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Roll-to-Roll Coating Technology: It’s a Different Ball of Wax

Monday, April 18th, 2016

Compiled and edited by Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Manufacturing flexible electronics and coatings for a variety of products has some similarities to semiconductor manufacturing and some substantial differences, principally roll-to-roll fabrication, as opposed to making chips on silicon wafers and other rigid substrates. This interview is with Neil Morrison, senior manager, Roll-to-Roll Coating Products Division, Applied Materials.

1. What are the leading market trends in roll-to-roll coating systems?

Neil Morrison: Several market trends are driving innovations in roll-to-roll technology and barrier films.  One is the flexible electronics market where we see the increasing use of film-based components within displays for portable electronic devices such as smartwatches, smartphones, tablets and laptops.

The majority of these passive applications are for anti-reflection films, optical polarizers and hard coat protected cover glass films.

Examples of active device applications include touch sensors. Roll-to-roll vacuum processing dominates this segment through the use of low-temperature deposited, optically matched layer stacks based on indium tin oxide (ITO). Roll-to-roll deposition of barrier film is also increasing with the emergence of quantum dot-enhanced LCD displays and the utilization of barrier films in organic light-emitting diode (OLED) lighting.

In addition to the electronics industry, roll-to-roll technology is used for food packaging and industrial coatings. What’s new today for food packaging is consumers want to be able to view the freshness of the food inside the packaging. Given this, the use of both aluminum foil and traditional roll-to-roll evaporated aluminum layers is slowly being phased into vacuum-deposited aluminum oxide (AlOx) coated packaging.

Within the industrial coatings market segment, significant growth is being driven by the use of Fabry-Perot color shift systems for “holographic” security applications, such as those used to protect printed currency from counterfeiting. This requires the use of electron-beam evaporation tooling to deposit highly uniform, optical quality dielectric materials sandwiched between two metallic reflector layers.

2. What are the leading technology trends in roll-to-roll coating systems?

Neil Morrison: Roll-to-roll coating is being extended to the display industry through the use of higher optical performance substrates with enhanced transmission, optical clarity and color neutrality. These materials are typically more difficult to handle than traditional polyethylene terephthalate (PET) substrates due to inherent properties and the properties of the primer and/or hard coat layers used to treat or protect their surface.

The majority of displays used in mobile applications are moving to thinner substrates, to reduce the “real estate” within the display and enable thinner form factor products and more space for larger batteries.

At the technology level, roll-to-roll sputter tooling dominates the touch panel industry with continual improvements in substrate handling, pre-treatment and inline process monitoring and control. Roll-to-roll chemical vapor deposition (CVD) equipment has also entered the marketplace to address high barrier requirements and to reduce cost compared with traditional sputter-based solutions. Roll-to-roll CVD technology is still in its infancy but is expected to become more prevalent in the near future within the barrier and hard coat market segments.

In the display industry, defect requirements are becoming more and more stringent and are moving towards metrics previously unseen in the roll-to-roll industry.

3. How would you best and briefly describe the Applied SmartWeb, Applied TopBeam, and Applied TopMet systems?

Neil Morrison: The Applied SmartWeb roll-to-roll modular sputtering or physical vapor deposition tool is used to deposit metals, dielectrics and transparent conductive oxides on polymeric substrates for the touch panel and optical coating industry. Its high-precision substrate conveyance system permits winding of polymeric substrates down to thickness levels of ~23 microns at speeds of up to 20 meters/minute depending upon the application. Up to six process compartments with separate gas flow control and pumping allow the deposition of complex layer stacks within a single pass.

Our Applied TopBeam system is a roll-to-roll e-beam evaporation tool used to deposit dielectrics on substrate thicknesses as low as 12 micron and at speeds up to approximately 10 meters/second.  Key to the tool is Applied’s unique electron-beam steering and control system, which provides excellent layer deposition and uniformity at exceptionally high processing speeds by permitting uniform and stable heating of the evaporant material  over the entire width of the substrate.

The Applied TopMet is a high-productivity roll-to-roll thermal evaporation platform available for depositing Al and AlOx layers on substrates down to 12 microns in thickness and is used primarily for food and industrial packaging.

Applied SmartWeb (Source: Applied Materials)

4. Who are Applied’s leading competitors in this market?

Neil Morrison: Other companies in the roll-to-roll market include Von Ardenne, Leybold Optics (Buehler), Schmid, Ulvac and Kobelco.

5. How big is the worldwide market on annual basis?

Neil Morrison: It is difficult to accurately size the entire roll-to-roll market because of the wide variety of applications across multiple industries from flexible electronics to food packaging. Just estimating the size of the market within the flexible electronics category alone is tough because there are three areas that combine to make up the current flexible electronics market – OLEDs for flexible displays, flexible printed circuit boards, and flexible touch panels for phones and tablets. And with applications continuing to grow, it is difficult to provide a specific market size.

