Title:
PRODUCT DESIGNED TO BE USED WITH HANDLING SYSTEM
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A product (Pr) can be used in the semiconductor, MEM, flat screen and/or solar cell industries, where the product is capable of being gripped by a handling system (Bm). The product can include: a plate (1) made of silicon, quartz, silicon carbide, silicon nitride, arsenic, and/or gallium arsenide, comprising one first (2) and one second (3) opposite faces, a plateau (4) defined by at least one face (5) opposite the plate, an attachment means (7) of the plate (1) on the plateau (4) so that the at least one face (5) of the plateau (4) is opposite the first (2) or second (3) face of the plate, and a first gripping means (11) mounted in association with the plateau (4), where these said first gripping means is able to cooperate and is removable with second gripping means (12) in addition to the first gripping means (11), the second additional gripping means belonging to the handling system (Bm). Another embodiment of the invention is directed to a system for handling the product.



Inventors:
Processe, Jean Michel (Toulouse, FR)
Haddad, Florent (Seilh, FR)
Gaudon, Alain (Launac, FR)
Application Number:
11/426800
Publication Date:
12/27/2007
Filing Date:
06/27/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65B69/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20080170934Handling Device For Boxes and the LikeJuly, 2008Labadie
20040258508Method of filling bags with granular materialDecember, 2004Jewell
20100040435HAY BALE COLLECTION AND STACKING SYSTEMFebruary, 2010Rennie
20080003090Loader supportJanuary, 2008Kim
20030049114HitchMarch, 2003Joseph III
20040120798Cadaver manipulation system and methodJune, 2004Davis et al.
20050042066Low ground pressure skid for carrying heavyFebruary, 2005Grover
20040146383Apparatus having a variable pitch pick-and-place head for packaging electrical parts and methods of operating the sameJuly, 2004Behnke
20080267759Order picking systemOctober, 2008Morency et al.
20050063815Palletizer puller barMarch, 2005Pierson et al.
20070065268Pallet stacking and staging systemMarch, 2007Clapp



Primary Examiner:
FISHBACK, ASHLEY LAUREN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP - West Coast (Atlanta, GA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A product capable of being gripped by a handling system, the product comprising: a plate comprising an inorganic material, and comprising a first face and a second face; and a plateau defined by at least one plateau face opposite the plate; an attachment mechanism that attaches the plate to the plateau, such that the at least one plateau face is opposite to the first face or the second face of the plate, and a first gripping mechanism associated with the plateau, where the first gripping mechanism is able to cooperate with a second gripping mechanism, wherein the second gripping mechanism is part of a handling system.

2. The product of claim 1, wherein the attachment mechanism comprises an adhesive.

3. The product of claim 1, wherein the attachment mechanism comprises a plurality of pins, each equipped with an adhesive material.

4. The product of claim 1 wherein the attachment mechanism includes a clamping mechanism for clamping the plateau to the edge of the plate.

5. The product of claim 4, wherein the clamping mechanism comprises at least three fingers capable of gripping the edge of the plate, and a controlling mechanism connecting the fingers to the plateau.

6. The product of claim 1 wherein the first gripping mechanism comprises at least one of the following: a flat support surface, and at least one of two parts of a male-female connection.

7. The product of claim 1 comprising a mechanism for exerting a traction force on the plateau so that the plateau is able to be pressed onto at least one part of the handling system.

8. The product of claim 7 wherein the traction force is one of the following forces: magnetic force, suction force, gravitational force, or any combination therof.

9. The product of claim 1 further comprising a first centering mechanism for applying centering forces on the plateau so that the plateau is able to be centered with respect to one part of the handling system.

10. The product of claim 1 wherein the first centering mechanism comprises at least one magnet having a generally annular shape, which is continuous or discontinuous, and whose internal and external circular faces, are respectively polarized North and South, South, wherein the annular magnet is mounted protrudingly on the face of the plateau opposite the face of the latter which is opposite the plate, so that the North-South polarization plane of the annular magnet is substantially parallel to the general plane of the face of the plateau that is opposite the plate, wherein the annular magnet is moreover disposed to be able to be plunged into an additional recess in the handling system, the additional recess comprising a magnetized ring according to one North-South polarization plane more or less the same as the North-South polarization plane of the annular magnet.

11. The product of claim 1 wherein the plateau comprises one central thrust portion connected to the plateau face of the plateau opposite to the face which is opposite the plate, on which a translation force may be applied to move the plateau in a translation direction that is substantially perpendicular to the plateau face opposite the plate and a rotation moment to pivot the plateau substantially around the translation direction.

12. The product of claim 1 wherein the plateau comprises an external ring, a central core and spokes connecting the central core to the external ring.

