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Companies Ready Cobalt for MOL, Gate Fill

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

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By Dave Lammers

Cobalt for middle-of-the-line and trench contacts emerged at the International Electron Devices Meeting, as Intel, GlobalFoundries, and Applied Materials discussed how to best take advantage of cobalt’s properties.

For its forthcoming 10nm logic process, Intel Corp. used cobalt for several of the lower metal levels, including a cobalt fill at the trench contacts and cobalt M0 and M1 wiring levels. The result was much-improved resistivity and reliability, compared with the traditional metallization at those levels.

Cobalt was used for the local interconnects of the Intel 10nm process, improving line resistance by 60 percent. (Source: Intel)

Chris Auth, director of logic technology at Intel’s Portland Technology Center, said the contacted line resistance “provides a good indicator of the benefits of cobalt versus tungsten,” with a 60 percent reduction in line resistance and a 1.5X reduction in contact resistance.

While cobalt was used for the local interconnects, the upper 10 metal layers were copper, with a cobalt cap used for layers M2-M5 to provide a 50X improvement in electro-migration. Intel continued to use tungsten for the gate fill.

John Pellerin, a vice president at GlobalFoundries who directs global research and development, said GlobalFoundries decided that for its 7nm logic technology, ramping in mid-2018, it would replace tungsten with cobalt at the trench contact level, which is considered the first level of the middle-of-the-line (MOL).

“We are evaluating it for implementation into the next level of contact above that. Cobalt trench level contacts are process of record (POR) for the 7nm technology,” Pellerin said in an interview at the 2017 IEDM, held Dec. 2-6 in San Francisco.

High performance logic often involves four-fin logic cells to drive the maximum amount of current from the largest transistor width. “You have to get that current out of the transistor. That is where the MOL comes into play. Junction and MOL resistance optimization is key to taking advantage of a four-fin footprint, and it takes a multi-front optimization to take advantage of that equation.

Pellerin said the biggest challenge with tungsten trench contacts is that the CVD process tends to leave a seam void. “We are always fighting seam voids. With cobalt deposition we get an intrinsic resistance improvement, and don’t get seam voids by pushing tungsten down in there,” Pellerin said.

Tighter Metal Pitches

Scotten Jones, president of consultancy IC Knowledge (Boston), said semiconductor vendors will introduce cobalt when it makes sense. Because it is a new material, requiring considerable costs prior to insertion, companies will use it when they need it.

“Global has trench contacts, while Intel uses cobalt at three levels. But the reason is that Intel has a 36nm minimum metal pitch with its 10nm process, while Global is at 40nm with its 7nm process. It is only at the point where the line gets narrow enough that cobalt starts to make sense.”

Applied Cobalt Solutions

As cobalt begins to replace tungsten at the smaller-dimension interconnect layers, Applied Materials is readying process flows and E-beam inspection solutions optimized for cobalt.

Namsung Kim, senior director of engineering management at Applied Materials, said cobalt has a bulk resistivity that is similar to tungsten, but the barrier thickness required for tungsten at leading-edge transistors is swinging the advantage to cobalt as dimensions shrink.

Line resistance probability plot of cobalt versus tungsten at 12nm critical dimensions. (Source: Applied Materials)

“Compared with tungsten, cobalt has a very thin barrier thickness, so you can fill up with more material. At our Maydan Technology Center, we’ve developed a reflow process for cobalt that is unique,” Kim said. The cobalt reflow process uses an annealing step to create larger cobalt grain sizes, reducing the resistance. And because there is no source of fluorine in the cobalt deposition steps, a thin barrier layer can suffice.

At IEDM, Naomi Yoshida, a distinguished member of the technical staff at Applied, presented a paper describing Applied’s research using cobalt to fill a 5nm-logic-generation replacement metal gate (RMG). The fill is deposited above the high-k dielectric and work function metals, and at the 5nm node and beyond there is precious little room for the gap fill metal.

Yoshida said modern transistors use multiple layers of work-function metals to control threshold voltages, with high-performance logic requiring low Vt’s and IoT devices requiring relatively high Vt’s. After the different work function layers are deposited, the fill material is deposited.

At the 5nm node, Applied Materials estimates that the contacted poly pitch (CPP) will shrink to about 42nm, while the gate length (Lg) will be less than 12nm. “There is very limited space for the fill materials, so customers need a more conductive metal in a limited space. That is the major challenge,” Yoshida said in an interview at the IEDM.

Work Function Maintained

Naomi Yoshida: room for gate fill disappearing

The Applied R&D work showed that if the barrier layer for a tungsten fill is reduced too much, to a 2nm or 3nm TiN layer for example, the effective work function (eWF) degrades by as much as 500mV eWF and the total gate conductance suffers. With the CVD process used to deposit a tungsten RMG fill, there was “significant fluorine diffusion” into the work function metal layer in the case of a 2nm TiN barrier.

By contrast, the cobalt fill maintained the NMOS band-edge eWF with the same 2nm TiN barrier.

