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Many Mixes to Match Litho Apps

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016


By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

“Mix and Match” has long been a mantra for lithographers in the deep-sub-wavelength era of IC device manufacturing. In general, forming patterns with resolution at minimum pitch as small as 1/4 the wavelength of light can be done using off-axis illumination (OAI) through reticle enhancement techniques (RET) on masks, using optical proximity correction (OPC) perhaps derived from inverse lithography technology (ILT). Lithographers can form 40-45nm wide lines and spaces at the same half-pitch using 193nm light (from ArF lasers) in a single exposure.

Figure 1 shows that application-specific tri-layer photoresists are used to reach the minimum resolution of 193nm-immersion (193i) steppers in a single exposure. Tighter half-pitch features can be created using all manner of multi-patterning processes, including Litho-Etch-Litho-Etch (LELE or LE2) using two masks for a single layer or Self-Aligned Double Patterning (SADP) using sidewall spacers to accomplish pitch-splitting. SADP has been used in high volume manufacturing (HVM) of logic and memory ICs for many years now, and Self-Aligned Quadruple Patterning (SAQP) has been used in HVM by at least one leading memory fab.

Fig.1: Basic tri-layer resist (TLR) technology uses thin Photoresist over silicon-containing Hard-Mask over Spin-On Carbon (SOC), for patterning critical layers of advanced ICs. (Source: Brewer Science)

Next-Generation Lithography (NGL) generally refers to any post-optical technology with at least some unique niche patterning capability of interest to IC fabs:  Extreme Ultra-Violet (EUV), Directed Self-Assembly (DSA), and Nano-Imprint Lithography (NIL). Though proponents of each NGL have dutifully shown capabilities for targeted mask layers for logic or memory, the capabilities of ArF dry and immersion (ArFi) scanners to process >250 wafers/hour with high uptime dominates the economics of HVM lithography.

The world’s leading lithographers gather each year in San Jose, California at SPIE’s Advanced Lithography conference to discuss how to extend optical lithography. So of all the NGL technologies, which will win out in the end?

It is looking most likely that the answer is “all of the above.” EUV and NIL could be used for single layers. For other unique patterning application, ArF/ArFi steppers will be used to create a basic grid/template which will be cut/trimmed using one of the available NGL. Each mask layer in an advanced fab will need application-specific patterning integration, and one of the rare commonalities between all integrated litho modules is the overwhelming need to improve pattern overlay performance.

Naga Chandrasekaran, Micron Corp. vice president of Process R&D, provided a fantastic overview of the patterning requirements for advanced memory chips in a presentation during Nikon’s LithoVision technical symposium held February 21st in San Jose, California prior to the start of SPIE-AL. While resolution improvements are always desired, in the mix-and-match era the greatest challenges involve pattern overlay issues. “In high volume manufacturing, every nanometer variation translates into yield loss, so what is the best overlay that we can deliver as a holistic solution not just considering stepper resolution?” asks Chandrasekaran. “We should talk about cost per nanometer overlay improvement.”

Extreme Ultra-Violet (EUV)

As touted by ASML at SPIE-AL, the brightness and stability and availability of tin-plasma EUV sources continues to improve to 200W in the lab “for one hour, with full dose control,” according to Michael Lercel, ASML’s director of strategic marketing. ASML’s new TWINSCAN NXE:3350B EUVL scanners are now being shipped with 125W power sources, and Intel and Samsung Electronics reported run their EUV power sources at 80W over extended periods.

During Nikon’s LithoVision event, Mark Phillips, Intel Fellow and Director of Lithography Technology Development for Logic, summarized recent progress of EUVL technology:  ~500 wafers-per-day is now standard, and ~1000 wafer-per-day can sometimes happen. However, since grids can be made with ArFi for 1/3 the cost of EUVL even assuming best productivity for the latter, ArFi multi-patterning will continue to be used for most layers. “Resolution is not the only challenge,” reminded Phillips. “Total edge-placement-error in patterning is the biggest challenge to device scaling, and this limit comes before the device physics limit.”

Directed Self-Assembly (DSA)

DSA seems most suited for patterning the periodic 2D arrays used in memory chips such as DRAMs. “Virtual fabrication using directed self-assembly for process optimization in a 14nm DRAM node” was the title of a presentation at SPIE-AL by researchers from Coventor, in which DSA compared favorably to SAQP.