Controlling Variabilities When Integrating IC Fab Materials

Friday, April 15th, 2016

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By Ed Korczynski, Senior Technical Editor, SemiMD/Solid State Technology

Semiconductor integrated circuit (IC) manufacturing has always relied upon the supply of critical materials from a global supply chain. Now that shrinks of IC feature sizes have begun to reach economic limits, future functionality improvements in ICs are increasingly derived from the use of new materials. The Critical Materials Conference 2016—to be held May 5-6 in Hillsboro, Oregon (cmcfabs.org)—will explore best practices in the integration of novel materials into manufacturing. Dr. David Thompson, Senior Director, Center of Excellence in Chemistry, Applied Materials will present on “Agony in New Material Introductions – minimizing and correlating variabilities,” which he was willing to discuss in advance with SemiMD.

Korczynski: With more and more materials being considered for use in high-volume manufacturing (HVM) of advanced ICs, how do you begin to selectively screen out materials that will not work for one reason or another to be able to reach the best new material for a target application?

Thompson: While there’s ‘no one size fits all’ solution to this, it typically starts with a review of what’s available and known about the current offerings. With respect to the talk at the CMC, we’ll review the challenges we run into after the materials system and chemistries are set and have been proven generally viable, but still require significant optimization in order to get acceptable yields for manufacturing. It’s a very long road from device proof of concept on a new materials system to a viable manufacturing process.

Korczynski: Since new materials are being considered for use on the atomic-scale in advanced devices, doesn’t all of this have to be done with control at the atomic scale?

Thompson: For the material on the chip, many mainstream analytical techniques are used to achieve atomic level control including TEMs and AFMs with atomic resolution during film development for many applications. Unfortunately, this resolution is not available for the chemicals we’re relying on to deposit these materials. For a typical precursor that weighs in the 200 Dalton range, a gram of precursor may have 5 × 1020 molecules. That’s a lot of molecules. Even with ppb (109) resolutions on analytical, you’re still dealing with invisible populations of >1010 molecules. It gets worse. While trace metals analysis can hit ppb levels, molecular analysis techniques are typically limited in the 0.1 to 0.01 percent resolutions for most semiconductor precursors and there may be impurities which are invisible to routine analytical techniques.

Ultimately, we rely on analytical techniques to control the gross parameters and disciplined process controls to verify suppliers produce the same compositions the same way, and to manage impurities. On the process and hardware side, it’s like threading the needle trying to get the right film at the right throughput, in a process space that’s as tolerant as possible to the inevitable variability in these chemistries.

Korczynski: With all of this investment in developing one specialty material supplier for advanced IC manufacturing, what is the cost to develop and qualify a second source?

Thompson: Generally, it’s not sustainable to release a product with dual specialty material sources. The problem with dual-sourcing is chemical suppliers protect their knowledge—not simple IP—but also their sub-supply-chains and proprietary methods of production, transport and delivery. However, given how trace elements in the formulation can change depending on conditions the molecules experience over time, the customer in many cases needs to develop two separate sub-recipes based on the specific vendor’s chemistry they are using. So, redundancy in the supply chain is prudent as is making sure the vendor can produce the material in different locations.

There are countless examples over the last 20 years of what I like to call ‘the agony of the supply-chain’ when a process got locked into using a material when the only supply was from a Ph.D. chemist making it in small batches in a lab. In most cases the initial batch of any new molecule is made at a scale that would fit in a coffee mug. Sometimes though scaling up the first industrial-scale batch can alter impurity factors that change yields on the wafer even with improved purification. So while a customer would like to keep using a small batch production, it’s not sustainable but trying to qualify a second vendor in this environment presents significant challenges.

Korczynski: Can you share an example with us of how your team brought a source of subtle variation under control?

Thompson: We had a process using a new metal film, and in the early development everything looked great. Eventually we observed a drift of process results that was more pronounced with some ampoules and less so with others. The root cause initially eluded us. Then, a bright Ph.D. on our team said it’s interesting that the supplier did not report a particular contaminant that would tend to be present as a byproduct of the reaction. The supplier confirmed it was present and variable at concentrations in the 100-300 ppm concentration in the blend. This contaminant was relatively more volatile than the main component due to vapor pressure differences and much more reactive with the substrate/wafer. It was found this variability in the chemistry induced the process variation on the wafer (as shown in Figure 1).

FIGURE 1. RESOLUTION OF SEQUENTIAL WAFER DRIFT VIA IMPURITY MANAGEMENT

Chasing impurities and understanding their impact requires rigor and a lot of data collection. There’s no Star Trek analyzer we can use to give us knowledge of all impurities present and the role of those impurities on the process. Many impurities are invisible to routine analytical techniques, so we work very closely with vendors to establish a chemistry analytical protocol for each precursor that may consist of 5-10 different techniques. For the impurities we can’t detect we rely on excellent manufacturing process control and sub-supply sourcing management.

