SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- During the Semicon West trade show, Applied Materials Inc. has rolled out a new etcher offering that could intensify the competition against Lam, TEL and others.
The Centura AdvantEdge Mesa system from Applied is geared for the conductor etch segment, which includes both metal and silicon etch applications. The company’s new etcher is aimed for double-patterning, gate oxide recess, hardmask, high aspect ratio, shallow trench isolation (STI) and other applications.
The AdvantEdge Mesa system is actually a chamber that fits within its Centura platform. It features a new inductively-coupled plasma (ICP) source design, which eliminates the “etch signature” issues that has limited the performance of all previous ICP-based systems, said Thorsten Lill, vice president of etch application and technology development for the Etch and Cleans Business Unit at Applied (Santa Clara, Calif.).
The source delivers ''angstrom-level etch precision’’ for use in the production of next-generation DRAM, flash and logic devices, Lill said at the company’s offices here. Applied said it has already shipped over 60 Mesa chambers for 32-nm production and 22-nm development.
In simple terms, there are several segments in the etch market: dielectric, metal, mask, silicon, among others. The metal and silicon segments can be combined to form the conductor market.
Applied, Lam and others dominate the conductor segment. Applied, Lam, TEL and others compete in dielectric etch, which is said to be a bigger market than conductor. But amid a shift towards double patterning and other trends, conductor is growing faster, said Uday Mitra, vice president and chief technology officer for the Etch Products Business Group at Applied.
Applied dominates CMP, CVD, RTP and other fab tool markets. Still, in terms of share, Applied has been lagging in etch. Lam Research Corp. remained the king in the overall etch equipment market in 2009, according to a report from Barclays Capital, which cited Gartner Inc. as its source.
In 2009, Lam had a 41 percent share of the overall etch market, followed by Tokyo Electron Ltd. (28 percent), Applied Materials (17 percent), Hitachi (8 percent) and others (6 percent), according to the report. In 2008, Lam had 41 percent, TEL had 28 percent, Appled had 17 percent, Hitachi had 7 percent and others had 8 percent, the report said.
Meanwhile, Lam, which has been the thorn in Applied’s side, is seeing a major upturn. Lam's second half shipments are expected to go to Hynix, TSMC, Samsung and other customers, according to Arete Research LLC. Lam still does not have a big presence at Intel.
In the silicon etch segment, Lam could have 60 percent share by year’s end, according to the firm. In the dielectric etch segment, Lam's market share could move to 48 percent from 34 percent last year.
Applied has different ideas. With its new capability, Applied believes it can gain ground on the competition. The Centura AdvantEdge Mesa ''will allow us to gain significant share in the conductor space,’’ Mitra said.
At the same time, Applied is seeing huge demand for its fab tools amid a major recovery in the market. After a downturn in 2009, the fab tool market is expected to grow 96 percent in 2010, according to VLSI Research Inc.
Besides the upturn, there are other positive signs. At present, there are more than 10 new 300-mm fabs on the drawing board or coming online in the near term, said Ellie Yieh, vice president and general manager for the Etch Business Unit at Applied.
The Centura AdvantEdge Mesa is a chamber technology. It makes use of a so-called Mesa source, based on next-generation ICP technology. It also utilizes a synchronized RF pulsing system, dubbed Pulsync.
Existing ICP technology is said to have reached the limits of angstrom- level uniformity control. Mesa is said to overcome those limitations, as it provides a flat and uniform profile, enabling precise transfer of lithography patterns out to the extreme edge of the wafer to increase die yield.
According to Applied, Mesa will deliver the following: 1) a sub-1-nm CD uniformity for line/space definition; 2) 1 percent depth uniformity for aspect ratio dependent etches (STI, bit/word line); 3) a flat etch rate map; and 4) an extreme edge tuning capability.
With Pulsync, the tool is said to have demonstrated sub-1-nm gate oxide recess capabilities. “By freeing chip makers from the need to compensate for systematic non-uniformity limitations, the Mesa system can be a critical tool for helping customers shrink circuit features, control leakage current and achieve the high production yields necessary to build the smart mobile devices of the future,” Yieh said.
Applied’s large installed base of existing Advantage systems can be upgraded with Mesa technology, offering device makers an upgrade path for multiple device generations using a proven platform.