Gradually, cobalt will be adopted more widely for the contacts, interconnects, and RMG gate fill steps. “It is time to think about how to achieve more conductance in the gate material. Previously, people said there was a negligible contribution from the gate material, but now with the smaller gates at 5nm, gate fill metal makes a huge contribution to resistance, and barrier thickness reduction is important as well,” Yoshida said.

E-beam Inspection

Nicolas Breil: E-beam void inspection useful for cobalt contacts

Applied Materials also has developed an e-beam inspection solution, ProVision, first introduced in mid-2016, and has optimized it for inspecting cobalt voids. Nicolas Breil, a director in the company’s contact module division, said semiconductor R&D organizations are busy developing cobalt contact solutions, optimizing the deposition, CMP, and other steps. “For such a dense and critical level as the contact, it always needs very careful engineering. They key is to get results as fast as possible, but being fast can be very expensive.”

Amir Wachs, business development manager at Applied’s process diagnostics and control business unit in Rehovat, Israel, said the ProVision e-beam inspection system has a resolution of 1nm, at 10,000-20,000 locations per hour, taking a few hundred measurements on each field of view.

“Voids form when there are adhesion issues between the cobalt and TiN. One of the key issues is the correct engineering of the Ti nitride and PVD cobalt and CVD cobalt. To detect embedded voids requires a TEM inspection, but then customers get very limited statistics. There might be a billion contacts per chip, and with conventional TEM you might get to inspect two.”

The ProVision system speeds up the feedback loop between inspection and co-optimization. “Customers can assess the validity of the optimization. With other inspection methods, co-optimization might take five days to three weeks. With this type of analysis, using ProVision, customers can do tests early in the flow and validate their co-optimization within a few hours,” Wachs said.

Logic Densities Advance at IEDM 2017

Monday, December 18th, 2017

By Dave Lammers

The 63rd International Electron Devices Meeting brought an optimistic slant to transistor density scaling. While some critics have declared the death of Moore’s Law, there was little evidence of that — on the density front at least — at the IEDM, held Dec. 2-6 in San Francisco.

And an Intel engineering manager gave a presentation at IEDM that took a somewhat optimistic view of EUV lithography readiness, auguring further patterning improvements, starting with contacts and vias.

GlobalFoundries, which is skipping the 10nm node, presented its 7nm logic technology, expects to move into manufacturing in mid-2018. John Pellerin, vice president of global R&D, said the foundry has worked closely with its two lead customers, AMD and IBM, to define a high-performance-computing 7nm logic technology that achieves a 2.8X improvement of routed logic density compared with its 14nm technology.

Pellerin said the current 7nm process of record (POR) delivers “the right mix of performance, power, and area (PPA),” adding that GlobalFoundries plans to bring in EUV patterning at an undefined later point in the 7+ generation for further improvements.

Contact Over Active Gate

Chris Auth, director of advanced transistor development at Intel Corp., described a 10nm logic technology that sharply increased the transistor density compared with the 14nm generation, partly due to a contact-over-active-gate (COAG) architecture. The 10nm ring oscillator performance was improved by 20 percent compared with the comparable 14nm test vehicle.

Chris Auth, who presented Intel’s 10nm technology paper at IEDM, was surrounded by questioners following the presentation.

Auth said the COAG approach was a key contributor to Intel’s ability to increase its transistor density by 2.7 times over the company’s previous generation, to 100 million transistors per square millimeter of silicon. While the traditional approach puts the contact via over the isolation area, COAG places the contact via directly over the gate. Auth said the approach does require a second etch stop layer and other process complexities, but contributes “a sizable 10 percent reduction in area.” Elimination of the dummy gate for cell boundary isolation, and the use of cobalt at three layers (see related story), also contributed.

While there has been much hand wringing in the industry over the costs involved with multi-level patterning, Auth didn’t appear phased by it. Intel used a self-aligned quad patterning (SAQP) scheme to create fins with a tight pitch. The SAQP approach required two sacrificial layers, with lithography defining the first large pattern and four additional steps to remove the spacers and create the final lines and spaces.

The Intel 10nm fins are 46nm in height.

The SAQP approach starts by exposing a 130nm line, depositing the two spacers, halving the pattern to 68nm, and again to 34nm. “It is a grating and cut process similar to what we showed at 22nm, except it is SAQP instead of SADP,” using patterning to form a grating of fins, and cutting the ends of the fins with a cut mask.

“There were no additional lithography steps required. The result was fins that are tighter, straighter, and taller, with better drive current and matching” than Intel’s 14nm-generation fins, he said. Intel continued to use self-aligned double patterning (SADP) for M 2-5, and for gate patterning.

GlobalFoundries — which has been in production for 18 months with the 14nm process used by AMD, IBM, and others — plans to ramp its 7nm logic generation starting in mid-2018. The 7nm high-density SRAM cell measures .0269 um2, slightly smaller than TSMC’s published 7nm cell, while Intel reported a .0312 um2 cell size for its 10nm process.