Korczynski: Is the supply-chain for advanced precursors for deposition and etch supplying everything we need in early R&D?

Thompson: New precursor ideation—the science that leads to new classes of compounds with new reactivity that Roy Gordon, or more recently Chuck Winter, have  been doing in academia is critically important and while there are a few academics doing excellent work in this space, in general there’s not enough focus on this topic.While we see many IP protected molecules, too often they are obvious simple modifications to one skilled in the art, consisting of merely adding a functional group off of a ring, or mixing and matching known ligand systems. We don’t see a lot of disruptive chemistries. The industry is hunting for differentiated reactivity, and evolutionary precursor development approaches generally aren’t sufficiently disruptive. While this research is useful in terms of tuning a vapor pressure or thermal stability it only very rarely produces a differentiated reactivity.

Korczynski: Do we need new methodologies to more efficiently manage all of this?

Thompson: Applied has made significant investments over the last 5 years to help accelerate the readiness of new materials across the board. One of the best things about working at Applied is the rate at which we can learn and build an ecosystem around a new material. With our strength in chemistry, deposition, CMP, etch, metrology and a host of other technologies, we get a fast, strong feedback loop going to accelerate issue discovery, resolution and general learning around new materials.

On the chemical supply-chain front, the need is making sure that chemical vendors accelerate their analytical chemistry development on new materials. Correlating the variability of chemistry to process results and ultimately yield is the real battle. The more knowledge we have of a chemistry moving into development, the faster learning can occur. I explain to my team that we can’t be proactive and respond to things we didn’t anticipate. Situations where trying to develop the analytical technique to see the impurity responsible for causing (or resolving) a variability is to start out at a significant disadvantage. However, we’ve seen a good response from suppliers on new materials and significant improvement on the early learnings necessary to minimize the agony of new material introductions.

3D Chips, New Packaging Challenge Metrology and Inspection Gear

Monday, March 21st, 2016

Compiled and edited by Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Metrology and inspection technology is growing more complicated as device dimensions continue to shrink. Discussing crucial trends in the field are Lior Engel, vice president of the Imaging and Process Control Group at Applied Materials, and Elvino da Silveira, vice president of marketing, Rudolph Technologies.

1. What are the latest market trends in metrology and inspection?

Lior Engel, Applied Materials: The market trends we are witnessing today are influenced by the memory mix growth in wafer fab equipment and emergence of technology inflections as the industry progresses to advanced nodes and 3D device architectures. The optical inspection market is growing along with wafer fab equipment. We have seen the memory mix of wafer fab equipment grow from 23 percent in 2012 to almost 50 percent in 2015. The memory growth trend along with the transition from planar to 3D NAND changes the dynamics, as 3D NAND in general requires more metrology solutions while the foundries are maintaining high demand for optical wafer inspection. Demand for electron-beam products is increasing for all device types.

Shrinking design rules and shrinking process windows translate to systematic defects becoming a critical issue. These can hinder time to yield and affect production yields. The interaction between the design and process can fail under certain process conditions, and the resulting small defects are extremely difficult to find. Challenges such as these are fueling the need for both optical and e-beam inspection solutions in the fab. These different solutions complement each other and help the fab throughout the entire chip lifecycle. From a market perspective, the e-beam inspection market continues to grow and outperform WFE. E-beam inspection is currently focused at the R&D stage but is beginning to shift to high-volume manufacturing.

The metrology market is also growing due to multi-patterning requirements, the need for increased measurement points and tighter process window control. The advent of e-beam massive metrology tools provides a solution for process monitoring and uniformity control. Also driving the market are the ever increasing high aspect ratio (HAR) 3D NAND devices in memory and the increasing complexity in 3D FinFET metrology in foundry.

The workhorse metrology solutions include CD-SEM for multi-patterning controls and HAR memory, and optical critical-dimension (OCD) addressing spacer profile reconstruction in multi-patterning and full device characterization in FinFET.

Elvino da Silveira, Rudolph Technologies: In our experience, fan-out wafer level packaging (FOWLP) is a big trend for our customers. FOWLP does not require a substrate, so the lower cost makes it an attractive packaging technique over 2.5D or embedded interposers. There is a wide range of low- to high-end FOWLP applications, such as MCP/SiP, PoP, and 2.5D FOWLP, each requiring specific inspection/metrology techniques.

Further, we see submicron inspection as a big trend fueled by shrink. More than Moore is driving creative packaging that requires inspection of shrinking redistribution (RDL) lines. Miniaturization and multiple functions packaging, driven by the wearables and Internet of Things market, creates more emphasis on microelectromechanical system (MEMS) devices and sensors. Also, shrinking nodes in the front-end have shifted macro inspection needs to the submicron level.

With regards to front-end metrology trends, 3D is the driver. Second- and third-generation FinFET and 3D memory (both DRAM and NAND) are the key market drivers for front-end logic and memory.  We are also seeing radio-frequency (RF), MEMS, and CMOS image sensors (CIS) move to adopt the latest generation of metrology as they compete to improve their processes and gain market share.

