LEUVEN, Belgium "The way to get out of the downturn is to innovate," said Luc Van den hove, chief executive of IMEC (Leuven, Belgium), opening an annual press forum for the R&D center based here. Researchers discussed advances in extreme ultraviolet lithography, MEMS and components for wireless, solar and medical systems at the event.
This recession has been a relatively mild one so far for the center that employs 1,770 people and had 2008 revenue of about USD$408 million. Most of IMEC's partners renewed and a few even expanded the annual contracts that make up more than 80 percent of the group's revenues--with the exception of Qimonda that went into bankruptcy.
The net result: IMEC's revenues will be down only about five percent this year, compared to drops of 20 percent generally among electronics vendors. "R&D is the last part to cut because they need to continue to innovate," said Van den hove.
|Luc Van den hove|
Chief Executive, IMEC
One focus for IMEC's semiconductor process R&D is extreme ultraviolet (EUV), the much delayed next-generation of lithography. Production EUV equipment could be available by 2012, estimated Rudi Cartuyvels, general manager of IMEC's process technology group.
"For large volume [logic chips] we believe EUV is the only viable option, and we are now routinely printing sub-20nm features with it," said Van den hove.
But the systems are slow. Production systems need to handle hundreds of wafers and hour, and current EUV prototypes only produce a few wafers per hour. That's because they can't get enough energy from the 13nm laser light sources they use, Cartuyvels said.
The EUV systems need a 10- to 100-fold boost in light source power to be effective, according to one IMEC presentation. In addition, EUV masks need to reduce defect rates ten-fold and raise resist performance by at least a factor of two.
The EUV systems promise to eliminate the complex double and triple patterning and optical correction needed for wafers made on today's 193nm immersion litho systems. But companies such as Intel don't expect to get their hands on useable EUV systems until late in their roll out of 15nm products, Intel Fellow Mark Bohr said recently.
IMEC hopes to install a new EUV system that late next year that will show increases in throughput perhaps to the range of tens of wafers per hour.