Imec presented electrical results of DSA-formed vias, providing insight on DSA processing variations altering device results. In an exclusive interview with Solid State Technology and SemiMD, imec’s Advanced Patterning Department Director Greg McIntyre reminds us that DSA could save one mask in the patterning of vias which can all be combined into doublets/triplets, since two masks would otherwise be needed to use 193i to do LELE for such a via array. “There have been a lot of patterning tricks developed over the last few years to be able to reduce variability another few nanometers. So all sorts of self-alignments.”

While DSA can be used for shrinking vias that are not doubled/tripled, there are commercially proven spin-on shrink materials that cost much less to use as shown by Kaveri Jain and Scott Light from Micron in their SPIE-AL presentation, “Fundamental characterization of shrink techniques on negative-tone development based dense contact holes.” Chemical shrink processes primarily require control over times, temperatures, and ambients inside a litho track tool to be able repeatably shrink contact hole diameters by 15-25 nm.

Nano-Imprint Litho (NIL)

For advanced IC fab applications, the many different options for NIL technology have been narrowed to just one for IC HVM. The step-and-pattern technology that had been developed and trademarked as “Jet and Flash Imprint Lithography” or “J-FIL” by, has been commercialized for HVM by Canon NanoTechnologies, formerly known as Molecular Imprints. Canon shows improvements in the NIL mask-replication process, since each production mask will need to be replicated from a written master. To use NIL in HVM, mask image placement errors from replication will have to be reduced to ~1nm., while the currently available replication tool is reportedly capable of 2-3nm (3 sigma).

Figure 2 shows normalized costs modeled to produce 15nm half-pitch lines/spaces for different lithography technologies, assuming 125 wph for a single EUV stepper and 60 wph for a cluster of 4 NIL tools. Key to throughput is fast filling of the 26mmx33mm mold nano-cavities by the liquid resist, and proper jetting of resist drops over a thin adhesion layer enables filling times less than 1 second.

Fig.2: Relative estimated costs to pattern 15nm half-pitch lines/spaces for different lithography technologies, assuming 125 wph for a single EUV stepper and 60 wph for a cluster of 4 NIL tools. (Source: Canon)

Researchers from Toshiba and SK Hynix described evaluation results of a long-run defect test of NIL using the Canon FPA-1100 NZ2 pilot production tool, capable of 10 wafers per hour and 8nm overlay, in a presentation at SPIE-AL titled, “NIL defect performance toward high-volume mass production.” The team categorized defects that must be minimized into fundamentally different categories—template, non-filling, separation-related, and pattern collapse—and determined parallel paths to defect reduction to allow for using NIL in HVM of memory chips with <20nm half-pitch features.


What’s the Next-Gen Litho Tech? Maybe All of Them

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

The annual SPIE Advanced Lithography symposium in San Jose, Calif., hasn’t offered a clear winner in the next-generation lithography race. It’s becoming clearer, however, that 193i immersion and extreme-ultraviolet lithography will co-exist in the future, while directed self-assembly, nanoimprint lithography, and maybe even electron-beam direct-write technology will fit into the picture, too.

At the same time, plasma deposition and etching processes are assuming a greater interdependence with 193i, especially when it comes to multiple patterning, such as self-aligned double patterning, self-aligned quadruple patterning, and self-aligned octuple patterning (yes, there is such a thing!).

“We’ve got to go down to the sub-nanometer level,” Richard Gottscho, Lam Research’s executive vice president of global products, said Monday morning in his plenary presentation at the conference. “We must reduce the variability in multiple patterning,” he added.

Gottscho touted the benefits of atomic level processing in continuing to shrink IC dimensions. Atomic level deposition has been in volume production for a decade or more, he noted, and atomic level etching is emerging as an increasingly useful technology.

When it comes to EUV, “it’s a matter of when, not if,” the Lam executive commented. “EUV will be complementary with 193i.”

Anthony Yen, director of nanopatterning technology in the Infrastructure Division of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, followed Gottscho in the plenary session. “The fat lady hasn’t sung yet, but she’s on the stage,” he said of EUV.