13. The product of claim 1 wherein the plateau comprises an identification mechanism.

14. The product of claim 13 wherein the plateau comprises an indexation mechanism whose position with respect to the identification mechanism is predetermined.

15. A handling system for handling a product according to claim 1, wherein the material handling system comprises: a deck, second gripping mechanism in addition to the first gripping mechanism, the second gripping mechanism associated with the deck, and a moving mechanism moving the deck in a desired trajectory.

16. The handling system of claim 15 further comprising a central orifice created in the deck so that, when the first gripping mechanism cooperates with the second gripping mechanism, the plateau is substantially centered on the central orifice.

17. The handling system of claim 16 further comprising: an aligning device comprising a body and a control rod in cooperation with the body so as to form a part which extends beyond the body, wherein the control rod is able to pivot; and wherein an axis of rotation of the control rod is able to pass substiantially through a centre of the central orifice and is substantially perpendicular to a plane of the central orifice.

18. The handling system of claim 16 wherein the end of the rod extending beyond the body comprises a mechanism for connecting it in rotation with the plateau when the end of the rod comes into contact with a central thrust portion of the plateau.

19. The handling system of claim 18 further comprising a second centering mechanism for centering the end of the control rod of the aligning device on the plateau when the end of the rod comes into contact with the central thrust portion.

20. The handling system of claim 15 further comprising a storage mechanism for a plurality of interchangeable plateaus each comprising a gripping mechanism capable of cooperating and removable with the second gripping mechanism of the deck.

21. The handling system of claim 15 further comprising a cleaning mechanism for cleaning the plateau.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCES TO RELATED APPLICATIONS NOT APPLICABLE

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

Embodiments of the invention relate to a product, designed to be used in the semiconductor, MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical), flat screen and/or solar cell industries, the product being able to be gripped by a handling arm, the product comprising a plate made from an inorganic material such as silicon, quartz, silicon carbide, silicon nitride, arsenic, and/or gallium arsenide, comprising first and second opposite faces. Embodiments of the invention, relate to, among others, the systems which permit these products to be handled.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

In microelectronics, for example, a relatively thin disc such as silicon or other similar material is called a “wafer”. The disc acts as a support for the fabrication of micro structures using techniques such as doping, etching, deposition of other materials or photolithography. The disc is therefore of crucial importance especially in the fabrication of integrated circuits.

Such a disc may have different diameters, for example, between 25 and 300 mm, for a thickness generally between about 0.15 mm and 1 mm. A tendency today is to use discs of the largest possible diameter in order to be able to etch more electronic circuits like chips simultaneously, while limiting the material losses, especially on the edge of the disc. This is because the cost of manufacturing these discs is very high, taking into account the treatments involved and the precautions that must be taken for their fabrication: clean rooms, controlled atmosphere, protection of the personnel, etc.

In order to be able to operate correctly on the disc with machines, which the technicians in this field are familiar with, the disc has an identifier such as a brand, a sign, etc. to define the orientation of the crystalline planes of the semiconductor. The identifier may be a flat on the edge of the disc, a slot, etc.

It is clear that these discs are made in specific production units and that they must then be transferred onto the machines for the fabrication of integrated or other circuits.

It may be conceived that, for the transfer and positioning of these discs on these machines, robot type means or similar means is be used, which will firstly collect the discs from where they are stored after fabrication, and then take them to the machines and finally to position them on these machines according to the desired orientation by means of the identifier defined above. These robot type or similar means essentially comprise a handling system capable of gripping each disc, pointing out that, by handling system, it is meant any device which, regardless of its structure, essentially comprising an arm, has for its minimal functions the gripping and/or transporting of objects from one place to another and/or their orientation in space with respect to a given reference.

It can be imagined that each contact of a handling arm with a disc as described above is a potential source of pollution of this disc, for example, the generation of particles by tearing or friction and/or the contamination by physical—chemical transfers (diffusion of metallic ions, etc.) between the arm and the disc. These particles and physical-chemical transfers are able to destroy electronic circuits such as chips, micro processors, etc. mentioned previously, and consequently reduce the number of electronic circuits that it is possible to create on the discs.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

One purpose of this invention is to create a product designed to be used in the semiconductor, MEM, flat screen and/or solar cell industries, which permits the above disadvantages to be limited as much as possible.

Another purpose of this invention is to create a product designed to be used in the semiconductor, MEM, flat screen and/or solar cell industries that can be handled easily.

Another purpose of this invention is to create a handling system for these products designed to be used in the semiconductor, MEM, flat screen and/or solar cell industries, to grip, transport and orient them in space.

