Ion pump elements – Flip the plates part II

Our previous blog post explained how to flip the ion pump Tantalum and Titanium plates in order to provide fresh surface area for the sputtering process that occurs as part of the ionization / pumping process.

But what happens if you flip the plates and then years later the ion pumps are worn out again? That is, what if both sides of the plates have been sputtered?

This blog post will explain how you can modify the plates to expose a fresh surface area which functionally is the same thing as replacing the plates.

Like most things, ion pump elements have gone up in price post COVID.  A set of 8 elements (there are 8 elements in a 220 l/s ion pump) can cost $5,000 or more.    Rather than replacing the elements, you can replace just the ceramics for a lot less and flip the plates.   If the plates have already been flipped once, then both sides of the plates will have sputtered craters. 

By elongating the mounting holes in the plates by 1.5 mm the sputter area on the plates would also shift by 1.5 mm onto a fresh area that has not been sputtered, at least not sputtered very much.

The photos below show the sputtered craters and the location of where the new sputtering will occur.

Sputtered crater
Sputtered crater
Offset by 1.5mm
Offset by 1.5mm
elongated hole
Elongated hole
new sputter area
new sputter area

In this case I was lucky enough to be at a university with a machine shop and the machinist was able to punch the holes without using any oil.  If you do not have a machine shop, you could use a Dremel cutting bit to elongate the holes.

dremel cutting bit

When you reassemble the elements, you want to make sure that you offset both the Tantalum and the Titanium plates in the same direction.  You will be able to tell that the Tantalum plate is offset by the 1.5mm gap with respect to the stainless-steel backing plate.  Then make sure that the Titanium plate lines up with the location of the Tantalum plate.  You can confirm that the Titanium plate is offset correctly by looking at the distance on the mounting tabs on the back of the Titanium plate.

Titanium plate offset
Titanium plate offset

After performing this procedure on the plates shown in this blog post the ion pump elements performed as well as new elements.  The increase in pumping capacity was noticeable.

If you suspect that your ion pumps may need to be inspected (slow pumping, arcing, or shorted) I recommend that you buy the ion pump ceramics before you vent so that you have them on hand if needed.  RBD Instruments provides ion pump ceramics.  Contact us for more information.

Endoscopic ion pump inspection

An easy way to determine whether or not an ion pump needs to be rebuilt is to perform an endoscopic ion pump inspection. The hard way is to drop the ion pumps.

In the last few years the prices have really come down on USB and android/iPhone endoscopes. If you do a search on EBay for USB endoscope you will see a lot of choices for under $20.00. The one used in this blog post is 7mm in diameter, which is small enough to fit into a 1.33” CF flange hole.











For this example we inspected a PHI 660 scanning auger system equipped with a 220 l/s ion pump. This system has been in use for about 10 years primarily for depth profiling using Argon gas.

Since there is a shield below the TSP filaments the only way into the ion pumps was thru the un-used 1.33 CF flange that is opposite the ion pump high voltage connector.

This video link shows what it looks like as you move the endoscope around inside the ion pump –  Note that the video has a blue tint to if from the built in LED camera lighting.

The color corrected pictures below show that the ion pump elements are pitted, the insulating ceramics are coated and there are some flakes in the bottom of the pump well.   The conclusion was that the pump elements have another year or so left on them and so we will plan on replacing them in 12 to 18 months.















Servicing a P-E TNBX Ion Pump Well

RBD Instruments provides all of the parts that you need to rebuild these TNBX ion pump wells.  Contact us for more information.  For best results, read this entire post and then look at the pictures at the bottom of the post.

The P-E (Perkin Elmer) TNBX style of Ion Pump well is found on most of the older PHI AES and ESCA systems. It is 12 inches in diameter and houses 8 ion pump elements. There is also a poppet valve that allows you to isolate the ion pump elements, keeping them under vacuum while venting the upper part of the chamber for maintenance. In this blog post we will show you how to access the ion pump elements for replacement or rebuild. The process includes instructions for disassembling and removing the poppet valve assembly, and removing all shielding and the TSP flange.

Important: Read through all procedures before beginning work to ensure you have the necessary equipment, personnel, and tools to complete the process.

Step 1: Remove the upper half of the chamber.

Equipment required: Chain hoist or engine hoist

  1. Turn off all controls and allow the ion gauge filament and the ion pump elements time to cool down.
  2. While the ion pump elements cool, remove all cables from the system.
  3. Prepare a space large enough to for the top half of the chamber. We recommend a piece of cardboard on the floor covered with UHV grade foil.
  4. Vent the chamber completely.
  5. Move the equipment you are going to use to remove the top of half of the system safely so that it’s within range of the chamber. We often use the chain hoist that we have at RBD Instruments. An engine hoist has proven to be a suitable alternative. Additional personnel may be helpful.
  6. Connect the chains from the equipment to the eyelets on the chamber and remove all bolts that hold the two halves together.
  7. Use the equipment to remove the upper half of the chamber. Additional personnel may be helpful to help guide the upper half of the chamber away from the bottom half.
  8. Place the upper half of the chamber in the space you created earlier. It will remain there while you are working on the pumps.

Step 2: Remove the Poppet valve to access the shielding.

Tools required: Two 7/16” wrenches.

