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Innovations at 7nm to Keep Moore’s Law Alive

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By Dave Lammers, Contributing Editor

Despite fears that Moore’s Law improvements are imperiled, the innovations set to come in at the 7nm node this year and next may disprove the naysayers. EUV lithography is likely to gain a toehold at the 7nm node, competing with multi-patterning and, if all goes well, shortening manufacturing cycles. Cobalt may replace tungsten in an effort to reduce resistance-induced delays at the contacts, a major challenge with finFET transistors, experts said.

While the industry did see a slowdown in Moore’s Law cost reductions when double patterning became necessary several years ago, Scotten Jones, who runs a semiconductor consultancy focused on cost analysis, said Intel and the leading foundries are back on track in terms of node-to-node cost improvements.

Speaking at the recent SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS), Jones said his cost modeling backs up claims made by Intel, GlobalFoundries, and others that their leading-edge processes deliver on die costs. Cost improvements stalled at TSMC for the16nm node due to multi-patterning, Jones said. “That pause at TSMC fooled a lot of people. The reality now may surprise those people who said Moore’s Law was dead. I don’t believe that, and many technologists don’t believe that either,” he said.

As Intel has adopted a roughly 2.5-year cadence for its more-aggressive node scaling, Jones said “the foundries are now neck and neck with Intel on density.” Intel has reached best-ever yield levels with its finFET-based process nodes, and the foundries also report reaching similar yield levels for their FinFET processes. “It is hard, working up the learning curve, but these companies have shown we can get there,” he said.

IC Knowledge cost models show the chip industry is succeeding in scaling density and costs. (Source: Scotten Jones presentation at 2017 SEMI ISS)

TSMC, spurred by its contract with Apple to supply the main iPhone processors, is expected to be first to ship its 7nm products late this year, though its design rules (contacted poly pitch and minimum metal pitch) are somewhat close to Intel’s 10nm node.

While TSMC and GlobalFoundries are expected to start 7nm production using double and quadruple patterning, they may bring in EUV lithography later. TSMC has said publicly it plans to exercise EUV in parallel with 193i manufacturing for the 7nm node. Samsung has put its stake in the ground to use EUV rather than quadruple patterning in 2018 for critical layers of its 7nm process. Jones, president of IC Knowledge LLC, said Intel will have the most aggressive CPP and MPP pitches for its 7nm technology, and is likely to use EUV in 2019-2020 to push its metal pitches to the minimum possible with EUV scanners.

EUV progress at imec

In an interview at the 62nd International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) in San Francisco in early December, An Steegen, the senior vice president of process technology at Imec (Leuven, Belgium), said Imec researchers are using an ASML NXE 3300B scanner with 0.3 NA optics and an 80-Watt power supply to pattern about 50 wafers per hour.

“The stability on the tool, the up time, has improved quite a lot, to 55 percent. In the best weeks we go well above 70 percent. That is where we are at today. The next step is a 125-Watt power supply, which should start rolling out in the field, and then 250 Watts.”

Steegen said progress is being made in metal-containing EUV resists, and in development of pellicles “which can withstand hydrogen in the chamber.”

If those challenges can be met, EUV would enable single patterning for vias and several metal layers in the middle of the line (MOL), using cut masks to print the metal line ends. “For six or seven thin wires and vias, at the full (7nm node) 32nm pitch, you can do it with a single exposure by going to EUV. The capability is there,” Steegen said.

TSMC’s 7nm development manager, S.Y. Wu, speaking at IEDM, said quadruple patterning and etch (4P4E) will be required for critical layers until EUV reaches sufficient maturity. “EUV is under development (at TSMC), and we will use 7nm as the test vehicle.”

Huiming Bu was peppered with questions following a presentation of the IBM Alliance 7nm technology at IEDM.

Huiming Bu, who presented the IBM Alliance 7nm paper at IEDM, said “EUV delivers significant depth of field (DoF) improvement” compared with the self-aligned quadruple (SAQP) required for the metal lines with immersion scanners.

A main advantage for EUV compared with multi-patterning is that designs would spend fewer days in the fabs. Speaking at ISS, Gary Patton, the chief technology officer at GlobalFoundries, said EUV could result in 30-day reductions in fab cycle times, compared with multiple patterning with 193nm immersion scanners, based on 1.5 days of cycle time per mask layer.

Moreover, EUV patterns would produce less variation in electrical performance and enable tighter process parameters, Patton said.

Since designers have become accustomed to using several colors to identify multi-patterning layers for the 14nm node, the use of double and quadruple patterning at the 7nm node would not present extraordinary design challenges. Moving from multi-patterning to EUV will be largely transparent to design teams as foundries move from multi-patterning to EUV for critical layers.

Interconnect resistance challenges

As interconnects scale and become more narrow, signals can slow down as electrons get caught up in the metal grain boundaries. Jones estimates that as much as 85 percent of parasitic capacitance is in the contacts.

For the main interconnects, nearly two decades ago, the industry began a switch from aluminum to copper. Tungsten has been used for the contacts, vias, and other metal lines near the transistor, partly out of concerns that copper atoms would “poison” the nearby transistors.