Intel argues that the traditional way of calculating density improvements needs to be replaced with a metric that combines NAND and scan flip-flop densities. (Source: Intel)

GlobalFoundries chief technology officer Gary Patton said, “all of us are in the same zip code” when it comes to SRAM density. What is increasingly important is how the standard cells are designed to minimize the track height and thereby deliver the best logic cell technology to designers, Patton said.

EUV Availability Needs Improvements

Britt Turkot, senior principal engineer at Intel, discussed the readiness of EUV lithography at an IEDM session, giving a cautiously bullish report. With any multi-patterning solution for leading-edge silicon, including etch and CMP steps, placement error is the biggest challenge. With quad patterning, Turkot said multiple masks are involved, creating “compounded alignment errors.”

EUV has its own challenges, including significant secondary ions from the EUV photons. The key challenge for much of the decade, source power, seems to be partially resolved. “We are confident that the 250 Watts of source power needed for volume manufacturing will be ready once the field tools are upgraded,” she said.

Pellicles may be another challenge, with ASML expected to have a polysilicon-based pellicle ready in time for EUV production. However, she said a polysilicon membrane “does give quite a hit to the transmissivity” of the mask. “The transmissivity impact is quite significant,” she acknowledged during the Q&A period following her talk.

Intel has succeeded in repairing some mask defects, Turkot said, and implements pattern shifting so that other defects do not impinge on the patterned wafer.

Asked by a member of the audience about EUV availability or up-time, Turkot said “one day, availability can be great,” and less than good on other days, with “long unscheduled downs.” Intel is predicting 88 percent availability next year, she said in response to a question.

Pellicle Needed for Wiring Layers

Scotten Jones, president of semiconductor cost consultancy IC Knowledge (Boston), said companies may be able to get by without a pellicle for EUV patterning of contacts and via layers late next year. However, a pellicle will be needed for patterning the lower-level wiring layers, absorbing 10-15 percent of the photons and impacting EUV patterning throughput accordingly.

“Companies can do the contacts and vias without a pellicle, but doing the metal layers will required a pellicle and that means that a ton of work still needs to be done. And then at 5nm, the dose you need for the resist goes up dramatically,” Jones said, adding that while it will take some time for ASML to roll out the 250 W source, “they should be able to do it.”

GlobalFoundries will take possession of its second EUV scanner in December 2017, while Intel is believed to own four EUV systems.

Pellerin said GlobalFoundries defined the ground rules for its 7nm process so that the foundry can do a phased implementation of EUV without causing its customers “design discontinuity, bringing a benefit to design costs.”

John Pellerin, v.p. of R&D, said GlobalFoundries plans a phased implementation of EUV without “design discontinuity.”

The foundry will first do the hole levels and then move into the tight-pitch metal levels as mask defectivity improves. “The mask ecosystem needs to evolve,” Pellerin said.

Cost-per-Function on Track

In a keynote speech at IEDM, Lisa Su, the CEO of Advanced Micro Devices, said over the last 10 years the semiconductor industry has succeeded in doubling transistor density every 2-2.4 years. But she said the performance gains have been much smaller. “We are making progress, but it is taking a tremendous amount of work,” said Su, who received a best paper award at the IEDM 25 years earlier.

About 40 percent of the CPU performance improvement now comes from pure process technology, Su said, while the remainder comes from better microarchitectures, power management, and integration of system components such as an on-chip memory controller. While instructions per cycle are increasing at a 7 percent annual clip, Su said “the tricks have run out.”

Overall, the leading semiconductor companies seem to continue to make progress on transistor density. And costs per transistor may also be on track. Kaizad Mistry, co-director of logic technology development at Intel, contends that with its Intel’s 10nm process Intel’s per-transistor costs are actually better than the historical  curve.

Jones said the IC Knowledge cost analysis of TSMC’s processes indicates TSMC also is hewing to historical improvements on the per-transistor cost front. However, the foundries are catching up to Intel.

Intel Cadence Lagging

“What really strikes me is that Intel brought out its 45nm process in 2007, 32nm in 2009, and 22nm in 2011, but then it took three years to do 14nm. We are about to be in the year 2018, and Intel still doesn’t have its 10nm process done. It is a very nice process, but it is not out yet, and TSMC’s 7nm process is ramping right now. By the time Intel gets to 7nm, the foundries may be at 3nm. GlobalFoundries skipped a generation but is ramping its 7nm next year. All will have processes competitive to Intel at the same time, or even earlier,” Jones said.

While foundries such as GlobalFoundries, Samsung, and TSMC may be able to quickly offer advanced logic platforms, the wider semiconductor industry faces design cost challenges, Jones said. “Yes, the cost-per-transistor is going down, and that’s nice, but the cost of a design with finFETs is in the 100-million-dollar range. Intel can do it, but many smaller companies can’t afford to design with FinFETs.”

That is why both GlobalFoundries and Samsung are offering FD-SOI based platforms that use planar transistors, reducing design costs.

“The Internet of Things market is going to be nine million things, at relatively low volumes. IoT companies are finding it hard to justify the cost of a FinFET design, but with the cheaper design costs, SOI gives them an economical path,” Jones said.

