Vermont is not normally associated with high-technology industry. But, in addition to skiing, tourism, and a famous cider mill, the tiny town of Waterbury Center, VT is also home to SUSS MicroTec, Inc., manufacturer of some of the world's most precise high-frequency manufacturing and test equipment. In spite of its location in the Green Mountain State, SUSS has assembled the right blend of about 186 people to account for almost half of the global manufacturing company's annual worldwide sales.

Electronics manufacturers know SUSS as a dependable supplier of high-quality front-end equipment, such as spin coaters, mask aligners, substrate bonders, and flip-chip bonders, as well as back-end manufacturing (test) equipment, including microwave probes and probe systems capable of measurements to 220 GHz. In fact, SUSS was ranked by VLSI Research (San Jose, CA) as one of the top 10 chip-making-equipment suppliers for 2002, placing second in wafer-processing equipment and first in test and material-handling equipment. SUSS offers mask aligners, bonders, coaters, and probers for processing wafers from 3 to 12 in. (7.62 to 30.48 cm) in diameter. Providing top-side and bottom-side capabilities, the company works extensively with manufacturers of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) devices to supply process and test equipment suited for sensitive MEMS components.

Headquartered in Munich, Germany, SUSS boasts facilities around the globe, including four sites in Germany; three sites in the US; and sites in England, France, PRC, Japan, Thailand, and Taiwan. Within the bustling Vermont facility, many of the high-level systems are assembled and integrated; printed-circuit boards (PCBs), control electronics, and new software are developed; and customers and employees learn everything from how to operate precision equipment to complete teardown and reassembly of a wafer-probe system.

It is this approach to training—and perhaps the Vermont spirit of camaraderie—which in part accounts for the high productivity of the New England plant. The facility is a creative training ground where employees are invited to try different functions in order to develop a diversified set of skills. For formal training, the facility includes a large classroom with computers. The facility even includes on-site Guesthouses for out-of-town visitors and field personnel to stay during training.

According to Denis Place, North American General Manager for Test Systems, "we're fortunate to be located in such a beautiful setting, where we can live in a more relaxed, rural lifestyle and still be involved in producing state-of-the-art process and test equipment for the semiconductor industry."

The Vermont facility's Building 1 was constructed in 1980, after a decision by company founders Karl, Winfried, and Ekkehard Suss to set their North American headquarters in the tiny Bavarian-like town. Since then, the space has expanded to 34,000 square feet.

Although not large by many manufacturing standards (IBM has one of their largest wafer fab facilities in nearby Burlington, VT), the SUSS plant accounts for a wide range of product lines, including a group that specializes in remanufacturing older equipment to handle new applications. The company's recently introduced microwave probe family, the |Z| Probes (developed in conjunction with the German company Rosenberger), was designed to overcome contact inconsistencies between probe and wafer/substrate common to other commercial probes. The DC-to-50-GHz microwave probe can be used with probe systems and positioners from all commercial suppliers.

Of course, the company is probably still better known for its complete probing systems. The Dresden and Waterbury Center facilities produce a wide variety of probing solutions, from cryogenic probing systems capable of handling temperatures as low as 4 K, automatic high-vacuum-controlled probe systems well suited for MEMS probing, to temperature-controlled systems with thermal chucks for at-temperature testing. The company recently introduced a compact, low-cost (about $17,000) probe station for small companies and university research laboratories.

In support of its mechanical systems, SUSS has also developed an extensive line of software tools, including the SUSS ProberBench, SussCal software, and the Vision module software. The Windows-based SUSS ProberBench provides a simple interface between the company's probe stations and commercial test instruments and third-party software products. SussCal controls a probe system and a vector network analyzer (VNA) for simple, accurate, and automated VNA calibrations. The Vision module supports automatic wafer alignment.

Being so far from a traditional technology center (such as Boston or San Jose) can often lend a sense of isolation. But on "SUSS Hill," as the company's location is known to local residents, there is an obvious sense of pride in the company and its products, and a competitive spirit not often found even in the largest technology centers. For more on SUSS MicroTec, visit the website at www.suss.com.