More specifically, the purpose of this invention is a product, designed to be used in the semiconductor, MEM, flat screen and/or solar cell industries, the product being able to be gripped by a handling system, the product comprising:

    • a plate made from an inorganic material such as silicon, quartz, silicon carbide, silicon nitride, arsenic, and/or gallium arsenide, comprising one first and one second opposite faces,

characterized in that it comprises among others:

    • a plateau defined by at least one face opposite the plate,
    • attachment means of the plate on the plateau so that the at least one face of the plateau is opposite the first or second face of the plate, and
    • first gripping means assembled in association with the plateau, the first gripping means being capable of cooperating and also removable with second gripping means in addition to the first gripping means, the second additional gripping means belonging to the handling system.

The presence of a plateau between the plate and, for example, a handling arm of a handling system has one essential advantage in that the arm no longer comes into contact with the plate, but with an intermediate part, the plateau. In this way, the contamination due to the contact between the arm and the plate, and the relative movement between the plate and the arm is greatly reduced, as the plateau is temporarily fixed to the plate and therefore immobile with respect to the latter while it is being handled. For example, every time the plate is taken and deposed, it is always the same part of the plateau that is in contact with the plate as the plateau has not left the plate.

According to one advantageous characteristic, the attachment means of the plate on the plateau is composed of means of attaching the plate by adhesion to the plateau.

This characteristic proposes attachment of the plate to the plateau with reduced contamination due to adhesion attachment means.

According to one advantageous characteristic, the means of attaching the plate by adhesion to the plateau comprises a plurality of pins each equipped with an adhesive material.

The adhesive pins allow the plate to be associated advantageously to the plateau by determined attachment points advantageously defining a reduced contact surface on the plate permitting the liaison surface area to be reduced to a necessary minimum and thus to limit the contamination.

According to one advantageous characteristic, the attachment means is composed of means of clamping the plateau on the edge of the plate.

This attachment means is an example of an alternative to the previous attachment means, presenting the advantage of attaching the plate by its periphery.

According to one advantageous characteristic, the means of clamping the plateau on the edge of the plate is composed of at least three fingers capable of gripping the edge of the plate, and means that may be controlled to connect the fingers with the plateau.

According to one advantageous characteristic, the first gripping means is composed of at least one of the following means: a large rest surface and one of the two parts of a male-female connection.

According to one advantageous characteristic, the product according to the invention comprises means of exerting a traction force on the plateau so that the plateau is able to be pressed against at least one part of the handling system.

This characteristic proposes a means of association by simple contact of the plateau on the handling system, due to the presence of a liaison force drawing them to one another. This characteristic permits contamination to be reduced while limiting or avoiding relative movements of the plateau equipped with the plate with respect to the handling system in which a contact, for example, by friction or rolling between these members, would be maintained.

According to one advantageous characteristic, the traction force is one of the following forces: magnetic force, suction force, gravitational force, or a combination of at least two of these three types of forces.

According to one advantageous characteristic, the product according to the invention comprises first centering means to apply the centering forces on the plateau so that the plateau is able to be centered with respect to one part of the handling system.

According to one advantageous characteristic, first centering means is composed by at least one magnet generally of an annular shape, continuous or discontinuous, whose internal and external circular faces are respectively polarized North and South, wherein the annular magnet is mounted protrudingly on the face of the plateau opposite the face of the latter which is opposite the plate, so that the North-South polarization plane of the annular magnet is more or less parallel to the general plane of the face of the plateau that is opposite the plate, wherein the annular magnet is moreover disposed to be able to be plunged into an additional recess in the handling system, the additional recess comprising a magnetized ring according to one North-South polarization plane more or less the same as the North-South polarization plane of the annular magnet.

According to one advantageous characteristic, the plateau comprises a central thrust portion connected to the face of the plateau opposite to the face which is opposite the plate, on which a translation force may be applied to move the plateau in a translation direction that is more or less perpendicular to the face opposite the plate and a rotation moment to pivot the plateau around the translation direction.

This characteristic permits a joint orientation of the plateau and the associated plate, by exerting the required forces on the plateau for the dissociation of the handling system and once the plateau has been dissociated, a moment required for the rotation of the latter so as to orientate the plate that is attached to it.

According to one advantageous characteristic, the plateau is composed of an external ring, a central core and spokes linking the central core to the external ring.

Another purpose of this invention is a handling system for handling a product as defined above, characterized by the fact that it comprises:

    • a deck,
    • second additional gripping means of the first gripping means, wherein the second gripping means is created in the deck, and
    • means for moving the deck in a desired trajectory.

The gripping system according to the invention permits the product composed of the plate and its associated plateau to move in space, for example, in order to transfer the plate of one processing tool to another processing tool.

