In agreeing to acquire source supplier Cymer for $2.4 billion in cash and stock, lithography tool vendor ASML expressed a vote of confidence in extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, the slow development of which poses a threat to continued semiconductor scaling.
ASML already forced the most advanced chipmakers—Intel, Samsung and TSMC—to put skin in the game by taking equity stakes in ASML and participating in a program to fund EUV and 450-mm wafer research. Now ASML has essentially done the same thing, putting its money where its mouth is to acquire a supplier critical to the development of EUV.
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ASML of course already has billions of dollars at stake in the development of EUV. The technology haws proven its viability in terms of resolution, but EUV remains far too slow to enable economical volume semiconductor manufacturing. ASML says it expects EUV to achieve the throughput necessary to make volume manufacturing possible in 2014. But EUV is still no sure bet.
The lack of a light source with adequate power and stability remains the biggest hurdle for EUV. ASML and Cymer have been working closely together for more than a year to improve the source and increase throughput. The companies have improved the technology, but not nearly enough.
ASML said the throughput of its pre-production NXE:3100 is now seven wafers per hour. The company believes it can improve the throughput of EUV to 69 wafers per hour at 105 watts in time to enable volume manufacturing in 2014. Some in the industry remain skeptical.