2. What are the latest technology trends in metrology/inspection?

Lior Engel, Applied Materials: Inflection challenges that are affecting M&I technology trends include:

 Design rules shrinking causing denser feature imaging and the advent of smaller killer defects

 3D transistors having more complex geometries, trenches and sidewalls. There is no line of sight to the killer defects and new materials are being introduced

  •  HAR structures introducing buried defects and new metrology challenges
  •  Process marginality resulting in critical systematic defects that require metrology coverage

In optical inspection, the technology trends addressing growing challenges include sensitivity improvement by enhancing the signal from key defects of interest. This can be achieved by enhancing imaging techniques and nuisance separation capabilities. In addition, leveraging design information (CAD) and optical information to optimize nuisance filtering.

For e-beam applications, which include SEM review, CD-SEM metrology and e-beam inspection, trends include:

 Adding on-tool automatic classification and analysis capabilities, which result in more meaningful statistical process control (SPC) and yield control. Automation produces faster enhanced results, reducing human error and speeding up the process

 Achieving 1-nanometer e-beam resolution and the availability of new imaging techniques are being utilized for finding the smaller defects in complex structures

  •  e-beam massive critical dimension (CD) measurements are being used for uniformity control
  •  e-beam voltage contrast inspection is increasingly required for embedded defects in 3D structures
  •  In-die on-device 3D and overlay measurements are challenging current optical metrology techniques, and trending towards new in-line solutions such as e-beam.

Elvino da Silveira, Rudolph Technologies: Increasingly complex front-end processes paired with “More than Moore” advanced packaging techniques are resulting in die-level stress. Product loss at assembly is extremely expensive since it’s one of the last steps in the process. Singulation excursions can manifest as a yield problem, but most often result as a reliability problem making them harder to detect and control. Traditional automated optical inspection (AOI) has been focused on active die areas rather than total chip area and is somewhat difficult and prone to overkill. Rudolph has developed a method to detect and monitor wafer chipping without extra investment or tool process time.

We solve the AOI inspection challenges by specifically monitoring the die seal ring while simultaneously inspecting both the active area and remaining kerf area, avoiding any throughput penalty. With our high-sensitivity/low-noise pattern-based inspection, customers can decide how close chips can occur relative to the seal ring. Judgements can be made about die quality based on certain characteristics (distance between die, die rotation, etc.). Lastly, customers can review image capture in both visible and infrared (IR).

Another inspection technology trend we see is the need for detection of non-visible/low-contrast killer defects in 3DIC flows. A 3D stacked IC flow may require a combination of through-silicon via (TSV) formation followed by die-stacking and molding. TSV interconnect formation flow will require processes such as via etch, via fill, nail reveal, copper pillar, wafer bonding, and debonding. A comprehensive process control strategy for such a complex flow requires multiple inspection and metrology approaches. Bright-field and dark-field detection is the baseline inspection technology for random and systematic defects. As the processes for TSV take on a more fab-like look, and are implemented in what is now being called the middle end, attention is turning to defects that are normally not visible. Examples of non-visible defects range from voids in TSVs to faint organic residues and incomplete etch on the bump pad. Voids can be detected using laser acoustic metrology. Laser acoustics also offer a unique solution for measuring the individual layers in a pillar bump stack to ensure tight process control and device yield. Organic residue-based defects have been tedious to detect using manual fluorescent microscopes. Now a more reliable approach to detecting organic defects is possible using automated high-speed fluorescent imaging based inspection. The strategy of combining bright-field, dark-field inspection with automated fluorescent imaging inspection, laser acoustics and software to analyze defect and metrology data has proved to be a cost effective approach to managing visible and non-visible defects in advanced assembly flows.

Advanced patterning of three-dimensional gate structures and memory cells is driving the need for advanced metrology techniques. Some of which have not been developed yet! Optical CD, X-ray, and acoustic metrologies are all at the leading edge. Optical wavelength ranges are now upwards of 20 microns to deal with thick multilayer memory stacks. Missing layer detection and the ability to measure ultrathin metal stacks with complicated interface characteristics are also challenges faced by our customers.

3. How are equipment vendors helping find defects in the nanoscale era?

Lior Engel, Applied Materials: Vendors must combine enhanced resolution, advanced imaging, and smarter applications into their offerings to meet the increasingly complex requirements from chipmakers as they transition to advanced nodes and 3D devices. E-beam and optical inspection solutions must become faster and more sensitive.

Metrology solutions are being used beyond traditional systematic process control, generating massive high-sensitivity data that is leveraged for predictive analysis.

In addition, as challenges grow, advanced applications leveraging design data and machine learning capabilities improve the overall results that the tools can deliver.