According to one advantageous characteristic, the handling system according to the invention comprises among others:

    • an aligning device comprising a body and a control rod for a rotation moment mounted in cooperation with the body so as to form a part which extends beyond the body, wherein the control rod can pivot around the translation direction more or less perpendicularly to the face opposite the plate, and
    • means so that the axis of rotation of the control rod can pass more or less by the centre of the central orifice and is more or less perpendicular to the plane of this central orifice.

This characteristic proposes a complete alignment system for the product, integrating an aligning device, which may or may not be on board the means of moving the deck, which is to say on the robot on which the deck is mounted, so that the deck and the aligning device may cooperate so as to align the plateau and plate assembly.

According to one advantageous characteristic, the end of the rod extending beyond the body comprises means of connecting it in rotation with the plateau when this end of the rod comes into contact with the central thrust portion.

According to one advantageous characteristic, the handling system according to the invention comprises among others means of storing a plurality of interchangeable plateaus each comprising first gripping means capable of cooperating and removable with the second gripping means of the deck.

This characteristic permits highly flexible use, in that, for a given deck, the plateau may be replaced on request, for example, to suit the constraints of the plates to be handled.

According to one advantageous characteristic, the handling system according to the invention comprises among others means of cleaning a plateau.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Other characteristics and advantages of the invention will become clear in the following description provided in reference to the appended drawings, provided by way of illustration but in no way restrictively, in which:

FIG. 1 shows the principle diagram of the product according to the invention in its first definition, designed to be used in the semiconductor, MEM, flat screen and/or solar cell industries.

FIGS. 2 to 5 show, in diagrammatical form, four possible embodiments of the product according to the invention in accordance with the diagram shown in FIG. 1.

FIG. 6 shows, in a perspective view, an assembly illustrating a first example of an embodiment of a handling system according to the invention that may be used to handle the product according to the invention as shown diagrammatically in FIGS. 1 to 5.

FIG. 7 shows a partial axial cross sectional view of the example of FIG. 6.

FIG. 8 shows a partial axial cross sectional view of the example of FIG. 6 according to one variant of the embodiment.

FIG. 9 shows, in a perspective view, an assembly illustrating a second example of an embodiment of a handling system according to the invention.

FIG. 10 shows, in a perspective view, an assembly illustrating a third example of an embodiment of a handling system according to the invention.

It is first of all pointed out that, in the figures, the same references designate the same members, regardless of the figure in which they appear and regardless of the form in which these members are represented. Similarly, if the members are not specifically referenced on one of the figures, their references may be easily found by referring to another figure.

It is also pointed out that the figures show several embodiments of the object according to the invention, but there may be other embodiments which satisfy the definition of this invention.

Among others it is pointed out that, when, according to the definition of the invention, the object of the invention comprises “at least one” member with a given function, the embodiment described may comprise several of these members. In return, if the embodiment of the object according to the invention as shown comprises several members with identical functions and if, in the description, it is not stated that the object according to this invention must necessarily comprise a particular number of these members, the object of the invention may be defined as comprising “at least one” of these members.

Finally, it is pointed out that when, in this description, an expression alone defines, without any specific mentions concerning it, a set of structural characteristics, these characteristics may be taken, for the definition of the object of the requested protection, when this is technically possible, either separately, or in total or partial combination.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

This invention relates to a product Pr designed to be used in the semiconductor, MEM, flat screen and/or solar cell industries as mentioned in the introduction of this description. This invention relates more particularly to a product that is designed to be gripped by a handling system Bm of which a preferential embodiment will be provided below.

In reference to FIGS. 1 to 5, this product comprises a plate 1, for example, made of a silicon semiconductor or intended to be a semiconductor, comprising first 2 and second 3 opposite plate faces. Among others, it is pointed out that this plate 1 may be of any shape, but generally it has the shape of a disc (or other similar shape).

The product Pr comprises, among others, a plateau 4 defined by at least one plateau face 5 opposite the first or second face of the plate 1, which is to say the second face 3 on FIG. 1. The product Pr also comprises a mechanism such as a means 7 of attaching the plate 1 to the plateau 4 so that the plateau face 5 of the plateau is opposite one face 3 of the plate, and a first gripping mechanism such as a first gripping means 11 mounted in association with the plateau 4, wherein the components of the first gripping means are capable of cooperating and are removable, as described below, with a preferred embodiment of the handling system, with a second gripping mechanism such as a second gripping means 12 in addition to the first gripping means 11, the second additional gripping means belonging to the handling system Bm.

