Successfully scaling up an R&D team is a challenge, the amount of information and data from machines, planned and executed experiments and result analysis increases very rapidly as more people become involved. To efficiently coordinate workflows, and to reduce the time needed to integrate new knowledge into the production chain, it is important to invest in the structured dissemination and automation of results, documentation and core knowledge from an early stage.

Applied Nanolayers recognized the need to integrate their R&D activities early in their collaboration. After investigating several different solutions, they decided to adopt the XperiDesk Process Development Execution System. This enabled seamless collaboration, communication, documentation and knowledge management.

The Challenges

Scaling up from a one man project to a real start-up company, bringing in new people and equipment is a challenge for everyone involved.At Applied Nanolayers we faced this task when setting up our graphene production foundry. We are a start-up company focusing on the production of 2D materials, primarily graphene and boron nitride. As we want to deliver solely the highest quality material, we invested heavily in perfecting our production processes and want to keep track of all process steps and material qualification activities.

We started with a small team. At the start, one person worked on developing the first version of our production process on a prototype of our production tool(s). As we expanded, this project quickly increased to more people and tools for the development of the graphene production process. More people had to work on post-processing of the graphene wafers. Having started with a very small team and budget, we faced some major problems for our growth.

On the one hand, with more people it gets more difficult to keep everyone on the same track. Questions like “What were the settings of that experiment?” or “Where are the result images of …?” came up more often than we liked. Because the equipment we use in development had little automation or interfaces, most data collection had to be done, manually. That resulted in a lot of files and numbers on our notebooks (the electronic and paper ones) and on our server. While this worked for the initial experiments, it became more challenging as we grew. It was no longer only one person who needed access to our data, the whole team also needed the results. We would have risked that our experiments were repeated again and again. Only by documenting our work it was possible for us to collaboratively learn.

On the other hand, as a start-up we needed money for continuous growth which comes in our case from venture capital. We were obliged to report our progress, our successes and occasionally, our failures. Our investors and auditors required from us to provide oversight of the executed work as well as holistically capture the IP generated from our experimentation without relying on pure personal knowledge.

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Solution approach

We were investigating different software solutions and found some tools that provided partial fulfillment of our requirements. Some were good at design but lacked the tracking ability. Others had good tracking of documents but failed in managing our production sequences. With XperiDesk we found a solution that offered both. We were delighted to find a solution that addresses R&D rather than just volume production.

Implementation was done in several steps. Our first aim was to document our historical data. We used the design part of XperiDesk and reentered our process flows. The simple drag&drop as well as the very flexible management of parameters and units made this task easy and efficient.

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Summary

We have successfully scaled up from a prototype graphene growth process on 2” wafers to running production on 8” wafers. This transition has been smooth due to the complete and insightful data storage of both, experiments and analyses in the XperiDesk database. In addition, we can easily add new processes as well as processes that are still under development to the database. This allows us to expand our materials portfolio while keeping track of all the experiments and tests done in the process.

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