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.
We seem to be transitioning from vertically integrated companies to a whole vertically integrated industry. Too much consolidation will cause problems in the future. Is this cabal of companies already too big to fail? As @resistion says, why not buy all of the other major players essential to the EUV infrastructure while you're at it?
I don't know that ASML has the means or the desire for such a shopping spree. Buying Cymer is one thing; buying every major player essential to the EUV infrastructure? That seems a bit much.
It is interesting, though, that the place ASML choose to buy its way in is the area that is standing in EUV's way. Despite what ASML says about selling sources to other litho vendors, you wonder if they'll keep them all to themselves (assuming of course that the technology progresses to the point where throughput is suitable).
The EUV source is just todays most obvious barrier to success. Tomorrow it will be the reflective optics including the masks, mask inspection and cleaning, and then resists. The companies involved in all of those areas need R & D investment help as well. There are still many obstacles to high volume manufacturing with EUV. And ASML alone wouldn't have to buy all those companies. Intel, Samsung, and TSMC could help. At this point they should just spin off a new company called EUV Inc. and invite a few more big semi companies to join. But that might make it too easy to figure out how much money they are spending on EUV.
Just as the foundry business consolidated as the costs skyrocketed, now the equipment business will do the same. And just as everyone fears the growth of a single foundry domination to be bad for the industry, they will say the same about this segment. The costs just make any other option impractical, like it or not.
It's not just the consolidation of a couple of equipment companies. Remember ASML invited Intel, Samsung, and TSMC to become part owners as well. So now we have everything from design through fabrication AND the equipment used to do it all intertwined together. At some point if the cost of making EUV work is so costly then maybe it's just not viable right now. Maybe the single minded pursuit of EUV litho is draining investment out of the semi industry that could better be spent elsewhere.
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