Harry Levinson, senior director of GlobalFoundries, gave the opening plenary presentation, with the topic of “Evolution in the Concentration of Activities in Lithography.” He was asked after his presentation, “When is the end?” Levinson replied, “We’re definitely not going to get sub-atomic.”

With that limit in mind, dozens of papers were presented this week on what may happen before the semiconductor industry hits the sub-atomic wall.

There were seven conferences within the symposium, on specific subjects, along with a day of classes, an interactive poster session, and a two-day exhibition.

The Alternative Lithographic Technologies conference was heavy on directed self-assembly and nanoimprint lithography papers, while also offering glimpses at patterning with tilted ion implantation and multiphoton laser ablation lithography.

“Patterning is the battleground,” said David Fried, Coventor’s chief technology officer, semiconductor, in an interview at the SPIE conference. He described directed self-assembly as “an enabler for optical lithography.”

Mattan Kamon of Coventor presented a paper on Wednesday afternoon on “Virtual fabrication using directed self-assembly for process optimization in a 14nm DRAM node.”

DSA could be used in conjunction with SAQP or LELELELE, according to Fried. While some lithography experts remain leery or skeptical about using DSA in high-volume manufacturing, the Coventor CTO is a proponent of the technology’s potential.

“Unit process models in DSA are not far-fetched,” he said. “I think they’re pretty close.  The challenges of EUV are well understood. DSA challenges are a little less clear. There’s no ‘one solution fits all’ with DSA.” Fried added, “There are places where DSA can still win.”

Franklin Kalk, executive vice president of technology for Toppan Photomasks, is open to the idea of DSA and imprint lithography joining EUV and immersion in the lithography mix. “It will be some combination,” he said in an interview, while adding, “It’s a dog’s breakfast of technologies. Don’t ever count anything out.”

Richard Wise, Lam’s technical managing director in the company’s Patterning, Global Products Groups CTO Office, said EUV, when ready, will likely be complementary with multipatterning for 7 nanometer.

Self-aligning quadruple patterning, for example, was once considered “insanity” in the industry, yet it is a proven production technology now, he said.

While EUV technology is “very focused on one company,” ASML Holding, there is a consensus at SPIE that EUV’s moment is at hand, Wise said. Intel’s endorsement of the technology and dedication to advancing it speaks volumes of EUV’s potential, he asserted.

“Lam’s always excelled in lot-to-lot control,” an area of significant concern, Wise said, especially with all of this week’s talk about process variability.

What will be the final verdict on the future of lithography technology? Stay tuned.

Optimism Reigns at SPIE Lithography Conference, Despite Challenges

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016


By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Semiconductor manufacturing and design is growing increasingly complicated and just plain hard. Everyone knows that. The bad news is it’s only going to get worse.

Relax, there are many smart people gathered in San Jose, Calif., this week for the SPIE Advanced Lithography Symposium to discuss the challenges and figure out how to surmount them.

The changes required in lithography and related technologies to continue IC scaling promise to be painful and costly. Mitigating the pain and the cost is a common theme at the SPIE conference.

The annual SPIE Advanced Lithography conference is often dominated by discussions on the state of extreme-ultraviolet lithography (EUVL). In presentations on Sunday and Monday, the theme was generally the same as 2015 – EUV is making progress, yet it’s still not ready for high-volume semiconductor manufacturing.

Intel Fellow Mark Phillips said the technology has seen “two years of solid progress,” speaking Sunday at Nikon’s LithoVision 2016 event. He added, “There’s no change in Intel’s position: We’ll use EUV only when it’s ready.”

Anthony Yen of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing covered the 30-year history of EUV development in his Monday morning presentation at the SPIE conference. Asked during the question-and-answer session following the presentation on when the world’s largest silicon foundry will use EUV, Yen stuck to the official company line of implementing EUV in production for the 7-nanometer process node, after some involvement at 10nm.

Seong-Sam Kim of Samsung Electronics also sees EUV realizing its long-aborning potential at 7nm, a node at which “argon fluoride multipatterning will hit the wall.” He touted the 80-watt power source Samsung has achieved with its NXE-3300 scanner from ASML Holding, saying it had maintained that level over more than eight months.

