated nitrogen gas flows through the holes 27 to remove contaminants in the stocker 24 while the flow rate of the nitrogen gas is controlled using the flow rate measurement member 22. However, in the above-described stocker 24, external contaminants may be easily introduced into the stocker 24 during storage or extraction of the parts or wafers into or from the stocker 24 using a door because the door is generally installed at a front portion of the stocker 24. Hence, the parts of the semiconductor devices or the wafers may be contaminated by external contaminants introduced into the stocker 24. Additionally, new nitrogen is heated and provided into the stocker 24 in order to maintain a desirable atmosphere of the stocker 24 after the external contaminants are introduced into the stocker 24. Thus, a time and a cost for heating and providing the nitrogen gas may be disadvantageously increased.

[0025] An object to be stored, like a wafer, may have a haze defect or a growth defect on the wafer when the wafer is stored for an extended period of time because parts of semiconductor devices formed on the wafer are very sensitive to moisture, temperature, dust and the like. As a result, failures of the semiconductor devices may result and a manufacturing cost of the semiconductor device may be greatly increased. Thus, the wafer including the semiconductor device should be safely and stably stored in a storage apparatus having a constant atmosphere around the wafer.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0026] In an effort to overcome at least some of the above-mentioned problems, it is a first feature of an embodiment of the present invention to provide a method for safely storing an object, which can effectively remove contaminants on the object using an adequate flow of a cleaning gas around the object and can prevent an inflow of external contaminants into a storage box receiving the object.

[0027] It is a second feature of an embodiment of the present invention to provide an apparatus having a stocker and a storage box for safely storing an object, which can effectively remove contaminants from the object using an adequate flow of a cleaning gas around the object and can prevent an inflow of external contaminants into a storage box receiving the object.

[0028] It is a third feature of an embodiment of the present invention to provide a stocker having a simple structure that can be easily operated by employing a quick coupling method.

[0029] It is a fourth feature of an embodiment of the present invention to provide a storage box for safely storing an object that can effectively remove contaminants from the object using an adequate flow of a cleaning gas around the object and can prevent an inflow of external contaminants.

[0030] In accordance with one aspect of the present invention, a method for safely storing an object includes loading the object into a storage box for receiving the object, sealing the storage box, spraying a cleaning gas into the storage box containing the object through a first valve connected to the storage box by providing the cleaning gas from an outside source, and exhausting the cleaning gas from the storage box through a second valve connected to the storage box by increasing a pressure of the cleaning gas in the storage box.

[0031] In the method, operating the first valve may be accomplished by varying a pressure of the cleaning gas provided to the storage box from the outside source, and operating the second valve may be accomplished by varying a pressure of the cleaning gas in the storage box.

[0032] In accordance with another aspect of the present invention, an apparatus for storing an object includes a stocker having a first housing and a gas inflow member, wherein the first housing has an open face and an opposing face defining an opening, and the gas inflow member is connected to the first housing through the opening; and a storage box having: a second housing including an open upper face, the second housing being received in the stocker, a cover coupled to the upper face of the second housing, a gas supply member including a first valve for controlling a flow of a cleaning gas into the storage box, the gas supply member being installed at a first end portion of the second housing, and a gas exhausting member including a second valve for controlling the flow of the cleaning gas from the storage box, the gas exhausting member being installed at a second end portion of the second housing.

[0033] Preferably, the gas inflow member includes a gas supply pipe for providing the cleaning gas, an inlet connected to the gas supply pipe, a supply passage formed in the inlet and connected to the gas supply member, and a third valve installed in the supply passage for opening or closing the supply passage. Preferably, the inlet and the gas exhausting member include quick coupling sockets and the gas supply member includes a quick coupling plug.

[0034] The storage box may further include a cassette separated from the second housing at a predetermined interval and inserted into the second housing, and wherein at least one slot is formed on an inner wall of the cassette and at least one gas hole is formed adjacent the slot. The gas supply member may further include a first gas passage connected to the second housing, wherein the first valve is disposed in the first gas passage for opening or closing the first gas passage. The first valve may include a pressure valve operated in accordance with a variation of a pressure of the cleaning gas provided through the first gas passage.

[0035] The apparatus may further include an insertion groove formed at an end portion of the gas exhausting member in order to receive a gas supply member of an adjacent storage box; and a second gas passage formed in the gas exhausting member to connect the insertion groove to the second housing, wherein the second valve is disposed in the second gas passage for opening or closing the second gas passage. The second valve may include a pressure valve operated in accordance with a variation of a pressure of the cleaning gas in the second housing.

[0036] In the apparatus, a plurality of additional storage boxes may be provided, the additional storage boxes being connectable to the storage box.