Tungsten worked well, partly because the bi-level liner – tantalum nitride at the interface with the inter-level dielectric (ILD) and tantalum at the metal lines – was successful at protecting against electromigration. The TaN-Ta liner is needed because the fluorine-based CVD processes can attack the silicon. For tungsten contacts, Ti serves to getter oxygen, and TiN – which has high resistance — serves as an oxygen and fluorine barrier.

However, as contacts and MOL lines shrunk, the thickness of the liner began to equal the tungsten metal thicknesses.

Dan Edelstein, an IBM fellow who led development of IBM’s industry-leading copper interconnect process, said a “pinch point” has developed for FinFETs at the point where contacts meet the middle-of-the-line (MOL) interconnects.

“With cobalt, there is no fluorine in the deposition process. There is a little bit of barrier, which can be either electroplated or deposited by CVD, and which can be polished by CMP. Cobalt is fairly inert; it is a known fab-friendly metal,” Edelstein said, due to its longstanding use as a silicide material.

As the industry evaluated cobalt, Edelstein said researchers have found that cobalt “doesn’t present a risk to the device. People have been dropping it in, and while there are still some bugs that need to be worked out, it is not that hard to do. And it gives a big change in performance,” he said.

Annealing advantages to Cobalt

Contacts are a “pinch point” and the industry may switch to cobalt (Source: Applied Materials)

An Applied Materials senior director, Mike Chudzik, writing on the company’s blog, said the annealing step during contact formation also favors cobalt: “It’s not just the deposition step for the bulk fill involved – there is annealing as well. Co has a higher thermal budget making it possible to anneal, which provides a superior, less granular fill with no seams and thus lowers overall resistance and improves yield,” Chudzik explained.

Increasing the volume of material in the contact and getting more current through is critical at the 7nm node. “Pretty much every chipmaker is working aggressively to alleviate this issue. They understand if it’s not resolved then it won’t matter what else is done with the device to try and boost performance,” Chudzik said.

Prof. Koike strikes again

Innovations underway at a Japanese university aim to provide a liner between the cobalt contact fill material and the adjacent materials. At a Sunday short course preceding the IEDM, Reza Arghavani of Lam Research said that by creating an alloy of cobalt and approximately 10 percent titanium, “magical things happen” at the interfaces for the contact, M0 and M1 layers.

The idea for adding titanium arose from Prof. Junichi Koike at Tohoku University, the materials scientist who earlier developed a manganese-copper solution for improved copper interconnects. For contacts and MOL, the Co-Ti liner prevents diffusion into the spacer oxide, Arghavani said. “There is no (resistance) penalty for the liner, and it is thermally stable, up to 400 to 500 degrees C. It is a very promising material, and we are working on it. W (tungsten) is being pushed as far as it can go, but cobalt is being actively pursued,” he said.

Stressor changes ahead

Presentations at the 2016 IEDM by the IBM Alliance (IBM, GlobalFoundries, and Samsung) described the use of a stress relaxed buffer (SRB) layer to induce stress, but that technique requires solutions for the defects introduced in the silicon layer above it. As a result of that learning process, SRB stress techniques may not come into the industry until the 5 nm node, or a second-generation 7nm node.

Technology analyst Dick James, based in Ottawa, said over the past decade companies have pushed silicon-germanium stressors for the PFET transistors about as far as practical.

“The stress mechanisms have changed since Intel started using SiGe at the 90nm node. Now, companies are a bit mysterious, and nobody is saying what they are doing. They can’t do tensile nitride anymore at the NFET; there is precious little room to put linear stress into the channel,” he said.

The SRB technique, James said, is “viable, but it depends on controlling the defects.” He noted that Samsung researchers presented work on defects at the IEDM in December. “That was clearly a research paper, and adding an SRB in production volumes is different than doing it in an R&D lab.”

James noted that scaling by itself helps maintain stress levels, even as the space for the stressor atoms becomes smaller. “If companies shorten the gate length and keep the same stress as before, the stress per nanometer at least maintains itself.”

Huiming Bu, the IBM researcher, was optimistic, saying that the IBM Alliance work succeeded at adding both compressive and tensile strain. The SRB/SSRW approach used by the IBM Alliance was “able to preserve a majority – 75 percent – of the stress on the substrate.”

Jones, the IC Knowledge analyst, said another area of intense interest in research is high-mobility channels, including the use of SiGe channel materials in the PMOS FinFETS.

He also noted that for the NMOS finFETs, “introducing tensile stress in fins is very challenging, with lots of integration issues.” Jones said using an SRB layer is a promising path, but added: “My point here is: Will it be implemented at 7 nm? My guess is no.”

Putting it in a package

Steegen said innovation is increasingly being done by the system vendors, as they figure out how to combine different ICs in new types of packages that improve overall performance.

System companies, faced with rising costs for leading-edge silicon, are figuring out “how to add functionality, by using packaging, SOC partitioning and then putting them together in the package to deliver the logic, cache, and IOs with the right tradeoffs,” she said.



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