FIG. 1 shows one embodiment an attachment mechanism such as attachment means 7 for attaching the plate on the plateau, which is composed of means 15 of clamping the plateau onto the edge 16 of the plate 1. The means 15 of clamping the plateau on the edge of the plate is, for example, composed of at least three fingers 17 disposed, for example, at 120 degrees fitted so that they can grip the edge 16 of the plate 1, and a controlling mechanism such as means 18 that can be controlled to connect these fingers 17 with the plateau 4. These controllable liaison means 18 may be of any type, for example, electromagnetic coupled with return springs as shown in FIG. 1. However, other embodiments of these controllable liaison means 18 may be provided, that are themselves known to those skilled in the art and which consequently will not be described in fuller detail here purely to simplify the description.

Among others, it is noted that the controllable liaison means 18 shown in FIG. 1 may indeed be present in the four other embodiments shown in FIGS. 2 to 5, but which, in the aim of simplifying the representation of the diagrams in these FIGS. 2 to 5, have deliberately not been shown.

It should be noted that the face of the plate 1 opposite the plateau 4 will preferably not be in contact with the face 5 of the plateau. In the case of the attachment means by clamp or the like, the clamping means 15 will preferably be in contact with the peripheral part of the plate 1, and only these means. In the case of the means for attaching the plate 1 to the plateau 4 by adhesion, only an adhesive material, for example, an adhesive polymer, is designed to be in contact with the plate 1. This adhesive material may be spread over several contact pins, for example, three pins.

As concerns the first gripping means 11 defined above, it is advantageously composed by at least one of the following means: a support surface that is advantageously flat 19, FIGS. 1 to 5, and/or one 20 of the two parts 20, 21 of a male-female connection, FIGS. 3 and 5. According to the embodiment shown in FIG. 3, the first gripping means 11 is composed of the male part 20 of a flattened revolution cone male-female connection that is able to fit into the additional female part 21.

Furthermore, in the aim of perfectly pressing the plateau 4 onto part of the handling system Bm as previously mentioned and as will be explained below, the plateau 4 comprises among others means 30 of exerting on it a traction force.

It is understood that these traction means 30 may be made in different ways. However, it will be preferably chosen from the means that is capable of creating one of the following forces: magnetic force (for example: a permanent magnet positioned opposite another magnet with inverted polarity or opposite a magnetic material, an embodiment according to FIG. 5), suction force (for example, by means of a vacuum pump, embodiment according to FIG. 4, gravitational force (vertically stacked so that the plateau 4 is in a horizontal position, below the plate 1), or a combination of at least two of these three types of force (embodiments according to FIGS. 2 to 5).

Among others, the first centering means 40 may be provided to apply the centering forces onto the plateau 4 so that it is possible to centre the plateau and/or so that it centers itself automatically with respect to a part of the handling arm Bm, as for example, in the case of the embodiments according to FIGS. 3 and 5.

As shown diagrammatically in FIG. 5, the first centering means 40 is, for example, composed by at least one magnet generally of an annular shape 42, continuous or discontinuous, whose internal and external circular faces 43, 44, are respectively polarized North and South, wherein the annular magnet 42 is mounted, by any means (glue, attachment pin, etc.), so that it protrudes from the face 45 of the plateau 4 opposite the contact face 5 so that the North-South polarization plane Pp of the annular magnet 42 is more or less parallel to the general plane of the contact face 5. The annular magnet 42 may adopt a minimal form composed by at least three sectors positioned in an annular configuration.

Among others, the annular magnet 42 is fitted so that it may be plunged (or placed), for example, in an additional recess 46, FIG. 5, created in the handling system Bm. The additional recess 46 comprising a magnetized ring 47 is in a North-South polarization plane more or less the same as the North-South polarization plane of the annular magnet 42. The magnetized ring 47 is able to surround the annular magnet 42 when the plateau is in contact with part of the handling system Bm as shown diagrammatically in FIG. 5, so that the internal face of the annular ring has a polarity that is inverted with respect to that of the external face 44 of the annular magnet 42. By using the terms magnetized ring 47 and/or annular magnet 42, it is understood that this means complete rings or portions of rings positioned in a circle or similar configuration so that the assembly is magnetically equivalent to a complete ring.

In the aim of being able to adapt the position of the plateau 4 with respect to the part of the handling system on which it has to rest during the handling, for example, to transport and position it so that the silicon plate is correctly orientated, the plateau 4 advantageously comprises a central thrust portion 50 connected, either directly or indirectly, to the face 45 of the plateau opposite its face 5 opposite the plate 1. On this central thrust portion 50, it is possible to apply a translation force Fp to move the plateau 4 and its associated plate in a translation direction, in one direction or the other, more or less perpendicularly to the face 5 opposite the plate 1, and a rotation moment Fr to pivot the plateau 4, and thus simultaneously the plate 1, more or less around the translation direction, very advantageously when the plateau is no longer in contact with the deck.