Innovations at 7nm to Keep Moore’s Law Alive

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

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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.

MRAM Takes Center Stage at IEDM 2016

Monday, December 12th, 2016

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By Dave Lammers, Contributing Editor

The IEDM 2016 conference, held in early December in San Francisco, was somewhat of a coming-out party for magneto-resistive memory (MRAM). The MRAM presentations at IEDM were complemented by a special MRAM-focused poster session – organized by the IEEE Magnetics Society in cooperation with the IEEE Electron Devices Society (EDS) – with 33 posters and a lively crowd.

And in the opening keynote speech of the 62nd International Electron Devices Meeting, Seok-hee Lee, executive vice president at SK Hynix (Seoul), set the stage by saying that the race is on between DRAM and emerging memories such as MRAM. “Originally, people thought that DRAM scaling would stop. Then engineers in the DRAM and NAND worlds worked hard and pushed out the end further in the future,” he said.

While cautioning that MRAM bit cells are larger than in DRAM and thus more more costly, Lee said MRAM has “very strong potential in embedded memory.”

SK Hynix is not the only company with a full-blown MRAM development effort underway. Samsung, which earlier bought MRAM startup Grandis and which has a materials-related research relationship with IBM, attracted a standing-room-only crowd to its MRAM paper at IEDM. TSMC is working with TDK on its program, and Sony is using 300mm wafers to build high-performance MRAMs for startup Avalanche Technology.

And one knowledgeable source said “the biggest processor company also has purchased a lot of equipment” for its MRAM development effort.

Dave Eggleston, vice president of emerging memory at GlobalFoundries, said he believes GlobalFoundries is the furthest along on the MRAM optimization curve, partly due to its technology and manufacturing partnership with Everspin Technologies (Chandler, Ariz.). Everspin has been working on MRAM for more than 20 years, and has shipped nearly 60 million discrete MRAMs, largely to the cache buffering and industrial markets.

GlobalFoundries has announced plans to use embedded STT-MRAM in its 22FDX platform, which uses fully-depleted SOI technology, as early as 2018.

Future versions of MRAM– such as spin orbit torque (SOT) MRAM and Voltage Controlled MRAM — could compete with SRAM and DRAM. Analysts said today’s spin-transfer torque STT-MRAM – referring to the torque that arises from the transfer of electron spins to the free magnetic layer — is vying for commercial adoption as ever-faster processors need higher performance memory subsystems.

STT-MRAM is fast enough to fit in as a new memory layer below the processor and the SRAM-based L1/L2 cache layers, and above DRAM and storage-level NAND flash layers, said Gary Bronner, vice president of research at Rambus Inc.

With good data retention and speed, and medium density, MRAM “may have advantages in the lower-level caches” of systems which have large amounts of on-chip SRAM, Bronner said, due in part to MRAM’s smaller cell size than six-transistor SRAM. While DRAM in the sub-20nm nodes faces cost issues as its moves to more complex capacitor structures, Bronner said that “thus far STT-MRAM) is not cheaper than DRAM.”

IBM researchers, which pioneered the spin-transfer torque approach to MRAM, are working on a high-performance MRAM technology which could be used in servers.

As of now, MRAM density is limited largely by the size of the transistors required to drive sufficient current to the magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ) to flip its magnetic orientation. Dan Edelstein, an IBM fellow working on MRAM development at IBM Research, said “it is a tall order for MRAM to replace DRAM. But MRAM could be used in system-level memory architectures and as an embedded memory technology.”

PVD and etch challenges

Edelstein, who was a key figure in developing copper interconnects at IBM some twenty years ago, said MRAM only requires a few extra mask layers to be integrated into the BEOL in logic. But there remain major challenges in improving the throughput of the PVD deposition steps required to deposit the complex material stack and to control the interfacial layers.

The PVD steps must deposit approximately 30 layers and control them to Angstrom-level precision. Deposition must occur under very low base pressure, and in oxygen- and water-vapor free environments. While tool vendors are working on productization of 300mm MRAM deposition tools, Edelstein said keeping particles under control and minimizing the maintenance and chamber cleaning are all challenging.

Etching the complex materials stack is even harder. Chemical RIE is not practical for MRAMs at this point, and using ion beam etching (IBE) presents challenges in terms of avoiding re-deposition of material sputtered off during the IBE etch steps for the high-aspect-ratio MTJs.

For the tool vendors, MRAMs present challenges as companies go from R&D to high-volume manufacturing, Edelstein said.

A Samsung MRAM researcher, Y.J. Song, briefly described IBE challenges during an IEDM presentation describing an embedded STT-MRAM with a respectable 8-Mbit density and a cell size of .0364 sq. micron. “We worked to optimize the contact etching,” using IBE etch during the patterning steps, he said. The short fail rate was reduced, while keeping the processing temperature at less than 350°C, Song said.

Samsung embedded an STT-MRAM module in the copper back end of the line (BEOL) of a 28nm logic process. (Source: Samsung presentation at IEDM 2016).