Elvino da Silveira, Rudolph Technologies: Those suppliers that can not only provide the required technology, but also provide the ability to take multiple points of data from across the fab, analyze that data, and make it actionable. True end-to-end process control that reduces time-to-ramp and improves ramp to yield—this is the value proposition that Rudolph offers its customers.

4. How is the 2016 market shaping up?

Lior Engel, Applied Materials: As was stated in Applied’s latest earnings call, our market outlook, taking into account the global economic climate, is that wafer fab equipment spending levels in 2016 will be similar to 2015. Driving industry investment are the technology inflections around 10-nanometer and the shift to 3D NAND, as well as increased spending in China.

Elvino da Silveira, Rudolph Technologies: Although Gartner is forecasting a flat 2016, Rudolph is uniquely positioned in both the front-end and true back-end semiconductor processes in a number of growth markets. Additionally, our new product pipeline is strong.

We see an opportunity to outperform our peers in 2016.

5. Is business improving, declining, or staying flat this year?

Lior Engel, Applied Materials: While the overall spending trend for WFE this year is flat, we are maintaining a positive outlook for Applied in 2016 because our customers are making strategic inflection-driven investments that play to our strengths. Our position is optimistic on wafer inspection for 2016. Our latest UVision Brightfield tool has a good position in foundry and logic. We’re the leader in e-beam review and are now taking that technology into inspection where we have significant pull from customers. So I think overall in 2016, we’re pretty optimistic about that business.

The Future Is Flexible and Printed

Friday, March 4th, 2016

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Automotive electronics, the Internet of Things, wearable gadgets, and other emerging chip markets are also expected to provide growth for flexible electronics, which often share manufacturing processes and materials with semiconductors.

Such applications were the talk of this week’s 2016FLEX Conference & Exhibition in Monterey, Calif. Printed and hybrid electronics were also on offer in the technical presentations and the compact exhibition area on the mezzanine level of the Monterey Marriott, where the conference was held while the Monterey Conference Center across Del Monte Avenue undergoes a year-long reconstruction project.

The Monterey Marriott and the Monterey Conference Center. (Credit: Jeff Dorsch)

Autonomous vehicles, connected cars, and the IoT are driving demand and innovation in flexible, hybrid, and printed electronics, according to Harry Zervos, principal analyst and business development manager for North America at IDTechEx, the market research, business intelligence, consulting, and events firm.

These new forms provide the capability to “add electronics to more and more mundane things,” he noted.

IDTechEx estimates the printed, flexible, and organic electronics market was worth a total of $24.5 billion in 2015. Organic light-emitting diode displays accounted for the lion’s share, at $15.3 billion. While OLEDs typically are not printed electronics, they stand to lead to flexible displays in the future, according to IDTechEx.

Sensors, mostly glucose test strips, represented $6.6 billion in revenue last year, while conductive inks provided $2.3 billion during 2015.

The market research firm forecasts printed electronics will increase from $8.8 billion in 2015 to $14.9 billion in 2025. Products made on flexible substrates are projected to grow from $6.4 billion last year to $23.5 billion in the next decade.

Market researchers have predicted “billions of sensors” will be sold in the next few years, including sensors for smartphones, Zervos said.  Smartphones will be “becoming flexible, more robust, foldable,” he added.

He is looking ahead to a time of flexible sensors and perhaps flexible microelectromechanical system devices to enable those flexible phones.

Flexible, hybrid, and printed electronics will provide “innovation in form factors, allowing designers to come up with new ideas on what devices could look like,” Zervos said in an interview. Such innovation will lead to “more excitement, higher profit margins,” he added.

This will depend on “an interoperable ecosystem” between the mature semiconductor industry and the nascent flexible electronics industry, Zervos said.

Molex was among the exhibitors at this week’s conference. The company was acquired in late 2013 for $7.2 billion by Koch Industries. Nearly a year ago, Molex acquired certain assets of Silogie, a supplier of flexible and printed electronics for consumer goods, industrial, lighting, medical, and military applications.

During the technical program on Wednesday afternoon, John Heitzinger — Molex’s general manager of printed electronics — described products the company has developed for the structural health monitoring of advanced ammunition, building monitoring systems, and physiological monitoring, the last on behalf of the U.S. Air Force. In working on functionalized carbon nanotubes for detecting and sensing lactate, Molex collaborated with American Semiconductor, Brewer Science, and Northeastern University, he said.

Neil Morrison of Applied Materials WEB Coating presented Wednesday morning on “’Packaging’ of Moisture Sensitive Materials Used in New Form Factor Display Products.” He is manager of research and development in Energy & Environmental Solutions for the Applied Materials unit, based in Alzenau, Germany.

Applied has a 40-year history is supplying chemical vapor deposition equipment for semiconductor manufacturing, he noted, and now offers plasma-enhanced CVD for displays and roll-to-roll CVD for advanced flexible electronics.

For quantum dots and wearables, “you need a barrier solution,” especially multilayer barrier stacks, Morrison said.