This central thrust portion 50 may have different forms. It may be composed of the central part itself of the face 45 defined above, as in the embodiments according to FIGS. 1, 2 and 4, or by the small base of the male part of the flattened cone connection, FIG. 3, or by a pin that is also used to compose the attachment means of the support of the annular magnet 42 according to the embodiment of FIG. 5 described above.

In fact, it should be remembered that it is known that the plate 1 comprises an identifier to orientate it angularly with respect to a reference connected to the deck or robot bearing it.

To orientate the plate connected to 4, which is to say in fact the product, it is preferable that the product not be pressed on the second gripping means 12 of the handling system Bm. To this end, the product must be moved away from the second gripping means 12 by exerting the force Fp on the product, then pivoting it by exerting on it the moment Fr until the identifier connected to the plate is in the correct position. The product is then brought towards the handling system so that its first gripping means 11 cooperates with the second gripping means 12.

It may be conceived that there are different possible embodiments of a handling system to grip, transport and orientate the product designed to be used in the semiconductor, MEM, flat screen and/or solar cell industries, according to the invention as described above.

However, another purpose of this invention is to create a handling system Bm specially structured to cooperate with the product Pr defined above.

One embodiment of the handling system according to the invention is shown in FIG. 6.

This handling system Bm of the product Pr comprises a deck 60, second gripping means 12 in addition to the first gripping means 11 defined above, wherein the second gripping means 12 is made in the deck 60, and known means 61 of moving the deck 60 according to a desired trajectory (not entirely shown). These means 61 for moving the deck 60 is only shown very diagrammatically in FIG. 6. In general, it is of the robot type with at least three axes or more. One example of an embodiment of these means 61 is described and shown in the publication WO 99/57752, which is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety.

The deck 60 is composed of a pallet that may have different forms. FIG. 6 shows a pallet in the form of a U shaped fork that may be positioned on the face 45 of the plateau 4. It may also be presented in the form of a crown with a central orifice.

To permit the product to be handled according to the embodiment shown in FIG. 4, at least one of the two arms of the U shaped pallet comprises a duct which opens onto the face of the pallet, that can come into contact with the face 45 of the plateau 4, advantageously with a flared opening with respect to the diameter of the duct to create a suction cup which, when the vacuum is obtained in the duct by means of a vacuum pump (not shown), will maintain the plateau pressed onto the pallet.

To permit the product to be handled according to the embodiments shown in FIGS. 3 and 5, the pallet defines a concave recess, of a flattened cone shape 21 to house the male part 20 of the product, or cylindrical so that the annular magnet 42 can be plunged into the space of the magnetized ring 47, which is at least partially attached to the pallet.

The space defined between the two arms of the pallet when it is U shaped, or the central orifice when it is crown shaped, forms a central orifice 63 designed, as will be explained below, to provide free access to the central thrust portion 50 of the plateau.

This central orifice 63 is created so that, when the first gripping means 11 cooperates with the second additional gripping means 12, the plateau 4 is more or less centered on it and therefore the central thrust portion 50 is aligned with this central orifice 63.

Advantageously, in order to be able to apply the force Fp and the moment Fr automatically onto the central thrust portion 50 of the product Pr, the handling system comprises an aligning device 65 which is a device that is well known to those skilled in the art and which will not be detailed further here. However, there is a simple diagrammatical reminder that an example of this type of device comprises a body 66 and, mounted in cooperation with this body 66, a rotary control rod 68 for the moment of rotation Fr defined above, the body 66 comprising means of controlling the rod 68 in rotation, the latter forming a protrusion extending or in relief of the body 66, wherein the control rod 68 is able to extend beyond the body 66, to permit translation of the plateau 4 and the associated plate, in a translation direction more or less perpendicular to the face 5 opposite the plate 1, as explained below, and to pivot around this same translation direction.

To this end, the body 66 of the aligning device can be on board the means 61 of moving the deck 60 in a desired trajectory, as explained below, in cooperation with the deck 60 so that the axis of rotation of the control rod 68 is able to pass more or less via the centre of the central orifice 63 and is more or less perpendicular to the plane of this central orifice 63.