Many of the presentations at IEDM described improvements in key parameters, such as the tunnel magnetic resistance (TMR), cell size, data retention, and read error rates at high temperatures or low operating voltages.

An SK Hynix presentation described a 4-Gbit STT-MRAM optimized as a stand-alone, high-density memory. “There still are reliability issues for high-density MRAM memory,” said SK Hynix’s S.-W. Chung. The industry needs to boost the TMR “as high as possible” and work on improving the “not sufficiently long” retention times.

At high temperatures, error rates tend to rise, a concern in certain applications. And since devices are subjected to brief periods of high temperatures during reflow soldering, that issue must be dealt with as well, detailed by a Bosch presentation at IEDM.

Cleans and encapsulation important

Gouri Sankar Kar, who is coordinating the MRAM research program at the Imec consortium (Leuven, Belgium), said one challenge is to reduce the cell size and pitch without damaging the magnetic properties of the magnetic tunnel junction. For the 28nm logic node, embedded MRAM would be in the range of a 200nm pitch and 45nm critical dimensions (CDs). At the IEDM poster session, Imec presented an 8nm cell size STT-MRAM that could intersect the 10nm logic node, with the MRAM pitch in the 100nm range. GlobalFoundries, Micron, Qualcomm, Sony and TSMC are among the participants in the Imec MRAM effort.

Kar said in addition to the etch challenges, post-patterning treatment and the encapsulation liner can have a major impact on MTJ materials selection. “Some metals can be cleaned immediately, and some not. For the materials stack, patterning (litho and etch) and clean optimization are crucial.”

“Chemical etch (RIE) is not really possible at this stage. All the tool vendors are working on physical sputter etch (IBE) where they can limit damage. But I would say all the major tool vendors at this point have good tools,” Kar said.

To reach volume manufacturing, tool vendors need to improve the tool up-time and reduce the maintenance cycles. There is a “tail bits” relationship between the rate of bit failures and the health of the chambers that still needs improvement. “The cleanup steps after etching are very, very critical” to the overall effort to improving the cost effectiveness of MRAM, Kar said, adding that he is “very positive” about the future of MRAM technology.

A complete flow at AMAT

Applied Materials is among the equipment companies participating in the Imec program, with TEL and Canon-Anelva also heavily involved. Beyond that, Applied has developed a complete MRAM manufacturing flow at the company’s Dan Maydan Center in Santa Clara, and presented its cooperative work with Qualcomm on MRAM development at IEDM.

In an interview, Er-Xuan Ping, the Applied Materials managing director in charge of memory and materials technologies, said about 20 different layers, including about ten different materials, must be deposited to create the magnetic tunnel junctions. As recently as a few years ago, throughput of this materials stack was “extremely slow,” he said. But now Applied’s multi-cathode PVD tool, specially developed for MRAM deposition, can deposit 5 Angstrom films in just a few seconds. Throughput is approaching 20 wafers per hour.

Applied Materials “basically created a brand-new PVD chamber” for STT-MRAM, and he said the tool has a new e-chuck, optimized chamber walls and a multi-cathode design.

The MRAM-optimized PVD tool does not have an official name yet, and Ping said he refers to it as multi-cathode PVD. With MRAM requiring deposition of so many different metals and other materials, the Applied tool does not require the wafer to be moved in and out, increasing efficiency. The shape and structure of the chamber wall, Ping said, allow absorption of downstream plasma material so that it doesn’t come back as particles.

For etch, Applied has worked to create etching processes that result in very low bit failure rates, but at relatively relaxed pitches in the 130-200nm range. “We have developed new etch technologies so we don’t think etch will be a limiting factor. But etch is still challenging, especially for cells with 50nm and smaller cell sizes. We are still in unknown territory there,” said Ping.

Jürgen Langer, R&D manager at Singulus Technology (Frankfurt, Germany), said Singulus has developed a production-optimized PVD tool which can deposit “30 material layers in the Angstrom range. We can get 20 wafers per hour throughputs, so I would say this is not a beta tool, it is for production.”

Jürgen Langer, R&D manager, presented a poster on MRAM deposition from Singulus Technology (Frankfurt, Germany).

Where does it fit?

Once the production challenges of making MRAM are ironed out, the question remains: Where will MRAM fit in the systems of tomorrow?

Tom Coughlin, a data storage consultant based in Atascadero, Calif., said embedded MRAM “could have a very important effect for industrial and consumer devices. MRAM could be part of the memory cache layers, providing power advantages over other non-volatile devices.” And with its ability to power on and power off without expending energy, MRAM could reduce overall power consumption in smart phones, cutting in to the SRAM and NOR sectors.

“MRAM definitely has a niche, replacing some DRAM and SRAM. It may replace NOR. Flash will continue for mass storage, and then there is the 3D Crosspoint from Intel. I do believe MRAM has a solid basis for being part of that menagerie. We are almost in a Cambrian explosion in memory these days,” Coughlin said.

