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Nanoimprint still awaits takeoff in HDDs

Posted: 03 Mar 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:nanoimprint? HDD? lithography? extreme ultraviolet?

At one time, nanoimprint was supposed to be the next big thing in next-generation lithography. The technology has made solid progress over the years, but for the most part, it remains stuck in its R&D niche. While nanoimprint has not cracked mainstream production in semiconductor fabs, as some had hoped at one time, the technology has been delayed in perhaps its biggest potential market: HDDs.

Today, drive makers use sputtering techniques to enable magnetic media on today's HDDs, but these products are fast running into the 1Tbyte capacity wall. By this year or so, drive makers were supposed to produce HDDs based on a next-generation technology called bit-patterned mediaa move that could extend conventional storage to 10-terabyte capacities.

Each magnetic bit is physically patterned onto the disk in bit-patterned media. To enable this technology, drive makers are looking to make a major and nerve wracking transition from sputtering to nanoimprint lithography on the production floor. This represents the first time that drive makers would bring lithography in production.

But the hard disk makers have reportedly delayed the transition, due to some unforeseen issues with template production and other reasons. The shift towards bit-patterned mediaand nanoimprintis "a few years later than what we thought," said Thomas Albrecht, manager of patterned media at the San Jose Research Center for Hitachi Global Storage Technologies Inc. (HGST).

In an interview with EE Times after a presentation at the SPIE Advanced Lithography conference, Albrecht said it could take "four to five years" before bit-patterned media makes it in mass or mainstream production.

The various drive makers have separate schedules when bit-patterned media will into production, causing some angst and jitters for nanoimprint vendors, many of which were banking on the technology as an engine for growth. Nanoimprint vendors, including Nanonex, Molecular Imprints (MII), Obducat and others, have sold tools into the drive houses and are anxiously waiting for the technology to move into production.

Some say the shift from sputtering to nanoimprint for advanced disk drive production could take up to five years. Others say the transition will happen sooner than later, possibly 2011 or 2012.

The delay for nanoimprint among disk drive makers is "across the board," said Stephen Chou, a professor at Princeton University and founder and chairman of nanoimprint pioneer Nanonex Corp. "The hard drive makers have put a lot of money into bit-patterned media," Chou said. "But right now, they don't have an exact date when" bit-patterned media (and nanoimprint lithography) will go into production.

Mark Melliar-Smith, CEO of MII, believes nanoimprint will move into production at the drive houses long before 2014 or 2015. Right now, nanoimprint is "moving from development into pilot lines," Melliar-Smith said at the SPIE event.

The disk drive makers "have bought some" nanoimprint tools, said G. Dan Hutcheson, CEO of market research firm VLSI Technology Inc., but "they are still not in production."

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