Preferably, the end 69 of the rod 68 which extends beyond the body 66 comprises means 70 to connect it in rotation with the plateau 4 when the latter comes into contact with the central thrust portion 50 and to orientate the product as described above. As shown in FIGS. 7 and 8, the handling system Bm advantageously comprises second centering means 80 to centre the end 69 of the rod 68 of the aligning device on the central thrust portion 50 of the plateau 4, when they later come into contact with one or the other, in order to improve the performance of the angular orientation of the plateau. These second centering means may be made by means of a male-female type connection 80, for example, conical, wherein a male cone 81 can thus be formed on the end 69 of the rod 68 of the aligning device 65 that is capable of fitting into an associated female cone 82 formed in the central thrust portion 50 of the plateau 4, the axis of revolution 83 of the male and female cones being the same as the axis of rotation on which the moment of rotation Fr is applied. Alternatively, the second centering means may adopt the form of a plurality of conical connections as described above, spread out on the plateau so that they are equidistant from the axis of rotation on which the moment of rotation Fr is applied.

The handling system with aligning device operates as follows, described by way of example. In order to raise and align the product Pr associated to the deck 60, the latter is brought above the end 69 of the rod 68 extending beyond the body 66 of the aligning device. To do so, a relative movement between the aligning device 65 and the deck 60 is possible. To this end, the means so that the axis of rotation of the control rod 68 may pass more or less via the centre of the central orifice 63 and be more or less perpendicular to the plane of the central orifice 63, may be composed by means 61 for moving the deck 60 described above.

Once the central thrust portion 50 of the product Pr has been positioned above the end 69 of the rod 68 and aligned with it, the deck 60 carrying the product Pr is brought into contact with the central thrust portion 50 and the end 69 so as to create a rotary connection between these two members, by all known means, for example, an adhesive connection, induced by a magnetic force or a gravitational force, or any other connection in particular controlled by an actuator. The deck 60 then continues its relative movement with respect to the aligning device so as to move the product Pr away from the deck. The end of the rod 68 is immobile with respect to the deck in movement and exerts the translation force Fp described above, this being made possible by the end 69 of the rod 68 extending beyond the aligning device which will be such that the deck 60 can be separated from the plateau. To permit separation of the plateau and the deck, the means 30 of exerting a traction force on the plateau 4 so that it can be pressed against at least one part of the handling system, will of course be deactivated.

FIG. 6 shows a product Pr cooperating with a handling system Bm in accordance with the invention. This figure, which is a perspective view, shows the respective positions of the product Pr and the deck 60 when the latter is in a position distant from the product Pr, so that the product Pr may be easily pivoted to obtain the desired orientation by the control rod of the aligning device.

It should be noted that, in the embodiment according to FIG. 6, the plate 1, in the form of a disc, is shown transparently. With regard to the plateau 4, it is composed of an external ring 401 and a central core 402 composing the central thrust portion 50 defined previously, wherein the central core is connected to the external ring 401 by spokes 403. This embodiment allows a plateau 4 to be obtained that is both rigid and light, made of a metallic material or a composite material, for example, in carbon fibers embedded in a polymerizable resin.

It should be noted that as an alternative to the configuration described above with the aid of FIG. 6, the aligning device 65 may be dissociated from the robot and disposed in a determined place distant from the robot. In order to orientate the product Pr, the deck equipped with the latter will be brought above the aligning device so that the axis of rotation of the rod is aligned with the translation direction, the means 70 of the end 69 of the rod 68, to connect it in rotation the plateau 4 being positioned above its central thrust portion 50 and lowered onto it so that the plateau 4 comes into contact with the rod 68 of the aligning device 65. The deck 60 is then lowered so that the plateau 4 and the associated plate 1 are raised to arrive finally at the same configuration as that previously explained in the case where the aligning device is on board the robot. Such a configuration may have the advantage of lightening the robot, but reduces the simultaneous alignment and movement possibilities of the plateau and the associated plate; the alignment is only made at the position where the aligning device is situated.

A handling system Bm equipped with a plateau 4 in compliance with the invention described above, may be brought to grip, with the same plateau 4, several different types of plates, for example, semiconductors, stored in different containers, these different plates having coatings or levels of cleanliness that are incompatible with one another. In order to avoid one of the coatings contaminating the plateau then the contaminated plateau in turn contaminating another plate, it may be possible to change the plateau to suit the type of plate to be handled. In this case, it is possible to use a clean plateau, which is to say decontaminated and cleaned for each plate transfer. As shown in FIG. 9, the system Bm may be controlled so that it searches, in a plate 4 magazine 200, the plateau that is appropriate for the type of plate or type of processing that the plate is to undergo. The magazine 200 may, for example, be in the form of a plurality of identical supports 201 stacked on top of one another, each comprising a deck 202 capable of holding the central core 402 of a plateau 4, as shown in FIG. 9. To this end, the deck 202 of each support 201 may adopt a similar form to that of the end 69 of the rod 68 of the aligning device 65 described above, which also holds the central core 402 of a plateau 4. The support 201 may adopt any suitable form, preferably freeing up a space next to the first gripping means 11, which is to say in the example is a space next to the external ring 401 of the plateau 4, in order to permit the deck 60 to have access so that it can deposit and collect a plateau 4 by its external ring 401. The assembly of the supports 201 may be fixed in a container (not shown) provided to stock the plateaus 4 and located at a determined position accessible to the deck.