Intel’s Britt Turkot reported 200W source power “has been achieved recently,” and said the tin droplet generator in its ASML scanner has been significantly improved, increasing its typical lifetime by three times. EUV has demonstrated “solid progress,” she said, including ASML’s development of a membrane pellicle for EUV reticles.

While work with the ASML scanner on Intel’s 14nm pilot fab line has been “encouraging,” Turkot said, she added, “We do need to keep the momentum going.” Intel sees EUV entering into volume production with 7nm chips, according to Turkot. “It will be used when it’s ready,” she said.

EUV technology has shown “good progress” in productivity, while its availability and cost considerations have “a long way to go,” Turkot concluded, adding, “We need an actinic solution for the long term.”

An industry consensus has emerged that EUV will be used with ArF 193i immersion lithography in the near future, and this trend is likely to continue for some time, according to executives at the SPIE conference. There may also be wider adoption of directed self-assembly (DSA) and nanoimprint lithography technology, among other alternative lithography technologies.

Mark Phillips of Intel pointed to complementary implementation of EUV and 193i. “We must use EUV carefully,” he said. “We need to replace three-plus 193i masks.” Phillips added, “EUV can’t be applied everywhere affordably. 193i will continue to be used whenever possible.”

Nikon executives touted the capabilities of their new NSR-S631E ArF immersion scanner, introduced just before the SPIE conference. The new scanner can turn out 250 wafers per hour, and can be pushed to 270 wph with certain options, according to Nikon’s Ryoichi Kawaguchi.

Yuichi Shibazaki of Nikon said the company will next year introduce the S63xE scanner, improving on S631E.

For all the challenges of transitioning to 7nm and beyond, executives at SPIE remain optimistic about solving the issues of 193i multipatterning, DSA, and EUV. Harry Levinson of GlobalFoundries said in response to a question, “The ultimate resource is the human mind.”

SPIE Advanced Lithography conference concludes

Friday, February 27th, 2015

By Jeff Dorsch, contributing editor

Exposures, and reducing their cost, were a theme running through the 2015 SPIE Advanced Lithography Symposium this week in San Jose, Calif., the center of Silicon Valley.

Doubts about the continued viability of Moore’s Law abound as the 50th anniversary of Gordon Moore’s historic article for Electronics magazine draws near. Lithographers are under immense industry pressure to lower the operating costs of lithography cells in the fab while increasing wafer throughput.

“Enabling,” “productivity,” and “stability” were watchwords frequently repeated throughout the conference. The various merits (and occasional demerits) of electron-beam, extreme-ultraviolet, 193i immersion and nanoimprint lithography technologies were debated and touted over four days.

One of the technical sessions closing out Wednesday at the San Jose Convention Center was devoted to papers on “Multibeam Lithography,” especially e-beam direct-write technology, which has been seen as “pie in the sky” for many years, yet seems closer to realization than before.

Hans Loeschner of IMS Nanofabrication described how his company’s e-beam tool has progressed from alpha to beta status this year, and predicted it would be ready for production applications in 2016. Altera, CEA-Leti, and MAPPER Lithography presented a total of three papers on MAPPER’s FLX-1200 e-beam direct-write system, saying it is better able to make chips with 20-nanometer features than an immersion lithography system.

The eBeam Initiative held its annual luncheon at SPIE Advanced Lithography on Tuesday, emphasizing how multibeam mask writing, model-based mask data preparation, and complex inverse lithography technology can enable continued density scaling at the 10-nanometer process node.

“We have reached a point with traditional rules-based designs where the rules are so conservative and the implementation costs are so high that the semiconductor industry has started to lose the economic benefits of scaling to smaller design nodes for system-on-chip designs,” D2S CEO Aki Fujimura said in a statement. “A simulation-based approach combining complex ILT, MB-MDP and existing variable shaped beam mask writers in parallel with the impending emergence of multibeam mask writing are providing platforms to enable the semiconductor industry to reverse this trend and reactivate the density benefits associated with Moore’s Law.”

EUV, another technology that has had a long gestation, was the subject of a conference track over all four days, with photomask and photoresist issues being discussed in several sessions.