[0037] In accordance with another aspect of the present invention, a stocker for receiving a storage box includes a housing having an open face and an opposing face defining an opening; and a gas introducing means having a gas inflow member extending into an inside of the housing through the opening, and a gas supply member for providing a cleaning gas to the gas inflow member. Preferably, the gas inflow member includes a supply passage connected to the gas supply member, and a valve installed in the supply passage for opening and closing the supply passage. Preferably, the valve comprises a pressure valve operated in accordance with a connection between the gas inflow member and the storage box or a separation between the gas inflow member and the storage box. Preferably, the gas inflow member comprises a quick coupling socket.

[0038] In accordance with another aspect of the present invention, a storage box for receiving an object includes a housing having an open upper face, a cover for sealing the housing, a gas supply member having a first valve for controlling a flow of a cleaning gas into the housing, the gas supply member being installed at a first end portion of the housing, and a gas exhausting member having a second valve for controlling the flow of the cleaning gas from the housing, the gas exhausting member being installed at a second end portion of the housing. Preferably, the storage box includes a cassette separated from an inner wall of the housing and inserted into the housing, wherein at least one slot is formed on a side portion of the cassette, and at least one gas hole is formed adjacent the slot. Preferably, the housing includes a first connection hole formed at one end portion for fixing the gas supply member, and a second connection hole formed at an opposite end portion for receiving the gas exhausting member. In the storage box, the gas supply member further comprises a first gas passage, wherein the first valve is disposed in the first gas passage for opening and closing the first gas passage.

[0039] The storage box may further include an insertion groove formed at an end portion of the gas exhausting member to receive a gas supply member of an adjacent additional storage box, and a second gas passage in the gas exhausting member for connecting the insertion groove to the housing. Preferably, the first valve includes a pressure valve operated in accordance with a variation of a pressure of the cleaning gas provided through the first passage, and the second valve includes a pressure valve operated in accordance with a variation of a pressure of the cleaning gas in the housing. Preferably, the gas supply member includes a quick coupling plug, and the gas exhausting member includes a quick coupling socket.

[0040] According to the present invention, contaminants of an object can be effectively removed using an adequate flow of a cleaning gas around the object. Additionally, external contaminants are prevented from flowing into a storage box containing the object because of the flow of the cleaning gas in the storage box. In addition, valves are installed at end portions of the storage box so that the object can be safely stored in the storage box and the storage box can be easily connected to or separated from another storage box without contaminating the object. Furthermore, the storage box and a stocker can be easily connected or separated using a quick coupling method.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0041] The above and other features and advantages of the present invention will become more apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art by describing in detail preferred embodiments thereof with reference to the attached drawings in which:

[0042] FIG. 1A illustrates a perspective view of a conventional apparatus for storing an object;

[0043] FIG. 1B illustrates a perspective view of a conventional stocker for storing semiconductor substrates;

[0044] FIG. 2 is a flow chart illustrating a method for storing an object according to an embodiment of the present invention;

[0045] FIG. 3 illustrates a perspective view of an apparatus for storing an object according to an embodiment of the present invention;

[0046] FIG. 4 illustrates an enlarged and exploded perspective view of a connection between a storage box and a stocker in FIG. 3;

[0047] FIG. 5 illustrates an enlarged cross-sectional view of a connection between an inlet and a gas supply member in FIG. 4;

[0048] FIG. 6 illustrates an enlarged cross-sectional view of a connection between the gas supply member and a gas exhausting member in FIG. 4;

[0049] FIG. 7 illustrates an exploded perspective view of the storage box in FIG. 4;

[0050] FIG. 8 illustrates an enlarged cross-sectional view of a flow of a cleaning gas and an exhaustion mechanism of contaminants in the storage box in FIG. 4;

[0051] FIG. 9 illustrates a perspective view of a stocker according to an embodiment of the present invention;

[0052] FIG. 10 illustrates a perspective view of a cassette according to an embodiment of the present invention; and

[0053] FIG. 11 illustrates a perspective view of a storage box according to an embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[0054] Korean Patent Application No. 2003-10164, filed on Feb. 18, 2004, and entitled: “Method for Safely Storing an Object and Apparatus Having a Storage Box and a Stocker for Storing an Object,” is incorporated by reference herein in its entirety.

[0055] The present invention will now be described more fully hereinafter with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which preferred embodiments of the invention are shown. The invention may, however, be embodied in different forms and should not be construed as limited to the embodiments set forth herein. Rather, these embodiments are provided so that this disclosure will be thorough and complete, and will fully convey the scope of the invention to those skilled in the art. Like reference numerals refer to like elements throughout.

[0056] FIG. 2 is a flow chart illustrating a method for storing an object according to an embodiment of the present invention.