The plateau 4 on the deck may be replaced by another plateau of another type if the handling mode of the plate has to be changed. For example, plateaus may be envisaged to handle the plates by gripping them by their rear face or plateaus that touch and grip the plates by their edge, all these different plateaus comprising the same first gripping means 11 so as to associate to a same deck 60 equipped with second gripping means 12 in addition to the first gripping means 11.

It is also possible to adapt the plateaus to handle plates of different thicknesses in particular ultra-thin plates that are particularly flexible. To handle thick plates, which is to say whose thickness is greater than approximately 0.5 mm, three support points under the plate may be sufficient, wherein these points are advantageously spread out homogeneously on the edge of the plateau. For thinner plates, and therefore more flexible, it may be necessary to increase the number of support points and in particular to add one or several support points on the rear face of the plate close to the centre of the plateau. This increase in the number of support points permits the flexing of the ultra thin plates to be minimized.

Given that a cleaning module is accessible to the movement means 61 of the deck 60, the plateaus 4 not used could be advantageously cleaned while another plateau is used to transfer plates. The machine for processing the plates equipped with means 61 for moving the deck 60 may thus continue to operate during the cleaning phases, thus increasing the rate of availability. Automation of the cleaning of the plateaus may be envisaged in the plateaus magazine. This cleaning may be carried out by clean air blast or suction, vibrations, ultra sound, chemical dip, gas vaporization and/or by cryogenic cleaning, as well as any other known cleaning process or combination of these means. FIG. 10 shows an example of an embodiment of a cleaning module 300. This module 300 is in the form of a support 301 of the plateau 4, equipped with a deck 302 capable of holding the central core 402 of a plateau 4, as shown in FIG. 10. To this end, the deck 302 of the support 301 may adopt a form similar to that of the end 69 of the rod 68 of the aligning device 65 described above, which also holds the central core 402 of a plateau 4. A support 301 may adopt any suitable form, preferably freeing up a space next to the first gripping means 11, which is to say in the example is a space next to the external ring 401 of the plateau 4, in order to allow the deck 60 access so that a plateau 4 may be collected and deposited by its external ring 401. The support 301 comprises a cleaning head 303 directed towards the part of the plateau to be cleaned, which is to say the external ring 401 in the example shown in FIG. 10. The cleaning head 303 is supplied in cleaning fluids, substances, and/or waves via a feed duct 304, for example, channeling pressurized ionized nitrogen. The deck 302 is advantageously mounted rotarily on the support 301 so as to allow all of the parts of the plateau to be cleaned to pass, below the cleaning head 303, by rotation of the latter. It should be noted that a plateaus storage magazine may be combined with a cleaning module, for example, by equipping each plateau support 201 of the magazine 300 of FIG. 9, with a cleaning head acting on the parts of the stored plateau to be cleaned; in this case, the deck 202 supporting the plateau will be advantageously mounted rotarily.

For the traceability of the plateaus, it may be advantageous to provide identification means (not shown) for each plateau. The identification means will make it possible to determine when and where the plateau has been used, if it requires maintenance, if it is adapted to the type of handling desired, etc. This identification means may, for example, take on the form of an alpha-numerical code, a bar code, or a 2D or data-matrix type code, or a combination of these codes. These codes may be etched or written on one of the faces of the plateau 4, preferably on the lower face that is not located opposite plate 1. In order to identify advantageously the identification code automatically, the presence of a means of indexing the plateau is required, whose position with respect to that of the identification code is predetermined, so as to permit angular orientation of the plateau in rotation so that the identification means is situated in the reading position. The indexing means may be, for example, created by a mark, a slot on the plateau 4, or a magnet integrated into the plateau that actuates a Hall effect sensor.

The terms and expressions which have been employed herein are used as terms of description and not of limitation, and there is no intention in the use of such terms and expressions of excluding equivalents of the features shown and described, or portions thereof, it being recognized that various modifications are possible within the scope of the invention claimed. Moreover, any one or more features of any embodiment of the invention may be combined with any one or more other features of any other embodiment of the invention, without departing from the scope of the invention.

All references, patent applications, and patents mentioned above are herein incorporated by reference in their entirety for all purposes. None of them are admitted to be prior art to the presently claimed inventions.

One or more features from any embodiment may be combined with one or more features of any other embodiment without departing from the scope of the invention.

A recitation of “a”, “an” or “the” is intended to mean “one or more” unless specifically indicated to the contrary.