He recommended PECVD for manufacturing with silicon nitride, and critical roll-to-roll CVD requirements for high-performance barrier films.

For high-volume manufacturing of roll-to-roll barriers, “process monitoring and control is key,” Morrison said.

Flexible, hybrid, and printed electronics are clearly becoming a big and growing market. How companies take advantage of this market opportunity may be critical to their future.

Slowdown in Equipment Business Hits Applied’s Quarterly Results

Friday, February 19th, 2016

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Applied Materials reported net income of $286 million on revenue of $2.257 billion for the fiscal first quarter ended January 31, compared with net income of $348 million on revenue of $2.359 billion in the same quarter of a year ago.  Orders in Q1 were $2.275 billion, flat with $2.273 billion a year earlier.

Applied said foundry customers accounted for 38 percent of orders in the first quarter of fiscal 2016, while DRAM manufacturers represented 29 percent, flash memory suppliers 22 percent, and logic/others 11 percent. One year ago, orders were evenly split between foundry and DRAM customers, at 34 percent for each segment.

The 4 percent reduction in Q1 revenue, year over year, reflects the current softness in the semiconductor equipment business. SEMI’s book-to-bill ratio for North American equipment suppliers has been below parity for the last three months, with a preliminary figure of 0.99 in January, subject to revision.

“As the market moves into the sweet spot for Applied’s materials engineering technology, we see strong demand for our semiconductor, display and service businesses,” Gary Dickerson, Applied’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We are maintaining a positive outlook for 2016 as our customers make strategic, inflection-driven investments that play to our strengths.”

Dickerson told analysts Wednesday, “We are growing beyond semiconductor.” Applied’s display business is being driven by the industry’s move to organic light-emitting diode displays, he said.

An OLED fabrication facility represents three times the potential spending on equipment for an amorphous silicon liquid crystal display plant, according to Dickerson. “I am confident about our growth,” he said. The company’s etch and chemical vapor deposition businesses are “making significant gains,” the CEO added.

While there are “global economic risks” in 2016, similar to those in 2015, 10-nanometer chips and 3D NAND flash memory devices are creating demand for production equipment, along with “increased spending in China” by domestic and foreign companies, Dickerson said. “There is a fierce battle for leadership in these new device categories,” he commented.

Capital spending at the silicon foundries in 2016 will be at “levels more or less the same as last year,” Dickerson added. Their capital expenditures for 10nm ICs is expected to pick up in the second half of calendar 2016, he predicted.

NAND flash investment will be up 25 percent from 2015, particularly for 3D NAND, Dickerson said. The “heavy DRAM investment” of 2015 will cool off this year, falling about 20 percent in 2016, he added.  Logic spending will be “relatively flat, year over year,” he said.

Bob Halliday, the company’s senior vice president and chief financial officer, forecast net income in the fiscal second quarter would be in the range of 30 to 34 cents per share, compared with 25 cents per share in Q1 and 28 cents per share in the first quarter of fiscal 2015. Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S said analysts were expecting an average of 26 cents per share for Q2.

Worldwide spending on wafer fabrication equipment will be flat in 2016, compared with 2015, Halliday said. “We expect our share to increase,” he added.

The Applied Global Services business is in its third year of growth and display is in its fourth year of growth, the CFO noted.

China Bolsters its IC Gear Business with Mattson Acquisition

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Mattson Technology agreed this month to be acquired by Beijing E-Town Dragon Semiconductor Industry Investment Center, a limited partnership in China, for about $300 million in cash. The deal marks one of the first signs that the “Made in China 2025” policy will include targeting semiconductor production equipment as an element in bolstering the domestic chip business in the People’s Republic of China.

Brad Mattson, CEO

Mattson supplies dry strip, etch, millisecond anneal, and rapid thermal processing equipment for semiconductor manufacturing. The company was founded in 1988 by Brad Mattson, who earlier established Novellus Systems, acquired by Lam Research in 2012.

Mattson served as the company’s chief executive officer until 2001, and was its vice chairman until 2002. He later became a partner at VantagePoint Capital Partners and now serves as the CEO of Siva Power, a solar startup originally known as Solexant.

In 2014, Mattson Technology posted net income of $9.88 million on revenue of $178.4 million, after being unprofitable for the previous four years. Samsung Electronics accounted for about 61 percent of net revenue last year; Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing were its leading customers in 2013.

China represented nearly 10 percent of Mattson’s revenue in 2014, a percentage that may rise once the acquisition transaction is completed in early 2016, pending shareholder and regulatory approval.

Mattson Technology has remained profitable this year, reporting net income of more than $2 million on revenue of $38.9 million for the third quarter ending September 27, compared with net income of $2.6 million on revenue of $43.3 million for the same quarter of 2014.

For the first nine months of 2015, the company posted net income of $10.9 million on revenue of $140.5 million, compared with net income of $4.9 million on revenue of $123.7 million in the like period of 2014.