The news that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing was able to process 1,022 wafers in 24 hours with ASML Holding’s NXE:3300B scanner was the talk of the SPIE conference on Tuesday, the first day of the two-day exhibition, which had about 60 companies occupying booths. ASML didn’t declare an end to development of its EUV systems, saying there is more work to be done. This includes development of a pellicle for the scanner’s reticles and working with resist suppliers on formulas for EUV resists.

While improvements in all types of lithographies were discussed at the conference, there was increased interest in directed self-assembly, which employs polymers to get molecules to arrange themselves in lines and spaces with a patterning guide. Advances in reducing the defectivity of DSA were reported by imec, Merck, and Tokyo Electron.

Global interest in DSA over the past four years has accelerated due to “other things getting delayed,” said Tom Ferry of Synopsys. Among other initiatives, the electronic design automation software and services company was talking about how its S-Litho molecular simulator, S-Litho shape optimizer, and Proteus ILT guide patterning tool can help enable DSA research and development, design, and manufacturing.

The Belgium-based imec was a big contributor to conference presentations, with a first author on 18 papers and posters, and a co-author of 25 publications.

While EUV garnered headlines during SPIE Advanced Lithography, the Cymer subsidiary of ASML was at the conference to talk about its third-generation XLR 700ix light source for deep-ultraviolet lithography systems. Ted Cacouris of Cymer said, “10 nanometer is basically done with DUV. It could go to 7 nanometer; immersion could be extended. It could be complementary to EUV.”

Cymer also announced its DynaPulse program, an upgrade for its OnPulse subscription service for maintenance and repair of light sources. In 2012, prior to the company’s acquisition by ASML, Cymer derived nearly 70 percent of its light-source revenue from the OnPulse service program.

It’s been an interesting week, with about 2,400 attendees from around the world gathering for the premier lithography conference of the year. They will convene again a year from now to learn what’s new in lithography.

Directed Self Assembly Hot Topic at SPIE

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

By Jeff Dorsch, contributing editor

At this week’s SPIE Advanced Lithography Symposium in San Jose, Calif., the hottest three-letter acronym is less EUV and more DSA, as in directed self-assembly.

Extreme-ultraviolet lithography continues to command much attention, yet this conference is awash in papers about DSA, which dominates the “Alternative Lithographic Technologies” track of technical sessions. The two-day poster sessions feature 15 posters about DSA. Thursday’s conference sessions include three separate sessions devoted to “DSA Design for Manufacturability” and one for “DSA Modeling.”

With semiconductor industry anxiety rising at the prospect of quadruple-patterning and the slow yet steady progress of EUV technology, directed self-assembly is being hailed and recognized as a way to simplify chip manufacturing at the low end of the nanoscale era.

Before the conference got under way, imec reported on making significant progress in DSA technology, specifically reducing the defectivity associated with the process. Working with Tokyo Electron Ltd. (TEL) and Merck, which acquired AZ Electronic Materials last year, imec has come up with a DSA solution for a via patterning process that they say is compatible with the 7-nanometer process node. The partners are targeting the manufacture of DRAMs using 193nm immersion scanners.

“Over the past few years, we have realized a reduction of DSA defectivity by a factor 10 every six months,” imec’s An Steegen said in a statement. “Together, with Merck and Tokyo Electron, providing state-of-the-art DSA materials and processing equipment, we are looking ahead at two different promising DSA processes that will further improve defectivity values in the coming months. Our processes show the potential to achieve single-digit defectivity values in the near future without any technical roadblocks lying ahead.”

Kurt Ronse of imec describes DSA as utilizing two polymers to get molecules to array in lines or spaces. The issue has been to avoid the creation of holes that don’t fit the guided pattern, resulting in defects.

“All the big [chip] companies are having their internal developments on DSA,” Ronse said at SPIE. “All the memory companies are interested; Micron is in our program.”

While DSA is being implemented with 193 immersion equipment at the outset, there is the possibility of working with EUV scanners in the future, according to Ronse, and imec has an extensive EUV research and development program, he noted.

DSA started to emerge as a technology of note at the 2011 SPIE Advanced Lithography conference, Ronse said, which resulted in imec initiating its program in the field. There has been a significant amount of progress in the past two years, he added.

