NSTAR News

Life in the Fab Lane: Working in a Cleanroom Environment

By Jimmy Lyngar

When you decided to pursue a career as a technical engineer, did you ever imagine you’d be spending your days in a cleanroom environment that closely resembles working in outer space? Because if your job search includes semiconductor fab technician positions, that’s an important factor to consider.

In fact, if you’re the least bit claustrophobic, and the idea of spending most of your workday in a pressurized environment, gowned from head to toe with only your eyes exposed, doesn’t appeal to you, read no further.

However, if working in a high-tech environment on multimillion-dollar tools used to build today’s leading-edge devices sounds exciting, you’ve come to the right place.

How Clean Is Clean?

In a semiconductor fab cleanroom, the level of contamination is strictly controlled, and the room is classified by the number and size of airborne particles per cubic foot. A class 100 cleanroom, therefore, allows for 100 particles (0.5 microns) per cubic foot of air. A class 10 cleanroom allows for 10 particles, 0.5 microns, and so on. Essentially, the lower the number, the cleaner the cleanroom.

When you consider that regular ambient air contains 35 million particles per cubic foot, you can see that maintaining that level of “cleanliness” requires drastic measures.

For example, cleanrooms are pressurized, the incoming air is filtered and recirculated through HEPA filters, and entry is through an airlock system. The equipment, tools and furniture are specially designed for easy cleaning and low particle generation. Even the paper and pencils need to be special-ordered.

Cleanroom Fashion

If you’ve never been inside a cleanroom, be prepared for a unique experience.

Many positions available through NSTAR Global Services will be in either class 100 or 10 cleanrooms. Both require full cleanroom attire comprising white coveralls (affectionately known as a “bunny suit”), knee-high booties that cover your shoes, a head cover, face mask, gloves and safety glasses.

Not exactly a fashion statement, but then again, you don’t have to worry about owning a business-casual wardrobe! Jeans, T-shirts and sneakers will do to take you from home to work every day. If 12 hours in a cleanroom suit sounds daunting, don’t be alarmed. There are scheduled breaks throughout the day during which you can take off the suit.

What to Expect

Working in a fab cleanroom is very different from working on a standard manufacturing floor. As an entry-level “wet clean” technician, you’ll be responsible for cleaning tools, performing routine maintenance, and learning to troubleshoot leading-edge high-tech equipment.

Be prepared to work a compressed shift schedule. That means four 12-hour shifts, followed by three days off, and then three 12-hour shifts followed by four days off, alternating weeks. Fabs run 24/7, so you’ll have the opportunity to work day as well as night shifts. Night shifts pay 10% more and offer the no-traffic-commute advantage.

An Extra(ordinary) First Day

To start off on the right foot in your new cleanroom job, we’ve put together a few tips:

  • Ask what shift you’ll be working and whether it’s in the front end or back end.
  • Make sure you know where to show up for work. NSTAR Global Services has many locations. Don’t be afraid to ask for specifics and a map.
  • Find out what identification you’ll need.
  • Have a general understanding of the gowning procedure. These guidelines should get you started.

Moving Up

While there are many career paths available to an entry-level technician, working in a semiconductor cleanroom offers many opportunities for advancement.

There’s no need for a four-year college degree. A two-year degree in the technical field, or military training with commensurate experience, is all you need to launch your career. After six months in an entry-level position, you may have the opportunity to become a maintenance technician and then move on to a field service engineer.

Have we convinced you that a position in a semiconductor fab cleanroom is the right choice for you? If so, contact us to find out how to become part of the NSTAR Global Services team.