[0057] Referring to FIG. 2, in step S11, at least one storage box including a first valve and a second valve is provided. The first valve is installed at a first end portion of the storage box and the second valve is installed at a second end portion of the storage box. The first and second valves are connected to an inside of the storage box.

[0058] After an object, such as a reticle, is received in the storage box, in step S12, the storage box is sealed. When a cleaning gas is provided from an outside under a predetermined pressure, in step S13, the first valve is opened so that the gas is introduced into the storage box.

[0059] In step S14, the cleaning gas is sprayed onto peripheral portions of the object. Contaminants existing in the storage box are then changed into other stable compounds by reacting with the cleaning gas or are exhausted with the cleaning gas. When a pressure of the cleaning gas is increased to a predetermined value, in step S15, the second valve is opened to exhaust the cleaning gas from the storage box in step S16.

[0060] Alternatively, when a first valve of an additional storage box is connected to the second valve of the storage box, the cleaning gas exhausted through the second valve is introduced into the first valve of the additional storage box. Accordingly, the cleaning gas is introduced into the additional storage box by opening the first valve of the additional storage box.

[0061] When the pressure of the cleaning gas decreases to a predetermined pressure value, the first valve closes. The second valve closes when the pressure of the cleaning gas in the storage box decreases to a predetermined pressure value. The contaminants existing in the storage box are changed into stable compounds having no effects on the object or are exhausted with the cleaning gas from the storage box. Here, because the pressure of the storage box is higher than an external pressure, external contaminants do not flow into the storage box.

[0062] The cleaning gas provided into the storage box includes an inert gas, such as a nitrogen gas, an ionized gas or a gas having a high temperature, in order to adequately remove the contaminants on the object and in the storage box.

[0063] The contaminants are primarily removed from the object and the storage box by allowing the cleaning gas to flow through the storage box. Contaminants existing in the storage box are then secondarily removed by a chemical reaction of the cleaning gas. When the cleaning gas includes the nitrogen gas, the contaminants including moisture can be effectively removed using the cleaning gas. The nitrogen gas is reacted with the moisture according to the following reaction:

2H2O+N2→NH4NO2

[0064] When the object is received in the storage box or is removed from the storage box, some static electricity may be generated. This static electricity can be removed using a cleaning gas including ionized gas. Alternatively, when the object is received in the storage box for an extended period of time, or the object is frequently placed in the storage box or removed from the storage box, the cleaning gas can include adequate gases as required in order to effectively store the object in the storage box.

[0065] According to the present embodiment, the method for storing an object can be advantageously employed for various types of objects stored in a storage box using a cleaning gas for removing contaminants from the objects and the storage box.

[0066] FIG. 3 illustrates a perspective view of an apparatus for storing an object according to an embodiment of the present invention. FIG. 4 illustrates an enlarged and exploded perspective view of a connection between a storage box and a stocker in FIG. 3.

[0067] Referring to FIGS. 3 and 4, an apparatus for storing an object includes a stocker 100 and a storage box 103. The stocker 100 has an open face and an inlet 111 of a gas supply pipe 210 is installed at the stocker 100. The storage box 103 for storing an object is received in the stocker 100.

[0068] A first housing 101 of the stocker 100 has an open face in order to receive and access the storage box 103. An opening (not shown) is provided through an opposing face of the first housing so that the inlet 111 of the gas supply pipe 210 extends into the stocker 100 through the opening of the first housing 101.

[0069] The storage box 103 for storing the object includes a second housing 130 having a box shape, a cover 120 coupled to an upper portion of the second housing 130, a gas supply member 231 installed at a first end portion of the second housing 130, and a gas exhausting member 131 installed at a second end portion of the second housing 130.

[0070] The inlet 111 is disposed perpendicular to an inside of the first housing of the stocker 100, and a passage (not shown) is formed in the inlet 111. The passage is connected to the gas supply pipe 210. The gas supply member 231 installed at the first end portion of the storage box 103 is inserted into the inlet 111 when the storage box 103 is received in the first housing of the stocker 100. The gas exhausting member 131 installed at the second end portion of the storage box 103 is connected to a gas supply member 233 of an additional storage box 221 so that adjacent storage boxes 103 and 221 are connected in series.

[0071] The stocker 100 is divided into several sections by a plurality of plates 105. The storage boxes 103 and 221 are positioned on at least one plate 105. When the storage box 103 on the plate 105 is moved toward another face 202 of the stocker 100, the gas supply member 231 of the storage box 103 is directly connected to the inlet 111. When the gas supply member 231 has a position adjusted to correspond to a position of the inlet 111, the gas supply member 231 of the storage box 103 can be easily connected to the inlet 111 of the gas supply pipe 210.

