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Applied Materials Releases Selective Etch Tool

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By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

Applied Materials has disclosed commercial availability of new Selectra(TM) selective etch twin-chamber hardware for the company’s high-volume manufacturing (HVM) Producer® platform. Using standard fluorine and chlorine gases already used in traditional Reactive Ion Etch (RIE) chambers, this new tool provides atomic-level precision in the selective removal of materials in 3D devices structures increasingly used for the most advanced silicon ICs. The tool is already in use at three customer fabs for finFET logic HVM, and at two memory fab customers, with a total of >350 chambers planned to have been shipped to many customers by the end of 2016.

Figure 1 shows a simplified cross-sectional schematic of the Selectra chamber, where the dashed white line indicates some manner of screening functionality so that “Ions are blocked, chemistry passes through” according to the company. In an exclusive interview with Solid State Technology, company representative refused to disclose any hardware details. “We are using typical chemistries that are used in the industry,” explained Ajay Bhatnagar, managing director of Selective Removal Products for Applied Materials. “If there are specific new applications needed than we can use new chemistry. We have a lot of IP on how we filter ions and how we allow radicals to combine on the wafer to create selectivity.”

FIG 1: Simplified cross-sectional schematic of a silicon wafer being etched by the neutral radicals downstream of the plasma in the Selectra chamber. (Source: Applied Materials)

From first principles we can assume that the ion filtering is accomplished with some manner of electrically-grounded metal screen. This etch technology accomplishes similar process results to Atomic Layer Etch (ALE) systems sold by Lam, while avoiding the need for specialized self-limiting chemistries and the accompanying chamber throughput reductions associated with pulse-purge process recipes.

“What we are doing is being able to control the amount of radicals coming to the wafer surface and controlling the removal rates very uniformly across the wafer surface,” asserted Bhatnagar. “If you have this level of atomic control then you don’t need the self-limiting capability. Most of our customers are controlling process with time, so we don’t need to use self-limiting chemistry.” Applied Materials claims that this allows the Selectra tool to have higher relative productivity compared to an ALE tool.

Due to the intrinsic 2D resolutions limits of optical lithography, leading IC fabs now use multi-patterning (MP) litho flows where sacrificial thin-films must be removed to create the final desired layout. Due to litho limits and CMOS device scaling limits, 2D logic transistors are being replaced by 3D finFETs and eventually Gate-All-Around (GAA) horizontal nanowires (NW). Due to dielectric leakage at the atomic scale, 2D NAND memory is being replaced by 3D-NAND stacks. All of these advanced IC fab processes require the removal of atomic-scale materials with extreme selectivity to remaining materials, so the Selectra chamber is expected to be a future work-horse for the industry.

When the industry moves to GAA-NW transistors, alternating layers of Si and SiGe will be grown on the wafer surface, 2D patterned into fins, and then the sacrificial SiGe must be selectively etched to form 3D arrays of NW. Figure 2 shows the SiGe etched from alternating Si/SiGe stacks using a Selectra tool, with sharp Si corners after etch indicating excellent selectivity.

FIG 2: SEM cross-section showing excellent etch of SiGe within alternating Si/SiGe layers, as will be needed for Gate-All-Around (GAA) horizontal NanoWire (NW) transistor formation. (Source: Applied Materials)

“One of the fundamental differences between this system and old downstream plasma ashers, is that it was designed to provide extreme selectivity to different materials,” said Matt Cogorno, global product manager of Selective Removal Products for Applied Materials. “With this system we can provide silicon to titanium-nitride selectivity at 5000:1, or silicon to silicon-nitride selectivity at 2000:1. This is accomplished with the unique hardware architecture in the chamber combined with how we mix the chemistries. Also, there is no polymer formation in the etch process, so after etching there are no additional processing issues with the need for ashing and/or a wet-etch step to remove polymers.”

Systems can also be used to provide dry cleaning and surface-preparation due to the extreme selectivity and damage-free material removal.  “You can control the removal rates,” explained Cogorno. “You don’t have ions on the wafer, but you can modulate the number of radicals coming down.” For HVM of ICs with atomic-scale device structures, this new tool can widen process windows and reduce costs compared to both dry RIE and wet etching.

—E.K.

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