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Seagate Technology

Seagate own almost half of the global market share for hard drives. Having invested significantly in a manufacturing facility in Derry it was looking to make better use of the extensive process data it collects to maximise manufacturing output.

Working with Digital Catapult has helped Seagate to generate meaningful impact from the use of this data, breaking a three year impasse.

The process started with the framing of the challenge and recruiting the right innovators to address it. This included help from Digital Catapult Northern Ireland to use its network to find local companies for inclusion. Since its factory in Derry, Northern Ireland opened, Seagate has been capturing millions of data points relating to the performance of its manufacturing process. Its objective was to use this data to maximise throughput and yield from the plant.

More specifically, Seagate wanted to optimise its manufacture of read/write heads, an important component for hard drives. There are about 1,800 process steps required to make the devices, which are fabricated on eight inch silicon wafers – about 100,000 per wafer. Hundreds of wafers are processed daily; each will take a slightly different route through the factory.

Like all semiconductor companies, Seagate aims to achieve a yield of 100% working devices on each wafer. In reality, the number is always slightly less. The objective is to get this number as close as possible to 100% and to maximise overall throughput. With such a long fabrication process, any impact on yield created by process changes can take a while to come to light.

Seagate wanted to find ways to use the data it collects to improve yield and throughput in a process known as tool matching. This takes variables, such as which machines are in use, when each machine was last calibrated, water and air quality and the profile of the various operators working at any particular time.

Over the recent years, the company has approached various technology companies and systems integrators to tackle this challenge. It has become frustrated by lack of a solution. None of the providers approached seemed to be able to find a way to apply the data to solve the challenge and an impasse had been reached.

Digital Catapult started by helping Seagate frame the challenge in such a way that it was interesting, understandable, clear, concise enough to be read easily, long enough to provide an appropriate level of detail and all in a way that wouldn’t bias the response.

Digital Catapult then reached out to its extensive network of innovative startups and scaleups via an open call process. Over the course of 12 weeks Digital Catapult reviewed all applications and conducted an interview process to carefully select the best combination of applicants to assemble a cohort of 27 innovators to tackle the challenge. This included local businesses in Northern Ireland.

In June 2017 it ran an open innovation process, known as a Pit Stop, in Derry so all the innovators could tour the factory. During the two day Pitstop participants had the opportunity to discuss the details of the challenge and pitch their ideas.

In the weeks following the Pit Stop, The Digital Catapult received and passed on to Seagate 17 proposals offering a potential way ahead – effectively breaking the frustrating three-year hiatus.

Over the next few months, Seagate reviewed the proposals, and selected two companies to execute two separate POC’s (proof of concepts) related to schedule optimization and tool matching. This included a local Northern Irish company, helping to bring revenue to the region.

Seagate estimate that working with Digital Catapult has the potential to improve their factory efficiency leading to significant cost savings in future! The experience has also given them a new approach to innovation and a new way of tackling business challenges in the years ahead.

“The Pit Stop helped us address a major challenge around the use of complex data sets to optimise productivity, yield and capital utilisation. Digital Catapult offered a unique approach to an seemingly intractable problem. At the end of two days significant progress had been made in context of potential solutions and companies that Seagate could partner with to address our biggest challenges! It’s clear that the work could lead to productivity improvements and cost savings in the future.” explains Michael McClelland, Senior IT Manager and Head of Future IT, at Seagate.

2 direct engagements, 1 moving beyond the proof of concept phase