The momentum behind DSA R&D led to the establishment of the 1st International Symposium on DSA, scheduled for October 26-27, 2015, in Leuven, Belgium. Partnering with imec on the conference are CEA-Leti, EIDEC, and Sematech.

DSA – it’s one TLA you’ll hear a lot about in the years to come.

Proponents of EUV, immersion lithography face off at SPIE

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

By Jeff Dorsch, contributing editor

The two main camps in optical lithography are arrayed for battle at the SPIE Advanced Lithography Symposium in San Jose, Calif.

Extreme-ultraviolet lithography, on one side, is represented by ASML Holding, its Cymer subsidiary, and ASML’s EUV customers, notably Intel, Samsung Electronics, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing.

On the other side is 193i immersion lithography, represented by Nikon and its customers, which also include Intel and other leading chipmakers.

There are other lithography technologies being discussed at the conference, of course. They are bit players in the drama, so to speak, although there is a lot of discussion and buzz about directed self-assembly technology this week.

ASML broke big news on Tuesday morning, reporting that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing was able to expose more than 1,000 wafers in one day this year with ASML’s NXE:3300B EUV system. “During a recent test run on an NXE:3300B EUV system we exposed 1,022 wafers in 24 hours with sustained power of over 90 watts,” Anthony Yen, TSMC’s director of research and development, said at SPIE.

While ASML was obviously and justifiably proud of this milestone, after achieving its 2014 goal of producing 500 wafers per day, it cautioned that more development remains for EUV technology.

“The test run at TSMC demonstrates the capability of the NXE:3300B scanner, and moves us closer to our stated target of sustained output of 1,000 wafers per day in 2015,” ASML’s Hans Meiling, vice president service and product marketing EUV, said in a statement. “We must continue to increase source power, improve system availability, and show this result at multiple customers over multiple days.”

The day before, Cymer announced the first shipment of its XLR 700ix light source, which is said to improver scanner throughput and process stability for manufacturing chips with 14-nanometer features. The company also debuted DynaPulse as an upgrade option for its OnPulse customers. The XLR 700ix and DynaPulse together are said to offer better on-wafer critical dimension uniformity and provide stable on-wafer performance.

Another revelation at SPIE is that SK Hynix has been working with the NXE:3300, too, and is pleased with the system’s capabilities. According to Chang-Moon Lim, who spoke Monday morning, SK Hynix was recently able to expose 1,670 wafers over three days, with uptime of 86.3 percent over that period.

“Progress has been significant on various aspects, which should not be overshadowed by the delay of [light] sources,” he said of ASML’s EUV systems.

The Korean chipmaker is exploring how it could work without pellicles on the EUV reticle, Lim noted. ASML has been developing a pellicle, made with polycrystalline silicon, in cooperation with Intel and others.

Nikon Precision and other Nikon subsidiaries didn’t issue any press releases at SPIE. The companies presented much information at Sunday’s LithoVision 2015 event, held at the City National Civic auditorium, across the street from the San Jose Convention Center, where SPIE Advanced Lithography is staged.

On offer at the Nikon conference was the claimed superiority of 193i immersion lithography equipment to EUV systems for the 14nm, 7nm and future process nodes. Donis Flagello, Nikon Research Corp. of America’s president, CEO, and chief operating officer, emphasized that message on Tuesday morning with an invited paper on “Evolving optical lithography without EUV.”

Nikon’s champion machine is the NSR-S630D immersion scanner, which was touted throughout the LithoVision event. The system is capable of exposing 250 wafers per hour, according to Nikon’s Yuichi Shibazaki.

Ryoichi Kawaguchi of Nikon told attendees, “EUV lithography needs more stability and improvement.” He also brought up the topic of manufacturing on 450-millimeter wafers, which has mostly gone ignored in the lithography competition. Nikon will ship a 450mm system this spring to the Global 450 Consortium in Albany, N.Y., Kawaguchi said. The bigger substrates could provide “an alternative option to reduce cost,” he added.

Erik Byers of Micron Technology observed, “EUV is not a panacea.”

Which lithography technology will prevail in high-volume manufacturing? The question may not be definitively answered for some time.

