AUSTIN, Texas While immersion lithography is grabbing the headlines these days, there is another promising technology emerging on the horizon nano-imprint lithography.
Molecular Imprints Inc. (MII), one of the leading developers of this technology, Tuesday (Dec. 2) said that nano-imprint technology has been placed on the 2003 edition of the International Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS). Nano-imprint lithography is currently slated for the 32-nm node on the ITRS roadmap. The 32-nm node is expected to emerge in the 2009 time frame.
The announcement "lends further credibility to step and flash imprint lithography as a viable technology for chipmakers," said S.V. Sreenivasan, CTO of Austin-based MII, in a statement. "MII is working with its strategic partners, including Lam Research, KLA-Tencor, Motorola, DARPA, and others, to reduce the risks associated with this new technology, which may advance its introduction schedule, particularly for critical layers."
The announcement also raises more questions about the development and viability of a next-generation lithography technology (NGL) called extreme ultraviolet (EUV). EUV was originally expected to hit mainstream fabs by 2007, but Intel Corp. and others have pushed out the technology to 2009 or so.
Lithography based on immersion techniques is quickly evolving and could push EUV into oblivion. Immersion extends optical lithography and promises to hit mainstream fabs by 2005 or 2006, according to analysts.
Nano-imprint lithography, which is also a promising technology, is seen as a niche solution for the production of MEMS, optical devices, and other products at least for now. Some believe that nano-imprint tools could even make it into mainstream chip production. Even Intel is reportedly investigating the technology.
Several small companies are developing nano-imprint tools. Among the little-known pioneers in the business are EV Group, MII, Nanonex, Obducat, and others.
These companies are not developing conventional photolithography scanners, but rather tools that resemble "electron-beam replicators." These machines utilize ultraviolet (UV) and liquid emersion technologies to enable or "imprint" patterns on a wafer.
Meanwhile, the inclusion of imprint lithography onto the 2003 ITRS was a result of a recommendation by the Lithography International Technology Working Group (ITWG). MII, Motorola, and KLA-Tencor were among those who helped champion imprint lithography during an invited presentation to the ITWG in July 2003.
The announcement follows the release of the new ITRS roadmap, which is an assessment of the semiconductor technology requirements, during this week's Winter ITRS Conference in Taiwan.