HAYWARD, Calif. -- Hoping to regain momentum in the photomask systems business, Applied Materials Inc.'s Etec Systems subsidiary today rolled out a one-two punch in the arena: a new electron-beam-based reticle-writing tool for 0.10-to-0.07-micron IC processes and the company's entry into the emerging plasma-etch photomask equipment market.
The centerpiece to Etec's rollout is the awaited-but-delayed photomask-writer tool, called eXara. Co-developed with industry consortium International Sematech, the new eXara tool is the world's fastest e-beam system in terms of overall throughput, declared Howard Neff, president of Hayward-based Etec Systems.
Based on a raster-scan architecture and equipped with 50-Kv electron optics, the eXara tool enables the production of a photomask in less than seven hours, according to Etec. Competitive vector-scan tools can take up to 20-40 hours or longer to produce a similar
photomask set, the Applied Materials subsidiary claimed.
"Our timing is just right for this tool," said Neff, who is also a group vice president for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Applied. He said the eXara will address the 100-nm node (0.10-micron) for production of photomasks, as well as the 70-nm technology node (0.07-micron) for R&D applications.
But still, many industry observers say Etec's eXara is about a year late to the marketplace. The delays have opened the window of opportunity for Etec's e-beam rivals, such as JEOL,
Hitachi, Leica, and Toshiba (see July 27 story).
The e-beam tool delay has been especially troublesome for Etec--and its parent Applied Materials. Etec is the world's largest supplier of photomask gear in terms of market share in the e-beam segment, according to industry analysts. In January 2000, Applied moved into the e-beam photomask systems business by acquiring Etec in a stock-swap deal (see Jan. 12, 2000 story).
In the past year, Etec has been losing market share to some of its rivals, most notably Toshiba Corp., according to analysts. Until now, Etec's main product has been the Mebes 5500, a
tool aimed at development of photomasks at the 180-nm (0.18-micron) and 130-nm (0.13-micron) nodes.
Etec's new e-beam was delayed, because it took longer-than-expected to build the new platform for the system, according to company officials.
In any event, Etec executives acknowledged that the product delays caused the company to miss a critical market window, especially for the production of photomasks at the 130-nm node. "We missed the 130-nm development window," said Neff during an interview with SBN.
But with the new eXara tool, the company claims that it is well-positioned for the 100-nm node and beyond. Despite the current downturn in the IC market, the worldwide photomask-equipment business is projected to grow 21% from $578 million in 2001 to $698 million in 2002, according to Etec. By 2005, the market is projected to hit $1.1 billion, Etec said.
The mask-writer tool segment of this market, including e-beam and pattern-generation tools, is expected to jump 23% from $292 million in 2001, to $360 million in 2002, they company said. By 2005, this market will reach $489 million, Etec projected.
In the second part of today's product launch, Etec separately entered the emerging plasma-etch equipment market for photomask applications with a new system, called Tetra. The tool uses a dry plasma technology for etching binary photomasks. It can also be used for higher-resolution phase-shift and optical proximity correction (OPC) masks, as well.
Based on the company's plasma-etch platform used in chip processing--dubbed the Centura--the new tool is geared for the production of masks at 0.10-micron and below, said Brigitte Stoehr, senior technology manager at Applied.
The plasma-etch market for lithography reticles is still small but it's growing. The tool segment is projected to grow 85% from $33 million in 2001, to $61 million in 2002, according to
Etec. In this market, Etec will compete against the likes of Ulvac, Unaxis, and others.
Meanwhile, Etec claims the eXara product leapfrogs the competition--and by a wide margin. "Our competitors were ahead of us in commercializing a 50-Kv tool, but they also have some serious limitations with their vector-based architectures," Neff told SBN.
Among those limitations is the bottleneck in e-beam tools: throughput. But Etec claims to have solved the throughput issues, thanks to a completely new and innovative architecture, according to company officials.
The eXara tool is based on a new and compact platform. Dubbed the Mebes X platform, the unit was developed in partnership with International Sematech in Austin, Tex. At the heart
of the tool is the so-called Aeroglide stage, which will enable the development of masks down to the 50-nm node (0.05-micron).
The tool's high-resolution, 50-Kv electron optics and raster-based writing technology enables precise linewidth control and image placement accuracy, Etec said.
The company's so-called Raster Graybeam II mask-writer technology has several advantages for photomask production. With this technology, mask-write times are independent of the pattern densities and optical proximity correction (OPC) complexities, according to Etec.
Supporting a spectrum of amplified resists in the market, the tool's spot size and current are
adjustable over a wide range. This variable spot size enables the development of advanced masks, said Frank Abboud, vice president and general manager of the Electron Beam Products Group at Etec.
"It is the first system to provide dose modulation and fine positioning of individual pixels, which it prints at a constant rate of 320-MHz," Abboud said.
The product also boasts a hierarchical front-end architecture. This enables the system to extract a file size of data in the e-beam from only 2- to 10-gigabtyes. Traditionally, the file size in a typical e-beam is 58-gigabytes. "The hierarchical technology allows the file size to become more manageable," Abboud said.
Etec is currently shipping the eXara to undisclosed customers. Product prices were not disclosed, however.
The new mask writer and plasma-etch system are part of Etec's ongoing strategy to provide a one-stop shop of tools for leading-edge photomask shops, Neff said. Etec also sells pattern generators and inspection equipment as well.
With the new products, "We have answered the mail for our customers in providing the tools for all photomask requirements," Neff said.