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SPIE Photomask Panel: Money Is An Issue

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

The best things in life are free
But you can give them to the birds and bees
I want money
That’s what I want

Berry Gordy, Jr. and Janie Bradford wrote those lyrics in 1959 for the first hit song released by Tamla Records, later known as Motown. Barrett Strong was the first to record the song, which would be covered by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and many other artists.

“Money (That’s What I Want)” could have been the theme song for playing off the EUV Mask Readiness panel discussion on Thursday morning (October 1) at the SPIE Photomask Technology conference in Monterey, California.

Panelist Yalin Xiong of KLA-Tencor called for “a new model of discussing technology and economic terms” in developing inspection equipment for extreme-ultraviolet lithography photomasks and pellicles. “Long-term solutions that require investment are risky,” he said of actinic inspection technology, adding, “They require a new collaboration model.”

Xiong engaged with a fellow panelist, Jeff Farnsworth of Intel Mask Operations, in talking about such “economic terms” and forms of collaboration among mask shops, equipment vendors, and other parties in the semiconductor industry.

The KLA-Tencor executive asserted, “Photomask is an enabling technology for lithography. We have to make our voice heard.” He later added, “The voice [of the mask community] is not heard in lithography. We need to be louder.”

The last panelist on Thursday morning was Takahiro Onoue of HOYA, who reviewed the status of EUV mask blank manufacturing, where a substantial reduction in defects has been achieved in the past three years, he said.

Wrapping up his presentation, Onoue pointed to “economy” as “a significant challenge in 2015,” taking precedence over methodology and other key parameters. He added that “economic feasibility” is important to increasing production of defect-free, high-grade EUV mask blanks, and that will require “support from stakeholders for investment toward HVM [high-volume manufacturing].”

Onoue added for emphasis, “It’s very important.”

Funding and money issues aside, most of the panel session was devoted to discussion of technology issues in getting to HVM with EUV photomasks.

Farnsworth said during his presentation, “We’re serious about implementing EUV on 7 nanometer.”

Emily Gallagher of imec spoke about the necessity for pellicles to protect EUV masks. Handling of masks with pellicles can often add “large particles,” she said. While ASML Holding has a pellicle commercialization program well under way, Gallagher said the status of pellicles for EUV lithography is “not ready,” while adding there has been “a lot of progress.”

Chih-Cheng Lin of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing reported that the foundry has been able to process 15,040 wafers in four weeks — an average of 518 wafers a day — using ASML’s NXE:3300 scanner this year, with tool availability increasing to 70.2 percent, compared with 55 percent during an eight-week period in 2014.

While ASML “has made a lot of progress” with EUV pellicles, Lin said, “the job is not done yet.”

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One Response to “SPIE Photomask Panel: Money Is An Issue”

  1. Diogenes Cicero Says:

    The lousy economics of mask making have been obvious for years. Merchant mask makers have never earned the cost of capital on a continuing basis. Mask making is like making PCs (ex-Apple): all the value is captured by Intel and Microsoft. Photomask monopolistic/oligopolistic suppliers like KLA, Hoya and NuFlare, make all the money. The cry for new collaborative business models, i.e. mask customers invest in mask infrastructure, is as old as the hills, and never materialized. To hear monopolists like Hoya and KLA whine about investment is a little hard to take. Captives can pay monopoly prices as mask making is typically a cost-center to captives and doesn’t have to earn the cost of capital. Merchants are mercilessly squeezed.

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