[0072] Preferably, the inlet 111 includes a coupling socket, and the gas supply member 231 also includes a coupling plug. Thus, the inlet 111 and the gas supply member 231 may be connected using a quick coupling method. As a result, the gas supply member 231 can be easily connected to and separated from the inlet 111.

[0073] The adjacent additional storage box 221 (hereinafter, referred to as a second storage box) is connected in series to the initial storage box 103 (hereinafter, referred to as a first storage box) that is directly connected to the inlet 111. When the second storage box 221 is moved adjacent to the first storage box 103, the gas supply member 233 of the second storage box 221 is directly connected to the gas exhausting member 131 of the first storage box 103. The gas supply members 231 and 233 of the first and second storage boxes 103 and 221, respectively, have central axes identical to those of the gas exhausting members 131 and 234 of the first and second storage boxes 103 and 221. Hence, the gas supply members 231 and 233 can be easily connected to the gas exhausting members 131 and 234, respectively. Here, the gas supply member 233 of the second storage box 221 includes a quick coupling socket, and the gas exhausting member 131 of the first storage box 103 has a quick coupling plug. Therefore, the first storage box 103 and the second storage box 221 are connected with each other by a quick coupling method. As a result, the second storage box 221 can be easily connected to and separated from the first storage box 103.

[0074] After the gas supply member 231 receives a cleaning gas from the gas supply pipe 210 through the inlet 111, the gas supply member 231 sprays the cleaning gas into the first storage box 103. The cleaning gas in the first storage box 103 is exhausted from the first storage box 103 through the gas exhausting member 131. The exhausted cleaning gas flows into the second storage box 221 through the gas supply member 233 of the second storage box 221. More specifically, the cleaning gas is provided from the gas supply pipe 210 through the inlet 111, and the cleaning gas is introduced through all of the storage boxes 103 and 221. After the cleaning gas passes through a last storage box, the cleaning gas is finally exhausted from the apparatus through a gas exhausting member of the last storage box. When a pressure of the cleaning gas provided from the gas supply pipe 210 increases to a predetermined pressure value, the objects can be safely stored in a plurality of storage boxes because the contaminants cannot be introduced into the storage boxes.

[0075] FIG. 5 illustrates an enlarged cross-sectional view of a connection between an inlet and a gas supply member in FIG. 4. FIG. 6 illustrates an enlarged cross-sectional view of a connection between the gas supply member and a gas exhausting member in FIG. 4.

[0076] Referring to FIGS. 5 and 6, a gas supply member 331 is disposed at a first end portion 320 of a storage box. A first gas passage 369 that is connected to an inside of the storage box is provided in the gas supply member 331, and a first valve 367, including a spring 368, is installed in the first gas passage 369 for controlling a flow of the cleaning gas into the storage box.

[0077] Meanwhile, referring to FIG. 6, a gas exhausting member 412 is installed at a second end portion 421 of the storage box. A second gas passage 439 connected to the inside of the storage box is provided in the gas exhausting member 412, and a second valve 434 is installed in the second gas passage 439 for controlling the flow of the cleaning gas from the storage box.

[0078] Referring back to FIG. 5, an inlet 312 extends into an inside of the stocker. A supply passage 339 connected to a gas supply pipe 310 is formed in the inlet 312, and a third valve 334 is installed in the supply passage 339 for controlling the flow of the cleaning gas from the gas supply, pipe 310. The inlet 312 is disposed perpendicular to the gas supply pipe 310, and extends into the inside of the storage box. The cleaning gas is provided into the storage box through the supply passage 339 formed in the inlet 312.

[0079] A receiving hole is formed at an end portion of the inlet 312 to receive the gas supply member 331. A sealing member 336 is provided in the inlet 312. The sealing member 336 is positioned between an inner face of the receiving hole and an outer face of the gas supply member 331.

[0080] The third valve 334 for opening or closing the supply passage 339 is installed in the supply passage 339 of the inlet 312. The third valve 334 includes a spring provided therein. Preferably, the third valve 334 includes a pressure valve that is operated in accordance with a predetermined pressure. The inlet 312 preferably includes a quick coupling socket having the pressure valve installed therein.

[0081] The gas supply member 331 perpendicularly extends from a first end portion 320 of the storage box and is inserted into the inlet 312 in this case, a groove is formed on the outer face of the gas supply member 331. The sealing member 336 makes contact with the groove of the gas supply member 331. A first gas passage 369 connected to the storage box is provided in the gas supply member 331 so that the cleaning gas is provided into the storage box from an outside source.