Air-Gaps for FinFETs Shown at IEDM

Friday, October 28th, 2016

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By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

Researchers from IBM and Globalfoundries will report on the first use of “air-gaps” as part of the dielectric insulation around active gates of “10nm-node” finFETs at the upcoming International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) of the IEEE (ieee-iedm.org). Happening in San Francisco in early December, IEDM 2016 will again provide a forum for the world’s leading R&D teams to show off their latest-greatest devices, including 7nm-node finFETs by IBM/Globalfoundries/Samsung and by TSMC. Air-gaps reduce the dielectric capacitance that slows down ICs, so their integration into transistor structures leads to faster logic chips.

History of Airgaps – ILD and IPD

As this editor recently covered at SemiMD, in 1998, Ben Shieh—then a researcher at Stanford University and now a foundry interface for Apple Corp.—first published (Shieh, Saraswat & McVittie. IEEE Electron Dev. Lett., January 1998) on the use of controlled pitch design combined with CVD dielectrics to form “pinched-off keyholes” in cross-sections of inter-layer dielectrics (ILD).

In 2007, IBM researchers showed a way to use sacrificial dielectric layers as part of a subtractive process that allows air-gaps to be integrated into any existing dielectric structure. In an interview with this editor at that time, IBM Fellow Dan Edelstein explained, “we use lithography to etch a narrow channel down so it will cap off, then deliberated damage the dielectric and etch so it looks like a balloon. We get a big gap with a drop in capacitance and then a small slot that gets pinched off.

Intel presented on their integration of air-gaps into on-chip interconnects at IITC in 2010 but delayed use until the company’s 14nm-node reached production in 2014. 2D-NAND fabs have been using air-gaps as part of the inter-poly dielectric (IPD) for many years, so there is precedent for integration near the gate-stack.

Airgaps for finFETs

Now researchers from IBM and Globalfoundries will report in (IEDM Paper #17.1, “Air Spacer for 10nm FinFET CMOS and Beyond,” K. Cheng et al) on the first air-gaps used at the transistor level in logic. Figure 1 shows that for these “10nm-node” finFETs the dielectric spacing—including the air-gap and both sides of the dielectric liner—is about 10 nm. The liner needs to be ~2nm thin so that ~1nm of ultra-low-k sacrificial dielectric remains on either side of the ~5nm air-gap.

Fig.1: Schematic of partial air-gaps only above fin tops using dielectric liners to protect gate stacks during air-gap formation for 10nm finFET CMOS and beyond. (source: IEDM 2016, Paper#17.1, Fig.12)

These air-gaps reduced capacitance at the transistor level by as much as 25%, and in a ring oscillator test circuit by as much as 15%. The researchers say a partial integration scheme—where the air-gaps are formed only above the tops of fin— minimizes damage to the FinFET, as does the high-selectivity etching process used to fabricate them.

Figure 2 shows a cross-section transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of what can go wrong with etch-back air-gaps when all of the processes are not properly controlled. Because there are inherent process:design interactions needed to form repeatable air-gaps of desired shapes, this integration scheme should be extendable “beyond” the “10-nm node” to finFETs formed at tighter pitches. However, it seems likely that “5nm-node” logic FETs will use arrays of horizontal silicon nano-wires (NW), for which more complex air-gap integration schemes would seem to be needed.

Fig.2: TEM image of FinFET transistor damage—specifically, erosion of the fin and source-drain epitaxy—by improper etch-back of the air-gaps at 10nm dimensions. (source: IEDM 2016, Paper#17.1, Fig.10)

—E.K.

Blog review January 26, 2015

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Scott McGregor, President and CEO of Broadcom, sees some major changes for the semiconductor industry moving forward, brought about by rising design and manufacturing costs. Speaking at the SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS) in January, McGregor said the cost per transistor was rising after the 28nm, which he described as “one of the most significant challenges we as an industry have faced.” Pete Singer reports.

Matthew Hogan, Mentor Graphics writes a tongue-in-cheek blog about IP, saying chip designers need only to merely insert the IP into the IC design and make the necessary connections. Easy-peasey! Except…robust design requires more than verifying each separate block—you must also verify that the overall design is robust. When you are using hundreds of IPs sourced from multiple suppliers in a layout, how do you ensure that the integration of all those IPs is robust and accurate?

Dick James, Senior Analyst at Chipworks IEDM blogs that Monday was FinFET Day. He highlights three finFET papers, by TSMC, Intel, and IBM.

A research team led by folks at Cornell University (along with University of California, Berkeley; Tsinghua University; and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich) have discovered how to make a single-phase multiferroic switch out of bismuth ferrite (BiFeO3) as shown in an online letter to Nature. Ed Korczynski reports.

SEMI praised the bipartisan effort in the United States Congress to pass the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation (RAMI) Act as part of the year-end spending package. Since its introduction in August 2013, SEMI has been a champion and leading voice in support of the bill that would create public private partnerships to establish institutes for manufacturing innovation.

Phil Garrou takes a look at some of the key presentations at the 2014 IEEE 3DIC Conference recently held in Cork, Ireland.

