SAN FRANCISCO -- Despite longer-than-expected cycle times for the development of its new scanner, ASML Holding NV is still seeing strong demand for the tool as well as its suite of reticle enhancement technique (RET) products.
The net result: ASML’s margins are increasing, but lithography tool prices continue to soar. When chip makers broke the 1-micron barrier in the mid-1980s, a scanner cost about $1 million per unit. Now, a top-of-the-line, 193-nm scanner from ASML runs $40-to-$50 million (or more) per unit, including a package of RET products, according to one analyst.
In 2008, ASML of the Netherlands rolled out its latest scanner--dubbed the NXT:1950i. The 193-nm tool is geared for chip production at the 32-nm node and beyond. ASML claims 100 percent of its leading-edge scanners, including the NXT and perhaps other tools, are now sold with one or more of its separate RET-like offerings, of which it calls holistic lithography components.
Introduced a year ago, holistic lithography includes its line of computational lithography, micro-mirror, process control, among other products. The offerings include those from Brion, a computational lithography firm acquired by ASML several years ago. ASML also offers holistic lithography as an integrated package called Eclipse.
''Given the substantial advances in litho stability and productivity to be achieved through the Brion offering, we believe that the majority of NXT shipments will be in an Eclipse configuration,’’ according to a recent report from Nomura Technology Research. ‘’As a result of this, we are expecting NXT list prices to move up even further to about 46 million euros ($57.969 million) from the current approximate (price) of 43 million euros ($54.2 million).’’
The NXT is taking a bit longer to ramp up than expected. ''We understand that cycle times, the main variable for NXT manufacturing capacity, are still more in the 20 weeks range (as opposed to the 12-13 week target for year-end 2010), but we had the impression that the project seems broadly on track to be reached but the end of the year,’’ according to the research firm.
There are other issues in the supply chain. ''Our checks suggest that the most immersion tools that can be shipped are (about) 127 units (103 from ASML and 24 Nikon) due to lens supply constraints,’’ said C.J. Muse, an analyst with Barclays Capital, in a recent report. ‘’Assuming another total 60 KrF tools and 10 ArF Dry tools are shipped in 2010, this equates to total lithography revenues of (about) $6.1 billion.’’
ASML declined to comment on NXT shipments. Overall, the company has grabbed a commanding lead in lithography—at the expense of Canon Inc. and Nikon Corp. 2Q10
''If we assume ASML has 80-plus percent share of litho in 2010 along with a total litho market of (about) $6.1 billion, then this would suggest that ASML’s expected order run rate (is about) 1.1 billion euros in 2Q ‘10 ($1.3 billion),’’ Muse added. ‘’And considering lead times still extending well beyond 9-plus months and limited progress to date on NXT cycle times, we see another leg higher for ASML orders.’’
ASML is also seeing an upside in its RET-like business. As semiconductor feature sizes shrink, so do process windows -- the accuracy tolerances necessary to produce viable chips -- imposing extremely tight requirements on parameters such as overlay and critical dimension uniformity, said Bernardo Kastrup, director of applications products at ASML. Independent optimization of separate parameters is no longer sufficient, thereby prompting the need for holistic lithography, he said.
The Eclipse suite of products include the following:
FlexRay is a programmable array of thousands of adjustable micro-mirrors. It can create any pupil shape in a matter of minutes -- eliminating the long cycle time associated with diffractive optical element (DOE) design and fabrication and thus accelerating ramp to yield for low k1 designs.
•Tachyon source-mask-optimizing (SMO) co-optimizes and analyzes scanner source and mask design simultaneously, ensuring an optimized process window from R&D through production while minimizing pitch and number of exposures per layer.
• BaseLiner enables optimized process windows and higher yields by keeping scanner performance to a pre-defined baseline condition.
• YieldStar offers a single sensor solution for CD, overlay and sidewall angle metrology resulting in high-speed, high precision and high-accuracy measurement.
• LithoTuner optimizes the scanner in an application specific manner. By combining device pattern information and scanner specific characteristics, the optimum setting for maximum process window and flexibility will be determined.
''FlexRay is a very cutting-edge technology and important both from an ASP perspective (given that it consists of a combination of hardware/software and an industry tendency to expect software upgrades for free), but also from a competitive angle with regard to Nikon,’’ according to Numora.
''In traditional litho systems, ‘pupil shaping’ (the shaping of the light beam before it is incident on the mask) is accomplished by using glass discs called diffractive optical elements (DOEs - for complex pupil shapes, these DOEs have to be custom designed and manufactured),’’ according to the firm.
''By using a programmable array of thousands of individually adjustable micro-mirrors, FlexRay makes it easier to create those shapes. Since different mask patterns work better with different pupil shapes, pupil shaping is increasingly a key factor in ensuring semi process,’’ accoridn to the firm. ‘’FlexRay also reduces downtime and re-calibration effort for manufacturers using numerous DOEs in production, particularly relevant in a foundry environment. We understand that beta testing for FlexRay will start in Q1 2010 and the first products will be shipped in Q2 next year.’’