[0082] The first valve 367 is installed in the first gas passage 369 in order to open or close the first gas passage 369. The first valve 367, including a spring 368 installed therein, is opened or closed in accordance with a pressure of the cleaning gas. Preferably, the first valve 367 includes a pressure valve and the gas supply member 331 includes a quick coupling plug having the pressure valve installed therein.

[0083] The gas supply member 331 is inserted into the inlet 312 to operate the third valve 334 so that the supply passage 339 is opened. The cleaning gas flows from the gas supply pipe 310 to the gas supply member 331 through the opened supply passage 339. The cleaning gas operates the first valve 367 so that the first gas passage 369 is opened. Thus, the cleaning gas is sprayed into the storage box.

[0084] When the gas supply member 331 is separated from the inlet 312, the third valve 334 closes such that the cleaning gas is not provided from the inlet 312. Additionally, when the pressure of the cleaning gas decreases to a predetermined pressure value, the first valve 367 closes so that the cleaning gas is not sprayed into the storage box. In case that the inlet 312 includes the quick coupling plug, the gas supply member 331 includes the quick coupling socket. Preferably, the inlet 312 and the gas supply member 331 are connected using a quick connection method in order to facilitate connection or separation. Alternatively, the first valve 367 and the third valve 334 may include other types of valves, such as manual valves having handles.

[0085] The gas exhausting member 412 is installed perpendicular to the second end portion 421 of the storage box, and is connected to a gas supply member 431 at a first end portion 420 of an adjacent storage box. A second gas passage 439 connected to the storage box is formed in the gas exhausting member 412 to exhaust the cleaning gas from the storage box. An insertion groove is formed at an end portion of the gas exhausting member 412 for receiving the gas supply member 431 of the adjacent storage box. A sealing member 465 is disposed between an inner face of the groove and an outer face of the gas supply member 431 in order to seal the outer face of the gas supply member 431.

[0086] The second valve 434 is installed in the second gas passage 439 to open or close the second gas passage 439. The second valve 434 includes a spring 438. Preferably, the second valve 434 includes a pressure valve operated in accordance with a variation of a pressure of the cleaning gas, and the gas exhausting member 412 includes a quick coupling socket having the pressure valve installed therein.

[0087] When the pressure of the cleaning gas in the storage box increases to a predetermined value, the second valve 434 is operated to open the second gas passage 439. The cleaning gas in the storage box is exhausted through the second gas passage 439. When the gas supply member 431 of the adjacent storage box is connected to the gas exhausting member 412, the cleaning gas flows from the gas exhausting member 412 to the gas supply member 431 of the adjacent storage box. The cleaning gas operates a first valve 457 of the adjacent storage box, which includes a spring 468, to open a first gas passage 469 of the adjacent storage box. Therefore, the cleaning gas flows from the gas supply pipe 310 into one storage box through another storage box. The cleaning gas is finally exhausted from the apparatus through a last storage box. When the pressure of the cleaning gas in the storage box decreases to a predetermined value, the second valve of the storage box is closed so that the cleaning gas is not exhausted from the storage box. As a result, the storage box contains the cleaning gas having a predetermined pressure to provide safe storage of the object therein.

[0088] In the present embodiment, the gas exhausting member can be varied in accordance with the gas supply member. For example, when the gas supply member includes a quick coupling socket, the gas exhausting member can include a quick coupling plug. In addition, the gas exhausting member may be connected to the gas supply member of the adjacent storage box using the quick coupling method so that the gas exhausting member can be easily connected to or separated from the gas supply member of the adjacent storage box. Furthermore, the second valve may include a manual valve having the handle as opposed to a pressure valve.

[0089] FIG. 7 illustrates an exploded perspective view of the storage box in FIG. 4.

[0090] Referring to FIG. 7, a storage box 500 includes a second housing 530 having an open upper face, a cover 520,for sealing the second housing 530, a cassette 550 received in the second housing 530, a gas supply member 536 installed at a first end portion of the second housing 530, and a gas exhausting member 535 installed at a second end portion of the second housing 530.

[0091] The cover 520 corresponds to the upper face of the second housing 530 to receive the upper face of the second housing 530. An inside of the cover 520 is tightly contacted to an outer face of the second housing 530 in order to seal the second housing 530. The cover 520 prevents contaminants from flowing into the second housing 530 and seals the second housing 530 in order to maintain a pressure of the storage box 500 at a predetermined value.

