SAN FRANCISCO—Chip equipment vendor KLA-Tencor Corp. this week announced the first installations of its Surfscan SP3 450 wafer defect inspection tool for 450-mm wafers. KLA (Milpitas, Calif.) said it has installed two of the systems.
The Surfscan SP3 450 is the 450-mm wafer version of KLA's Surfscan SP3, the successor to the industry-standard Surfscan SP3 unpatterned wafer inspection tool that KLA announced last year.
According to Amir Azordegan, senior director of marketing and applications for KLA's Surfscan-ADE division, the availability of the Surfscan SP3 450 is the "first domino to fall" on the road to the migration to 450-mm wafers. Because the Surfscan SP3 and its predecessor are basically ubiquitous in semiconductor manufacturing—used by everyone from wafer suppliers to fab tool vendors (to develop their own tools) to chip makers—a 450-mm version of the tool was a basic requirement for the development of 450-mm for the entire supply chain, according to Azordegan.
The Surfscan SP3 450 is KLA's first process control system capable of handling and inspecting 450mm wafers. The tool is designed to meet the defect and surface quality characterization requirements of the 20-nm node and beyond, according to the company.
Azordegan said KLA has installed two Surfscan SP3 450 systems—one at IMEC and one at an undisclosed customer. The company has booked a total of seven orders for the tool thus far, he said.
Momentum is building for the transition to 450-mm wafers from current state-of-the-art 300-mm wafers, although conventional wisdom is that only the very leading-edge chip companies will eventually make the move. Those firms include Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) and Globalfoundries Inc., and perhaps others. On Monday, Intel announced it would invest $4.1 billion in an equity and funding deal with ASML Holding NV, which involves both 450-mm technology and extreme ultraviolet lithography.
Also Monday, analysts predicted that the first 450-fabs would start operation late this decade.
Azordegan said the Surfscan SP3 450 is being offered in both a straight 450-mm configuration and a bridge tool configuration, capable of handling both 300- and 450-mm wafers. Azordegan said wafer suppliers are likely to choose the straight 450-mm configuration because they tend to build dedicated manufacturing lines, most equipment vendors and chip supplier will gravitate toward the bridge configuration because it can be used for 300-mm wafers and, eventually, 450-mm wafers, he said.
Many chip equipment vendors are expected to offer bridge tools that can handle both 300- and 450-mm wafers in order to maximize return on investment. Azordegan said KLA's ability to do so in the case of the Surfscan SP3 450 is a product both of early-stage planning and the type of technology it uses. For some process technologies, he said, bridge tools won't be an option.