In the dry strip market, Mattson competes with Lam Research and PSK. Its principal competitors in thermal annealing are Applied Materials, Dainippon Screen Manufacturing, and Ultratech. Etch rivals are Applied, Lam, and Tokyo Electron, according to Mattson’s 10-K annual report for 2014.

G. Dan Hutcheson, VLSI Research Inc.

“The Chinese are trying to develop their own semiconductor equipment business,” said G. Dan Hutcheson, chairman and CEO of VLSIresearch. Buying a company like Mattson is “a great way to start,” he added.

Recalling the 1980s, Hutcheson commented, “Mattson was one of the really go-go companies at the time.” There were 10 to 20 vendors in every segment, he recalled. With industry consolidation of equipment suppliers, “it’s become harder for companies like that,” he said. “You almost have to be a billion-dollar company” to stand out in the market these days, Hutcheson added.

Fusen Chen, Mattson’s president and CEO, “has been a shot in the arm, turning it around,” Hutcheson said about the company. “It’s hard to have differentiation from Applied and Lam.”

Noting the dominance of Samsung and TSMC among Mattson’s customer base, Hutcheson said, “There’s only three customers” – those two chipmakers and Intel. “Those guys can develop their own technology,” he added.

Having Mattson as an equipment supplier helps “keep the competition honest,” Hutcheson noted.

The veteran industry observer said such a deal is “good for the Chinese.” The country aspires to become a world leader in computers, networks and telecommunications, without having to import most of the semiconductors it needs. “You can’t do that without semiconductors,” Hutcheson added.

The fabless semiconductor business in China has grown tremendously in this decade. “No one’s graduating designers like China is,” Hutcheson said. “They get their PhDs in the U.S., their visas expire, and we tell them, ‘go back home.’”

China is following the example of South Korea and Taiwan in building up an electronics industry with a comprehensive supply chain, although not all Asian countries have done well in fostering semiconductor equipment vendors, according to Hutcheson.

“It’s a real classical error” to assume that semiconductor production equipment is merely hardware that is easy to design and manufacture, Hutcheson commented. “It’s not just stuff made in a machine shop,” he added, noting the need for extensive software in IC gear.

At its size, “Mattson is one of the last companies you can buy,” Hutcheson concluded.

Got MEMS? Get In Touch With memsstar For Production Equipment

Friday, July 17th, 2015

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

As you might guess from the company’s name, memsstar is involved in microelectromechanical system (MEMS) devices. The company offers manufacturing equipment for “MEMS-specific production,” says CEO Tony McKie.

Based in Livingston, Scotland, memsstar wants to help in making “MEMS on top of silicon,” he adds.

“There are no such things as standard MEMS,” McKie notes. “MEMS are becoming more complicated.”

While most people are familiar with the MEMS devices in smartphones, like accelerometers and pressure sensors, the Internet of Things will call for different kinds of MEMS and other products, according to McKie. “You need hardware to do that,” he says of IoT. “The rest is filled by software.”

McKie estimates the worldwide market for MEMS production equipment is currently worth about $10 million to $15 million a year. “It’s a growing market,” he says. IoT and other new technologies call for “more and more things that are not CMOS-related,” he adds. Producing new types of MEMS will likely see the startup of more 200-millimeter wafer fabrication facilities, according to McKie.

The primary competitor of memsstar is the SPTS Technologies subsidiary of Orbotech, McKie says.

The company is also involved in refurbishing and remanufacturing deposition and etch equipment from such vendors as Applied Materials, Lam Research, and Novellus Systems (now part of Lam), while providing spare parts for those systems.

Founded in 2003 as Point 35 Microstructures, memsstar received an investment from Albion Ventures in 2007, and has since been a self-funded company, McKie says.

Applied Materials’ Olympia ALD Spins Powerful New Capabilities

Monday, July 13th, 2015

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By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

Applied Materials today unveiled the Applied Olympia ALD system, using thermal sequential-ALD technology for the high-volume manufacturing (HVM) of leading-edge 3D memory and logic chips. Strictly speaking this is a mini-batch tool, since four 300mm wafers are loaded onto a turn-table in the chamber that continuously rotates through four gas-isolated modular processing zones. Each zone can be configured to flow any arbitrary ALD precursor or to exposure the surface to Rapid-Thermal-Processing (RTP) illumination, so an extraordinary combination of ALD processes can be run in the tool. “What are the applications that will result from this? We don’t know yet because the world has never before had a tool which could provide these capabilities,” said David Chu, Strategic Marketing, Applied’s Dielectric Systems and Modules group.