[0092] The cassette 550 is separated from an inner wall of the second housing 530 by a predetermined interval. The cassette 550 is inserted in the second housing 530. The cassette 550 includes a plurality of slots 552 formed on sidewalls of the cassette 550 and a plurality of gas holes 554 formed adjacent the slots 552. The object 560 is inserted into one of the slots 552 to be received in the second housing 530. When the cassette 550 is inserted in the second housing 530, the cassette 550 is separated from the inner wall of the second housing 530 by the interval of more than about 0.1 mm. The cleaning gas provided through the gas supply member 536 flows into a space between the inner wall of the second housing 530 and the cassette 550, and then the cleaning gas is sprayed into the cassette 550 through the gas holes 554 of the cassette 550. A stepped portion 532 is provided at an upper portion of the cassette 550. The stepped portion 532 makes contact with an upper end of the second housing 530. Alternatively, the slots 552 can have other structures in accordance with a shape of the object 560. In addition, the gas holes 554 can be arranged on the slots 552 in order to effectively exhaust the contaminants around the object 560.

[0093] FIG. 8 illustrates a cross-sectional top view of a flow of a cleaning gas and an exhaustion mechanism of contaminants in the storage box in FIG. 4.

[0094] Referring to FIG. 8, a gas supply pipe 610 is installed at a first end portion 638 of a stocker, and an inlet 631 extends into the stocker. A gas supply member 632 of a storage box 630 is inserted into the inlet 631. A cassette 650 is separated from an inner wall of the storage box 630, and a space 641 is provided between the inner wall of the storage box 630 and the cassette 650.

[0095] A cleaning gas flows from the gas supply pipe 610 to the gas supply member 632 through the inlet 631. After the cleaning gas flows into the storage box 630 through the gas supply member 632, the cleaning gas is primarily introduced into the space 641 between the inner wall of the storage box 630 and the cassette 650. A pressure of the cleaning gas gradually increases in the space 641. The cleaning gas having an increased pressure then passes through gas holes 654 of the cassette 650 at an increased speed. Next, the cleaning gas is sprayed onto an object 660 received in a slot 652 in the storage box 630. Here, the object 660 is disposed parallel to a flowing direction of the cleaning gas so that the object 660 does not disturb a flow of the cleaning gas 680 in the storage box 630.

[0096] While the cleaning gas flows along one direction in the storage box 630, the contaminants 681 in the storage box 630 are included in the flow of the cleaning gas 680 or the contaminants 681 are changed into stable compounds 682 by reacting with the cleaning gas. The contaminants 681 and the stable compounds 682 are included in the flow of the cleaning gas 680, and are exhausted from the storage box 630 through gas holes 655 of the cassette 650 and a gas exhausting member 661. In this case, a space is formed between the cassette 650 and the gas exhausting member 661. The pressure of the cleaning gas also increases in the space between the cassette 650 and the gas exhausting member 661 so that the cleaning gas containing the contaminants 681 and the stable compounds 682 is exhausted from the storage box 630 at a high speed.

[0097] In the meantime, when the cleaning gas is non-uniformly provided from the gas, supply member 632, the pressure of the cleaning gas in the cassette 650 is constantly maintained. Additionally, when other storage boxes are connected to one storage box, the pressure of the cleaning gas is constantly maintained in all of the storage boxes. That is, the cleaning gas can have identical pressures in all the storage boxes. Because the pressure of the cleaning gas in the storage box 630 is higher than an external pressure, external contaminants are not introduced into the storage box 630. The cleaning gas flowing in the storage box 630 contains a nitrogen gas, an ionized gas or a gas having a high temperature in order to effectively remove the contaminants 681 of the object 660 and the storage box 630.

[0098] The contaminants 681 in the storage box 630 are primarily removed from the storage box 630 by the flow of the cleaning gas 680. The contaminants 681 in the storage box 630 are secondarily removed as stable compounds 682 by reacting with the cleaning gas. The stable compounds 682 have no effect on the object 660. When the cleaning gas has nitrogen gas, the cleaning gas can efficiently remove contaminants including moisture. When the cleaning gas includes ionized gas, the cleaning gas can effectively remove static electricity generated during storage of the object 660 in the storage box 630 or removal of the object 660 from the storage box 630. The cleaning gas can include adequate gases according as the object 660 is stored in the storage box 630 for an extended period of time, or the object 660 is frequently placed in or withdrawn from the storage box 630.

[0099] The inlet 631 and the gas supply member 632 are preferably connected using a quick coupling method. Additionally, the gas exhausting member 661 and a gas supply member of an adjacent storage box are preferably connected using a quick coupling method. The inlet 631, the gas supply member 632 and the gas exhausting member 661 have pressure valves operated by a pressure of the cleaning gas.

[0100] When one object 660 is extracted from the storage box 630, the storage box 630 including the object 660 is separated from the gas supply pipe 610. In use, the storage box 630 is transferred to a desired position, and then, the object 660 is withdrawn from the storage box 630. Thus, the object 660 can be safely protected during a transfer of the storage box 630. In this case, external contaminants cannot flow into the storage box 630 because the pressure of the storage box 630 is higher than that of the outside. Hence, the object 660 can be safely prevented from contamination.

