LONDON With extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUVL) emerging as the main candidate for the production of next-generation integrated circuits Japanese lithography equipment makers look set to fall further behind market leader ASML Holding NV, according to analysts with investment broker Nomura.
The Japanese lithography market faces extinction although it is not too late for them to be pulled together by some sort of state support scheme, according to Nomura. However analysts at the bank said that the commercial sector companies such as Nikon could not afford the R&D burden of catching up on their own.
The analysts have surveyed the field of lithography options and drawn the conclusion that while challenges, in source power, masks and inspection, still face EUVL technology prior to mass deployment in 2015 and 2016, it is the most advanced and capable of the technologies.
Indeed the movement towards EUVL seems to be born not so much of progress against the challenges outlined as of problems with the current double-patterning of immersion argon-fluoride 193-nanometer optical lithography.
"The word from the factory floor at major NAND flash memory manufacturers, which are at the forefront of the push to smaller process sizes, is that EUVL is the best option for next-generation lithography and that they would rather not use DPT [double-patterning technology]," the Nomura authors said in a report for clients. The authors attribute this to the complexity of the DPT process which results in low throughput, process unreliablility and low yield making for high costs.
Inverse lithography technology (ILT) with computationally-intense use of pixilated phase-shift masks is in use with ArF immersion lithography by Intel to drive down towards 11-nm process technology but Nomura considers this as only a temporary extension of contemporary technology.
Nanoimprint lithography (NIL) shows promise but mainly for MEMS and optical elements and it is unclear whether the technology can go to the 10-nm node, Nomura said. E-beam lithography has been used to produce device prototypes, but there are formidable obstacles in the way of its being used in mass production. Meanwhile, self-assembly based on the use of different polymer structures can only be used in a narrow range of applications.
As a result Nomura analysts are predicting the EUVL systems market to be worth ¥5 billion (about $60 million) in 2010 and ¥25 billion (about $300 million) in 2011. In 2015 the market is set to be ¥160 billion (about $1.9 billion), ¥200 billion (about $2.4 billion) in 2016 and ¥300 billion (about $3.5 billion) in 2018.
Despite being the first commercial litho supplier to work on EUVL Canon has stopped development of equipment and Nikon is lagging behind ASML which is now seen as the only supplier even with stepper unit prices of 40 million to 45 million euro (about $50 million to $60 million).
"Over at least the next five years, ASML will likely monopolize the stepper market," the analysts remarked. The EUVL market will also benefit other equipment makers such as Ushio for sources, Lasertec and Hoya."With ASML having a commanding lead in EUVL system development, Japan is on the brink of losing its position at the cutting edge of semiconductor lithography."
"In our view, Japan needs some kind of joint development scheme that spans the state and industry," analysts concluded.
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