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Quest for the right road to lithography

Posted: 07 Apr 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:lithography? extreme ultraviolet? EUV? next-generation lithography?

Some critics have called for the industry to back off from EUV altogether, saying the development effort has been more about gaining funding for pet projects than about advancing the lithography state of the art for the benefit of the industry. It might be too late for that, however. EUV has its problems, but the industry is already committed, and traditional optical lithography isn't getting any younger.

"I think lithography is headed in the wrong direction," one lithography expert, who requested anonymity, told EE Times. "EUV has long been a giant boondoggle. But I really do not see much of an alternative."

"There is a reason why we are spending money on EUV," said G. Dan Hutcheson, CEO of VLSI Technology Inc. "If we don't, Moore's Law runs to an end."

As if the technical hurdles weren't enough, economic realities came to bear on the lithography business last year. Industry sales fell 51 percent as the recession took hold, according to market watchers Barclays Capital and Gartner Inc. But the sector could see whopping 114 percent growth in sales this year, to $5.67 billion from $2.64 billion in 2009.

Double costs
That's small comfort to IC makers, which continue to use 193nm immersion scanners in the fab. The technology was once expected to hit the wall at 40nm, but IC developers now believe double patterning, which exposes the wafer twice, will take the scanners well below the 2xnm node. Most leading chip companies are pursuing some form of the technique. But they're not particularly happy about it, since double patterning could also double IC production costs.

ASML and Nikon are racing each other to ship 193nm immersion tools that achieve higher throughput to offset the expense of double patterning. ASML had expected to ship its NXT:1950i machine this month or next, but it is "taking longer to perfect the tool [than expected], which is causing lead times to drift out," said C.J. Muse, an analyst with Barclays Capital.

Another source, who asked not to be identified, said that "NXT is having a lot of problems."

But an ASML spokesman asserted that there "are no major problems, and the system will be meeting full spec soon."

Some of the negative comments about the NXT:1950i are "clearly coming from the competitor's camp," the ASML spokesman said, referring to Nikon. Nikon's new machine, the S620D, "is not running at full spec either," he added.

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