[0101] When one storage box 630 is separated from an additional adjacent storage box, the pressure valves of each of the storage boxes are closed so that other storage boxes may not be affected by a separation of the storage box 630. Preferably, a storage box 630 that is frequently accessed is terminally connected to a series of storage boxes, and a storage box that is rarely accessed is connected to an inlet 631. Such an arrangement improves efficiency in accessing objects stored in the storage boxes. In operation, when an object like a reticle is stored for an extended period of time, preferably, a cleaning gas may be continuously provided to prevent a growth defect on the reticle.

[0102] FIG. 9 illustrates a perspective view of a stocker according to an embodiment of the present invention.

[0103] Referring to FIGS. 3 and 9, a stocker 700 includes a first housing 101, an inlet 111 and a gas supply pipe 710.

[0104] The first housing 101 has an open face and an opposing face where an opening is formed. A plurality of plates 705 is disposed in the first housing 101 to support several storage boxes 720, 721 and 722.

[0105] The inlet 111 extends into the first housing 101 through the opening. The gas supply pipe 710 is connected to the inlet 111 to provide a cleaning gas into the storage boxes 720, 721 and 722.

[0106] The first housing 101 has the open face in order to store or access the storage boxes 720, 721 and 722. The plates 705 are disposed in the first housing 101 at predetermined intervals so that the storage boxes 720, 721 and 722 are positioned on the plates 705. The inlet 111 perpendicularly extends through the opening of the first housing 101. A passage connected to the gas supply pipe 710 is provided in the inlet 111.

[0107] The storage boxes 720, 721 and 722 are received in the stocker 700, and gas supply members installed at first end portions of the storage boxes 720, 721 and 722 are connected to the inlet 111, respectively. A gas exhausting member 131 disposed at a second end portion of each of the storage box 720 is connected to a gas supply member of the adjacent storage box.

[0108] As it is described above, the inlet 111 may include a quick coupling socket, and the gas supply member may include a quick coupling plug. Thus, the inlet 111 and the gas supply member may be connected using a quick coupling method.

[0109] The first housing 101 has the open face for storing and accessing the storage boxes 720, 721 and 722. The gas supply pipe 710 is installed in the first housing 101. The gas supply pipe 710 is bent several times in opposite directions. The plates 705 are disposed between the bent portions of the gas supply pipe 710. The gas supply pipe 710 extends through an opening 701 formed at upper portion of the first housing 101. Additionally, the gas supply pipe 710 exits from the first housing 101 through an opening 702 formed at lower portion of the first housing 101. A plurality of gas distribution tubes 711 is connected to the gas supply pipe 710, and each inlet 111 is connected to an end of one of the tubes 711. Alternatively, a door can be installed on one face of the first housing in order to store or access the storage boxes 720, 721 and 722 in the first housing 101.

[0110] The storage boxes 720, 721 and 722 are disposed on the plates 705, and the inlet 111 is connected to the gas supply members of the storage boxes 720, 721 and 722. The gas distribution tubes 711 are connected to the storage boxes 720, 721 and 722, respectively. Hence, additional storage boxes 721 and 722 are not affected by a separation of one storage box 720.

[0111] The cleaning gas passing through the storage boxes 720, 721 and 722 is dispersed in the first housing 101. The cleaning gas has a predetermined pressure in the first housing 101 so that a pressure of the first housing 101 becomes higher than that of an outside environment. Thus, contamination of the storage boxes 720, 721 and 722 can be prevented due to the cleaning gas in the first housing 101. In particular, external contaminants cannot flow into the first housing 101, thereby preventing the first housing 101 from being contaminated. In this case, the first housing 101 can have the open face so that the pressure of the first housing 101 may not highly increase and the contaminants in the first housing 101 can be effectively exhausted from the first housing 101.

[0112] Alternatively, the stocker 700 can include several gas supply pipes and several inlets to improve a storage and access efficiency of objects. A construction of the stocker 700 may be varied in accordance with storage boxes and objects to be stored. In the present embodiment, the stocker 700 has a simple structure including the plates 705 and the gas supply pipe 710 so that the stocker 700 can be easily utilized and a cost for manufacturing and maintaining the stocker 700 is relatively inexpensive.

[0113] FIG. 10 illustrates a perspective view of a cassette according to an embodiment of the present invention.

[0114] Referring to FIGS. 7 and 10, a storage box 500 includes a box type second housing 530 having an open upper face, a cover 520 for sealing the upper face of the second housing 530, a cassette 850 received in the second housing 530, a gas supply member 536 installed at a first end portion of the second housing 530, and a gas exhausting member 535 installed at a second end portion of the second housing 530.

