SAN FRANCISCO – Extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) is gaining steam.
ASML Holding NV is seeing new and surprising orders for its current and future EUV systems. And after little or no action, there is finally some movement on the EUV metrology front. To obtain funding for EUV metrology tools, Applied Materials Inc. and KLA-Tencor Corp. are in discussions with Sematech.
The big question is clear: Are the recent EUV announcements for real or hype? At present, leading-edge chip makers hope to extend 193-nm immersion as far as possible. Many have also moved to double-patterning. Beyond optical, EUV is the frontrunner, as maskless and nano-imprint continue to experience some problems.
EUV is the leading candidate for chip production at 22-nm, said Luc Van den hove, president and chief executive of IMEC, during a panel at Semicon West. ''Momentum on EUV has increased tremendously during the last year,’’ he said at last week’s Semicon trade show here. With EUV, there is also a ''clear roadmap to 10-nm half-pitch.’’
The technology also has its share of problems due to the lack of power sources, resists and mask infrastructure. EUV still has some ''engineering challenges,’’ said John Warlaumont, vice president of advanced technology at chip-making consortium Sematech.
At least on the surface, EUV is gathering momentum. As previously reported, ASML has six orders—and is essentially sold out--of its initial production-like EUV tool, dubbed the NXE:3100, which is due out by year’s end.
The Dutch company also has 10 orders for its next-generation EUV tool, called the NXE-3300, according to Barclays Capital. ''ASML is looking to ‘book’ about 10 EUV (NXE-3300) systems in 2H ‘10 for 2012 delivery,’’ said C.J. Muse, an analyst with Barclays. Some speculated that GlobalFoundries, Intel, Samsung, TSMC and others have placed orders for the NXE-3300, which could go as high as $100 million per system.
The 3100 has been able to print images down to 27-nm. The system has a 100 Watt source and boasts a 4.5-nm overlay. The 3300 has been able to print images down to 22-nm. The system features a numerical aperture of 0.32.
ASML claims to have completed the development of three new NXE:3100 scanners. The previously announced system includes a 100 Watt source from Cymer Inc. Like before, the power source is a stumbling block. To process 125 wafers an hour, the company needs a twofold improvement in power, said Hans Meiling, ASML's product development manager for the EUVL. ''We do need higher power,’’ he said at a Semicon West panel. ''We are not there yet.’’
But finally, there is some movement on the EUV metrology and inspection front. At one time, there were fears that the EUV scanners would be ready for production at the designated time, but there would be no metrology tools to support EUV. The inspection vendors have been dragging their feet. Until now, R&D funding and a return-on-invest remains a question on the EUV metrology front.
As a result, chip-making consortium Sematech recently launched a consortium to develop metrology tools for detecting defects in advanced masks needed for EUV lithography.
Now, the ball seems to be rolling in the arena. Last week, Sematech and Carl Zeiss announced an agreement to design and develop the industry’s first-ever actinic aerial image metrology system for defect review of EUV photomasks. In EUV, Sematech is also engaged with the other inspection vendors, including Applied Materials and KLA-Tencor, Warlaumont said.
Brian Trafas, chief marketing officer at KLA-Tencor, said the company’s current 6xx reticle inspection tool can support the initial requirements for EUV mask and blank inspection. But if or when EUV goes into full production, ''we believe we need a next-generation platform,’’ he said.
Not surprisingly, KLA-Tencor has been looking at EUV actinic technology for some time. KLA-Tencor can build a tool, but R&D funding is the big hurdle. Now, KLA-Tencor and Sematech are in ''discussions’’ about funding, he said. ''We are asking for funding,’’ he said.
The EUV camp has already spent billions on R&D. Development of "prototype" metrology tools alone is expected to add $200 million to the tally. Some estimate the total bill at $400 million. Sematech and its members, such as IBM, Intel, Samsung and TSMC, will foot some of the bill but are betting on metrology tool makers to share the cost and build the tools.
Some suggest that existing inspection tools could handle many of the initial chores in detecting EUV mask defects. Some experts argue that the industry must develop actinic-based tools, with the same, 13.5-nm wavelength as EUV light.