  1. You should be able to look down into the chamber and see the poppet valve. You will likely see that the ion gauge that protrudes into the chamber above the poppet valve.
  2. Remove the ion gauge so that you do not damage it while you working inside of the pump well.
  3. Turn the poppet crank so that the poppet valve is all the way up.
  4. Grab hold of the poppet valve and rotate it counter-clockwise to unscrew it from the scissor jack.
  5. Rotate the poppet crank handle all of the way counter-clockwise. This crank handle is located on the side of the ion pump well.
  6. Remove the bolts that mount the poppet crank handle to the flange and rotate the crank handle and the crank housing together, counter-clockwise, until you can remove it from the scissor jack.
  7. Using two 7/16” wrenches, loosen and remove the mounting hardware for the scissor jack.
  8. With the mounting hardware out and the scissor jack free, work the scissor jack out of the ion pump well. This may take some maneuvering, but it will come out.

Step 3: Remove the TSP (Titanium Sublimation Pump) assembly and lower shielding.

Tools required: #1 flat head screw driver, #1 Phillip’s screw driver; 11/32, 3/8, 5/16 and ¼ wrenches.

  1. Remove the TSP cable from the TSP flange. If you’re lucky there is a screw-on connector for removing the TSP cable. The less convenient version has cap-head screws that fasten the wires to the flange feedthru’s. If you need to remove the wires, make sure that you mark the center “common” wire. This is the only wire that has a specific post that it must go to.
  2. With the wires removed you can now safely remove the TSP assembly.
  3. Remove the first piece of shielding. It is the shield that blocks titanium from the upper chamber and the poppet valve. The shielding is removed by loosening the mounting hardware. All shields and mounting hardware should be stored on a clean surface.
  4. Remove the circular cryo shield. This comes apart in sections for easier removal.
  5. You can now reach the high voltage conductor that runs from the high voltage feedthru to each of the ion pump elements.

Step 4: Ion Pump Element removal.

  1. Remove the high voltage conductor. It can either be one solid piece of ribbon or it can come in sections that can be removed one at a time. This conductor can be attached using a variety of different hardware, so be prepared with a variety of screw drivers and wrenches.
  2. Remove all of the ion pump elements once you’ve removed the high voltage conductor.
  3. We recommend that you remove the high voltage feedthru flange for inspection. It can sometimes get coated, and you also may find titanium flakes have worked their way up inside the flange. Once everything is removed and out of the way, you can clean the ion pump well.

Step 5: Cleaning and replacement of ion pump well and associated parts.

Equipment and tools required: Wire brush, shop vacuum

  1. Brush the walls, nooks, and crannies of the ion pump well to remove any build up titanium flakes.
  2. Vacuum out the ion pump well with a shop vacuum. Wrap the end of the hose in foil to prevent smearing the plastic hose with whatever might be on the ion pump well walls. It also prevents transferring whatever might be on the hose onto the walls of the ion pump well.
  3. Use isopropanol and Kim wipes to clean the inside of the ion pump well.
  4. Install the newly rebuilt or brand new ion pumps.
  5. Vacuum out the high voltage feedthru. If it’s obviously coated with titanium you will want to clean off the titanium using a sand blaster or some form of chemical etching process to prevent leakage current to ground.
  6. For the TSP assembly, RBD Instruments sells a variety of products to rebuild this assembly or you can even buy a complete assembly with or without exchange.
  7. Clean the shields using the above process described for cleaning the ion pump well (using the wire brush, vacuum, and isopropanol).
  8. Change the ion gauge filament, or if it’s in bad condition, replace the entire ion gauge. Keep in mind that RBD Instruments, Inc. sells ion gauge filaments and brand new assemblies as well.

Step 6: Reassembly

Tools required: 100 ft/lbs torque wrench

New parts required: New copper gaskets for all conflate flanges.

Note:    RBD Instruments, Inc. sells every size of copper gasket that you could ever need for a PHI vacuum chamber. This includes the sizes that you will need to reassemble this chamber: 2.125”, 2.75”, 3.375”, and last but certainly not least is the 12.995” copper wire gasket that is used to mate the two halves of the vacuum chamber together.

  1. Install the high voltage feedthru flange.
  2. Install the new or rebuilt ion pump elements.
  3. Install the Cryo shielding.
  4. Install the TSP assembly.
  5. Install the TSP shield.
  6. Install the scissor jack assembly and hardware.
  7. Install the poppet valve crank.
  8. Install the poppet valve. (First clean it if necessary, also remove and clean the O-ring, use a small amount of high vacuum grease on the O-ring before you put it back in the groove).
  9. Install the ion gauge.
  10. Install a 12.995” copper wire gasket on the flange that mates the lower half of the vacuum chamber to the upper half. When replacing the wire gasket it is important to exercise patience. The removal of the old one can be easy, but you will likely find that the new gasket is rather hard to put into place.  We have found that working the wire gasket around the flange with the handle end of a screw driver can work well to get the wire gasket to stretch into place onto the flange. You will see that it works a lot like putting a bike tire back on its rim, only in this case the material is copper and not rubber.
  11. With the lower half reassembled and the 12.995” copper wire gasket in place it’s time to position the top half of the chamber into place. When tightening down this flange it is good to go slowly and to use a torque wrench. The maximum torque on this flange should be 50 ft/lbs. We recommend starting at 25 ft/lbs and working your way to 45 ft/lbs in 10 ft/lbs increments. The last tightening will be 50 ft/lbs.
  12. That’s it! Time to start roughing the chamber down with your turbo and roughing pump.

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