[0115] A stepped portion 532 is formed at an outer end portion of the second housing 530. The cover 520 corresponds to the upper face of the second housing 530 to receive the upper face of the second housing 530. An inside of the cover 520 is tightly contacted to the outer end portion of the second housing 530 in order to seal the second housing 530. The cover 520 prevents contaminants from flowing into the second housing 530 and seals the second housing 530 in order to maintain a pressure of the storage box 500 at a predetermined value. The cover 520 preferably has a rectangular shape. Alternately, the cover 520 may have a dome shape or other adequate shapes as a situation requires.

[0116] The gas supply member 536 is disposed at the first end portion of the second housing 530 while the gas exhausting member 535 is disposed at the second end portion of the second housing 530. The gas supply member 536 preferably corresponds to the gas exhausting member 535. However, positions of the gas supply member 536 and the gas exhausting member 535 may be varied in accordance with objects to be stored and a structure of the storage box 500. Alternately, the storage box 500 can include several gas supply members and several gas exhausting members.

[0117] Referring to FIG. 10, the cassette 850 is separated from an inner wall of the second housing 530 by an interval of more than about 0.1 mm. The cassette 850 is inserted in the second housing 530. The cassette 850 includes a plurality of slots 852 formed on inner sidewalls thereof and a plurality of gas holes 854 formed adjacent the slots 852. A stepped portion is provided on an upper face of the cassette 850, the stepped portion of the cassette 850 is contacted to the upper face of the second housing 530. An object 560 is inserted into one of the slots 852 to be received in the second housing 530. The gas holes 854 can be arranged on the slots 852 in order to effectively exhaust contaminants around the object 560. The slots 852 are arranged on the inner sidewalls of the cassette 850 in a vertical direction. The gas holes 854 are preferably arranged adjacent the slots 852 in series. Alternatively, arrangement of the gas holes 854 may be varied to suit a particular structure of the object 560 provided the gas holes adequately provide the cleaning gas to the surface of the object 560.

[0118] FIG. 11 illustrates a perspective view of a storage box according to an embodiment of the present invention.

[0119] Referring to FIG. 11, a storage box 900 includes a door 957, a cassette 950 including a plurality of slots 952, a gas supply member 931 having a first manual valve 933, and a gas exhausting member 932 having a second manual valve 934.

[0120] The storage box 900 has a first face where the door 957 is installed, a second face where the gas supply member 931 is disposed, and a third face where the gas exhausting member 932 is disposed.

[0121] A first gas passage (not shown) connected to the storage box 900 is provided at a central portion of the gas supply member 931, and the first manual valve 933 is installed at an end portion of the gas supply member 931 in order to open or close the first gas passage. A second gas passage (not shown) connected to the storage box 900 is provided at a central portion of the gas exhausting member 932, and the second manual valve 934 is installed at an end portion of the gas exhausting member 932 to open or close the second gas passage. The first and the second manual valves 933 and 934 are operated by a user to allow a cleaning gas to flow into or out of the storage box 900.

[0122] The gas supply member 931 is inserted in an inlet of a stocker to provide the cleaning gas into the storage box 900. When the cleaning gas is provided from an outside source through the gas supply member 931, the first manual valve 933 is opened to spray the cleaning gas into the storage box 900. When the cleaning gas reaches a predetermined pressure in the storage box 900, the second manual valve 934 is opened to exhaust the cleaning gas from the storage box 900. When the storage box 900 is separated from the inlet of the stocker or an adjacent storage box, the first and the second manual valves 933 and 934 are closed, thereby preventing external contaminants from flowing into the storage box 900.

[0123] The cassette 950 has slots 952 formed parallel to an insertion direction of the object. Gas holes 954 are formed parallel to the slots 952, respectively. The object is inserted into one of the slots 952 to be stored in the storage box 900. The gas holes 954 are arranged adjacent the slots 952 in order to effectively exhaust the contaminants around the object.

[0124] According to the present invention, contamination of an object can be effectively removed or prevented using an adequate flow of a cleaning gas around the object. Additionally, external contaminants cannot flow into a storage box receiving the object because of the flow of the cleaning gas in the storage box.

[0125] In addition, valves are installed at end portions of the storage box so that the object can be safely stored in the storage box and the storage box can be easily connected to or separated from another storage box without contaminating the object.

[0126] Furthermore, the storage box and a stocker can be easily connected or separated using a quick coupling method.

[0127] Preferred embodiments of the present invention have been disclosed herein and, although specific terms are employed, they are used and are to be interpreted in a generic and descriptive sense only and not for purpose of limitation. Accordingly, it will be understood by those of ordinary skill in the art that various changes in form and details may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention as set forth in the following claims.