Samsung Semiconductor fabricates all sorts of silicon products like printed circuit boards and processors, and it turns out that the wafers those products are made from get carried around the factories by automated vehicles. These autonomously driven pods, officially called Front Opening Unified Pod or FOUP, are not full-blown self-driving machinery per se, but the way that they get around has a lot in common with that technology. There are systems in place for their carriers to detect unexpected obstacles, plot alternate courses if needed, and avoid collisions with other vehicles on the same route or section of rail, among other features.
Samsung’s FOUP pods are transported on an Overhead Hoist Transport system. Each OHT car, once it’s picked up its FOUP, goes on rails that go to different parts of the factory and delivers the FOUPs, containing wafers and other components, to the workers. This system is far more efficient than having to manually pilot and plot the vehicles, or setting up the factory to where storage and work areas are closer together, given the size of most of Samsung Semiconductor’s operations. The vehicles and various parts of the tracks have sensors that detect other vehicles and obstacles, as well as information systems that monitor various aspects of the entire system and feed it all to a central server. This means that Samsung’s factory workers know, at all times, where the OHT cars are, what FOUPs are where, and any possible issues going on within the system.
For Samsung, the use of FOUPs and the OHT system is all about efficiency. The company is able to monitor the entire system and everything on it in real time, ensuring that everything flows smoothly and parts get to where they need to go when they need to be there. If a FOUP manages to go missing, Samsung knows where to start looking for it, and if any part of the system needs attention, the OHT’s built-in sensors will tell maintenance workers long before any unexpected downtime occurs. The self-driving aspect, meanwhile, seems not unlike a possible future with self-driving cars, wherein the vehicles all communicate with both one another, proper oversight authorities, and even the road, perhaps using a 5G connection, in order to keep things running smoothly and keep an eye on any potential issues.