Fig.1: The four zones within the Olympia sequential-ALD chamber can be configured to use any combination of precursors or treatments. (Source: Applied Materials)

Figure 1 shows that in addition to a high-throughput simple ALD process such that wafers would rotate through A-B-A-B precursors in sequence, or zones configured in an A-B-C-B sequence to produce a nano-laminate such as Zirconia-Alumina-Zirconia (ZAZ), almost any combination of pre- and post-treatments can be used. The gas-panel and chemical source sub-systems in the tool allow for the use up to 4 precursors. Consequently, Olympia opens the way to depositing the widest spectrum of next-generation atomic-scale conformal films including advanced patterning films, higher- and lower-k dielectrics, low-temperature films, and nano-laminates.

“The Olympia system overcomes fundamental limitations chipmakers are experiencing with conventional ALD technologies, such as reduced chemistry control of single-wafer solutions and long cycle times of furnaces,” Dr. Mukund Srinivasan, vice president and general manager of Applied’s Dielectric Systems and Modules group. “Because of this, we’re seeing strong market response, with Olympia systems installed at multiple customers to support their move to 10nm and beyond.” Future device structures will need more and more conformal ALD, as new materials will have to coat new 3D features.

When engineering even-smaller structures using ALD, thermal budgets inherently decrease to prevent atomic inter-diffusion. Compared to thermal ALD, Plasma-Enhanced ALD (PEALD) functions at reduced temperatures but tend to induce impurities in the film because of excess energy in the chamber. The ability of Olympia to do RTP for each sequentially deposited atomic-layer leads to final film properties that are inherently superior in defectivity levels to PEALD films at the same thermal budget:  alumina, silica, silicon-nitride, titania, and titanium-nitride depositions into high aspect-ratio structures have been shown.

Purging (from the tool) pump-purge

Fab engineers who have to deal with ALD technology—from process to facilities—should be very happy working with Olympia because the precursors flow through the chamber continuously instead of having to use the pump-purge sequences typical of single-wafer and mini-batch ALD tools used for IC fabrication. Pump-purge sequences in ALD tools result in the following wastes:

*   Wasted chemistry since tools generally shunt precursor-A past the chamber directly to the pump-line when precursor-B is flowing and vice-versa,

*   More wasted chemistry because the entire chamber gets coated along with the wafer,

*   Wasted cleaning chemistry during routine chamber and pump preventative-maintenance,

*   Wasted downtime to clean the chamber and pump, and

*   Wasted device yield because precursors flowing in the same space at different times can accidentally overlap and create defects.

“Today there are chemistries that are more or less compatible with tools,” reminded Chu. “When you try to use less-compatible chemistries, the purge times in single-wafer tools really begin to reduce the productivity of the process. There are chemistries out there today that would be desirable to use that are not pursued due to the limitations of pump-purge chambers.”

—E.K.

Solid State Watch: June 19-25, 2015

Friday, June 26th, 2015
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New Applied PVD system targets TiN hardmasks for 10nm, 7nm chips

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Applied Materials today introduces the Applied Endura Cirrus HTX PVD, a physical vapor deposition system for creating titanium nitride hardmask films that could be used in fabricating 10-nanometer and 7nm chips.

“Titanium nitride is the metal hardmask of choice,” harder than copper and nearly as hard as diamond, says Sree Kesapragada, Applied’s global product manager for Metal Deposition Products.

“Patterning plays key role in defining the interconnect,” Kesapragada says. “Perfect via alignment is critical for device yield. Hardmask ensures the perfect via alignment critical for yield.”

The hardmasks created with the Endura Cirrus HTX TiN system strike the required balance between neutral stress and film density hardness, he asserts. The TiN hardmask, meant to resist the erosion of etching, helps ensure that via etches land where they are supposed to, and not too close to neighboring vias, which can creates shorts.

Metal hardmask layer manages alignment errors.

Applied has worked with customers at multiple sites in developing the new PVD system over the past two to three years, according to Kesapragada. He emphasizes that the Cirrus HTX TiN system offers “precision control over TiN crystal growth,” as the process chamber is “designed for tensile high-density TiN films.” The new PVD system enables high density, tensile films thanks to a high level of ionization during deposition made possible by a high frequency source.

High film desnity is needed to prevent erosion, and a neutral-to-tensile stress is needed for pattern fidelity. CVD/ALD films have tensile stress, but are low density. Traditionally deposited TiN films have good density, but compressive stress.

The formation of “islands” of TiN crystals is almost like chemical vapor deposition, “layer by layer,” Kesapragada says, “in a PVD chamber.”

In the process chamber, the first of its kind, titanium atoms are reactively sputtered in a nitrogen-based plasma, allowing for tunable composition, according to Applied. This chamber can be used for high-volume manufacturing of semiconductors with 7nm features, covering two process-node generations, Kesapragada says.

There is also “very established integration” with chemical mechanical planarization equipment, he adds.

Applied is the market leader in TiN PVD systems, with more than 200 systems shipped, according to Kesapragada. Those PVD systems have more than 700 process chambers, he adds.

The Endura Cirrus HTX TiN PVD system is being formally introduced this week at the IEEE’s 2015 International Interconnect Technology Conference in Grenoble, France.

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