Solid State Watch: February 13-19, 2015

Friday, February 20th, 2015
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SPIE Photomask Technology Wrap-up

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Extreme-ultraviolet lithography was a leading topic at the SPIE Photomask Technology conference and exhibition, held September 16-17-18 in Monterey, Calif., yet it wasn’t the only topic discussed and examined. Mask patterning, materials and process, metrology, and simulation, optical proximity correction (OPC), and mask data preparation were extensively covered in conference sessions and poster presentations.

Even with the wide variety of topics on offer at the Monterey Conference Center, many discussions circled back to EUV lithography. After years of its being hailed as the “magic bullet” in semiconductor manufacturing, industry executives and engineers are concerned that the technology will have a limited window of usefulness. Its continued delays have led some to write it off for the 10-nanometer and 7-nanometer process nodes.

EUV photomasks were the subject of three conference sessions and the focus of seven posters. There were four posters devoted to photomask inspection, an area of increasing concern as detecting and locating defects in a mask gets more difficult with existing technology.

The conference opened Tuesday, Sept. 16, with the keynote presentation by Martin van den Brink, the president and chief technology officer of ASML Holding. His talk, titled “Many Ways to Shrink: The Right Moves to 10 Nanometer and Beyond,” was clearly meant to provide some reassurance to the attendees that progress is being made with EUV.

He reported his company’s “30 percent improvement in overlay and focus” with its EUV systems in development. ASML has shipped six EUV systems to companies participating in the technology’s development (presumably including Intel, Samsung Electronics, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, which have made equity investments in ASML), and it has five more being integrated at present, van den Brink said.

The light source being developed by ASML’s Cymer subsidiary has achieved an output of 77 watts, he said, and the company expects to raise that to 81 watts by the end of 2014. The key figure, however, remains 100 watts, which would enable the volume production of 1,000 wafers per day. No timeline on that goal was offered.

The ASML executive predicted that chips with 10nm features would mostly be fabricated with immersion lithography systems, with EUV handling the most critical layers. For 7nm chips, immersion lithography systems will need 34 steps to complete the patterning of the chip design, van den Brink said. At that process node, EUV will need only nine lithography steps to get the job done, he added.

Among other advances, EUV will require actinic mask inspection tools, according to van den Brink. Other speakers at the conference stressed this future requirement, while emphasizing that it is several years away in implementation.

Mask making is moving from detecting microscopic defects to an era of mesoscopic defects, according to Yalin Xiong of KLA-Tencor. Speaking during the “Mask Complexity: How to Solve the Issues?” panel discussion on Thursday, Sept. 18, Xiong said actinic mask inspection will be “available only later, and it’s going to be costly.” He predicted actinic tools will emerge by 2017 or 2018. “We think the right solution is the actinic solution,” Xiong concluded.

Peter Buck of Mentor Graphics, another panelist at the Sept. 18 session, said it was necessary to embrace mask complexity in the years to come. “Directed self-assembly has the same constraints as EUV and DUV (deep-ultraviolet),” he observed.

People in the semiconductor industry place high values on “good,” “fast,” and “cheap,” Buck noted. With the advent of EUV lithography and its accompanying challenges, one of those attributes will have to give way, he said, indicating cheapness was the likely victim.

Mask proximity correction (MPC) and Manhattanization will take on increasing importance, Buck predicted. “MPC methods can satisfy these complexities,” he said.

For all the concern about EUV and the ongoing work with that technology, the panelists looked ahead to the time when electron-beam lithography systems with multiple beams will become the litho workhorses of the future.

Mask-writing times were an issue touched upon by several panelists. Shusuke Yoshitake of NuFlare Technology reported hearing about a photomask design that took 60 hours to write. An extreme example, to be sure, but next-generation multi-beam mask writers will help on that front, he said.

Daniel Chalom of IMS Nanofabrication said that with 20nm chips, the current challenge is reduce mask-writing times to less than 15 hours.

In short, presenters at the SPIE conference were optimistic and positive about facing the many challenges in photomask design, manufacturing, inspection, metrology, and use. They are confident that the technical hurdles can be overcome in time, as they have in the past.