Adele Hars writes that there were about 40 SOI-based papers presented at IEDM. In Part 1 of ASN’s IEDM coverage, she provides a rundown of the top SOI-based advanced CMOS papers.

Karen Lightman of the MEMS Industry Group says power is the HOLY GRAIL to both the future success of wearables and IoT/Everything.  Power reduction and management through sensor fusion, power generation through energy harvesting as well as basic battery longevity. It became very clear from conversations at the MIG conference as well as in talking with folks on the CES show floor that the issue of power is the biggest challenge and opportunity facing us now.

In order to keep pace with Moore’s Law, semiconductor market leaders have had to adopt increasingly challenging technology roadmaps, which are leading to new demands on electronic materials (EM) product quality for leading-edge chip manufacturing. Dr. Atul Athalye, Head of Technology, Linde Electronics, discusses the challenges.

IEDM: Thanks for MEMS-ories

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

At the 60th annual International Electron Devices Meeting this week in San Francisco, there was much buzz about the 14-nanometer FinFET papers being presented by IBM and Intel. Those papers were the subject of a press release two months in advance.

Getting less attention at IEDM 2014 were the papers on sensors, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) devices and bio-MEMS. This technology generates fewer headlines, although it is present in smartphones, fitness trackers, and many other electronic products.

Monday afternoon, December 15, saw the first MEMS-related papers presented at the conference, on nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) and energy harvesters. Donald Gardner of Intel, an IEEE Fellow, presented a paper on “Integrated On-Chip Energy Storage Using Porous-Silicon Electrochemical Capacitors,” which was supported by research at Florida International University and the University of Turku.

Gardner described how porous-silicon nanostructures were synthesized and passivated with titanium nitride through atomic-level deposition or with carbon through chemical vapor deposition. These coatings helped keep the porous silicon from oxidizing, he explained.

These electrochemical capacitors, an alternative to batteries, produced with the porous silicon could be used in energy harvesting and some applications in energy storage, according to the authors of the paper.

Session 8 of the IEDM conference also included a paper authored by France’s Institute of Electronics, Microelectronics and Nanotechnology (IEMN) and STMicroelectronics, “Fabrication of Integrated Micrometer Platform for Thermoelectric Measurements.” Maciej Haras presented the paper. He noted that 55 percent to 60 percent of energy used is released as waste heat. Harvesting energy from such heat could be a significant source of power generation in the future.

“Thermoelectricity is quite unpopular on the market,” Haras noted. Toxic materials, such as antimony, bismuth, lead, and tellurium, could be replaced by silicon, germanium or silicon germanium (SiGe) could to produce CMOS-compatible thermoelectrics, he said.

In energy conversion efficiency, silicon that is only 10 nanometers thick is 10 times more efficient than bulk silicon, Haras said.

Session 15 on Tuesday morning, December 16, was devoted to “Graphene Devices, Biosensors and Photonics.” This session featured some of the longest paper titles at the conference, such as “An Ultra-Sensitive Resistive Pressure Sensor Based on the V-Shaped Foam-like Structure of Laser-Scribed Graphene,” “A Semiconductor Bio-electrical Platform with Addressable Thermal Control for Accelerated Bioassay Development,” and “Label-Free Optical Biochemical Sensor Realized by a Novel Low-Cost Bulk-Silicon-based CMOS Compatible 3-Dimensional Optoelectronic IC (OEIC) Platform.”

Other papers were more direct, with shorter titles, such as “Flexible, Transparent Single-Layer Graphene Earphone,” which was about exactly that, and “An Integrated Tunable Laser Using Nano-Silicon-Photonic Circuits.”

Coming up on Tuesday afternoon is Session 22, devoted to MEMS and resonator technology, with six papers scheduled.

The nuts and bolts of MEMS and NEMS technology can be quite esoteric, yet such devices are crucial to the future of electronics.

Blog review December 16, 2014

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Maybe, just maybe, ASML Holding N.V. (ASML) has made the near-impossible a reality by creating a cost-effective Extreme Ultra-Violet (EUV @ ~13.5nm wavelength) all-reflective lithographic tool. The company has announced that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd. (TSMC) has ordered two NXE:3350B EUV systems for delivery in 2015 with the intention to use those systems in production. In addition, two NXE:3300B systems already delivered to TSMC will be upgraded to NXE:3350B performance. While costs and throughputs are conspicuously not-mentioned, this is still an important step for the industry.

The good and the great of the electron device world will make their usual pilgrimage to San Francisco for the 2014 IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting. Dick James of Chipworks writes that it’s the conference where companies strut their technology, and post some of the research that may make it into real product in the next few years.

The 4th Annual Global Interposer Technology Workshop at GaTech gathered 200 attendees from 11 countries to discuss the status of interposer technology. It has become the one meeting where you can find all the key interposer layers including those representing glass, laminate and silicon, blogs Phil Garrou.