Research Alert: March 18, 2014

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Creating a graphene-metal sandwich to improve electronics

Researchers have discovered that creating a graphene-copper-graphene “sandwich” strongly enhances the heat conducting properties of copper, a discovery that could further help in the downscaling of electronics.

The work was led by Alexander A. Balandin, a professor of electrical engineering at the Bourns College of Engineering at the University of California, Riverside and Konstantin S. Novoselov, a professor of physics at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Balandin and Novoselov are corresponding authors for the paper just published in the journal Nano Letters. In 2010, Novoselov shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Andre Geim for their discovery of graphene.

In the experiments, the researchers found that adding a layer of graphene, a one-atom thick material with highly desirable electrical, thermal and mechanical properties, on each side of a copper film increased heat conducting properties up to 24 percent.

“This enhancement of copper’s ability to conduct heat could become important in the development of hybrid copper — graphene interconnects for electronic chips that continue to get smaller and smaller,” said Balandin, who in 2013 was awarded the MRS Medal from the Materials Research Society for discovery of unusual heat conduction properties of graphene.

Whether the heat conducting properties of copper would improve by layering it with graphene is an important question because copper is the material used for semiconductor interconnects in modern computer chips. Copper replaced aluminum because of its better electrical conductivity.

Surface characteristics influence cellular growth on semiconductor material

Changing the texture and surface characteristics of a semiconductor material at the nanoscale can influence the way that neural cells grow on the material.

The finding stems from a study performed by researchers at North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Purdue University, and may have utility for developing future neural implants.

“We wanted to know how a material’s texture and structure can influence cell adhesion and differentiation,” says Lauren Bain, lead author of a paper describing the work and a Ph.D. student in the joint biomedical engineering program at NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill. “Basically, we wanted to know if changing the physical characteristics on the surface of a semiconductor could make it easier for an implant to be integrated into neural tissue – or soft tissue generally.”

The researchers worked with gallium nitride (GaN), because it is one of the most promising semiconductor materials for use in biomedical applications. They also worked with PC12 cells, which are model cells used to mimic the behavior of neurons in lab experiments.

In the study, the researchers grew PC12 cells on GaN squares with four different surface characteristics: some squares were smooth; some had parallel grooves (resembling an irregular corduroy pattern); some were randomly textured (resembling a nanoscale mountain range); and some were covered with nanowires (resembling a nanoscale bed of nails).

Very few PC12 cells adhered to the smooth surface. And those that did adhere grew normally, forming long, narrow extensions. More PC12 cells adhered to the squares with parallel grooves, and these cells also grew normally.

About the same number of PC12 cells adhered to the randomly textured squares as adhered to the parallel grooves. However, these cells did not grow normally. Instead of forming narrow extensions, the cells flattened and spread across the GaN surface in all directions.

More PC12 cells adhered to the nanowire squares than to any of the other surfaces, but only 50 percent of the cells grew normally. The other 50 percent spread in all directions, like the cells on the randomly textured surfaces.

“This tells us that the actual shape of the surface characteristics influences the behavior of the cells,” Bain says. “It’s a non-chemical way of influencing the interaction between the material and the body. That’s something we can explore as we continue working to develop new biomedical technologies.”

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In the study, the researchers grew PC12 cells on GaN squares with four different surface characteristics: some squares were smooth; some had parallel grooves (resembling an irregular corduroy pattern); some were randomly textured (resembling a nanoscale mountain range); and some were covered with nanowires (resembling a nanoscale bed of nails).

Very few PC12 cells adhered to the smooth surface. And those that did adhere grew normally, forming long, narrow extensions. More PC12 cells adhered to the squares with parallel grooves, and these cells also grew normally.

About the same number of PC12 cells adhered to the randomly textured squares as adhered to the parallel grooves. However, these cells did not grow normally. Instead of forming narrow extensions, the cells flattened and spread across the GaN surface in all directions.

More PC12 cells adhered to the nanowire squares than to any of the other surfaces, but only 50 percent of the cells grew normally. The other 50 percent spread in all directions, like the cells on the randomly textured surfaces.

“This tells us that the actual shape of the surface characteristics influences the behavior of the cells,” Bain says. “It’s a non-chemical way of influencing the interaction between the material and the body. That’s something we can explore as we continue working to develop new biomedical technologies.”