Sharon C. Glotzer and Nicholas A. Kotov are both researchers at the University of Michigan who were just awarded a MRS Medal at the Materials Research Society (MRS) Fall Meeting in San Francisco for their work on “Integration of Computation and Experiment for Discovery and Design of Nanoparticle Self-Assembly.”

In order to keep pace with Moore’s Law, semiconductor market leaders have had to adopt increasingly challenging technology roadmaps, which are leading to new demands on electronic materials (EM) product quality for leading-edge chip manufacturing. Dr. Atul Athalye, Head of Technology, Linde Electronics, discusses the challenges.

ST further accelerates its FD-SOI ROs* by 2ps/stage, and reduces SRAM’s VMIN by an extra 70mV. IBM shows an apple-to-apple comparison of 10nm FinFETs on Bulk and SOI. AIST improves the energy efficiency of its FPGA by more than 10X and Nikon shows 2 wafers can be bonded with an overlay accuracy better than 250nm. Adele Hars reports.

Does your design’s interconnect have high enough wire width to withstand ESD? Frank Feng of Mentor Graphics writes in his blog that although applying DRC to check for ESD protection has been in use for a while, designers still struggle to perform this check, because a pure DRC approach can’t identify the direction of an electrical current flow, which means the check can’t directly differentiate the width or length of a wire polygon against a current flow.

At the recent IMAPS conference, Samsung electro-mechanics compared their Plated Mold Via Technology (PMV) to the well known Amkor Through Mold Via  (TMV) technology. The two process flows are compared. Phil Garrou reports.

Air-gaps in Copper Interconnects for Logic

Friday, October 31st, 2014

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By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor, SST/SemiMD

The good people at ChipWorks have released some of the first public data on Intel’s new 14nm-node process, and the results indicate that materials limitations in on-chip electrical interconnects are adding costs. Additional levels of metal have been added, and complex “air-gap” structures have been added to the dielectric stack. Flash memory chips have already used air-gaps, and IBM has already used a subtractive variant of air-gaps with >10 levels of metal for microprocessor manufacturing, but this is the first known use of additive air-gaps for logic after Intel announced that a fully-integrated process was ready for 22nm-node chips.

Mark Bohr of Intel famously published data in 1995 (DOI:  10.1109/IEDM.1995.499187) on the inherent circuit speed limitations of interconnects, showing proportionality to the resistance (R) of the metal lines multiplied by the capacitance (C) of the dielectric insulation around the metal (Fig.1). The RC product thus should be minimized for maximum circuit speed, but the materials used for both the metal and the dielectric insulation around metal lines are at limits of affordability in manufacturing.

There are no materials that super-conduct electricity at room temperature, and only expensive and room-sized supercomputers and telecommunications base-stations can afford to use the liquid-nitrogen cooling that is needed for known superconductors to function. Carbon Nano-Tubes (CNT) and 2D atomic-layers of carbon in the form of graphene can conduct ballistically, but integration costs and electrical contact resistances limit use. Copper metal remains as the best electrical conductor for on-chip interconnects, yet as horizontal lines and vertical vias continue to shrink in cross-sectional area the current density has reached the limit of reliability. The result is the increase in the number of metal layers to 13 for 14nm-node Intel microprocessors, while IBM used 15 layers for 22nm-node Power8 chips.

Low-k Dielectrics and Pore Sizes

The dielectric constant (“k”) of silicon oxide is ~4, and ~3.5 with the addition of fluorine to the oxide (SiOF). Carbon-Doped Oxide (CDO or SiOC or SiOC:H) with k~3.0 has been integrated well into interconnect stacks. Some polymers can provide k values in the 2.0-2.7, but they cannot be integrated into most interconnects due to lack of mechanical strength, chemical resistance, and overall stability. Air has k=1, and there have been specialized chips made using metal wires floating in air, but lack of physical structure results in poor manufacturing yield and weak reliability.

A clever compromise is to use both SiOC with k~3 and air with k~1 in a stack, which results in an integrated k value weighted by the percent of the volume taken up by each phase. Porous Low-k (PLK) with 10% porosity allows for an integrated k of ~2.7 for modest improvement, but increasing porosity to just 20% for k~2.4 results in connected random pores that reduce reliability. To reliably integrate 20-30% air into SiOC, the pores cannot be random but must be engineered as discrete gaps in the structure.

In 2007, IBM announced that it would engineer air-gaps in microprocessors, but the company claimed to be using an extremely complex process for integration involving a self-assembled thin-film mask to anisotropically etch out holes between lines and then further isotropic etching to form elongated pores. Though relatively complex and expensive, this process allows for the use of any 2D layout for lines in a given metal layer.

Additive Air-gap Process-Design Integration

For fab lines that are still working with aluminum metal and additive dielectrics, air-gaps are a defect that occurs with imperfect dielectric fill. When not planned as part of the design, air-gaps formed in a lower-layer can be exposed to etchants during subsequent processing resulting in metal shorts or opens. However, Figure 2 shows that it is possible to engineer air-gaps by Chemical-Vapor Deposition (CVD) of dielectric material into line-space structures with proper process control and design layout restrictions. Twenty years ago, this editor worked for an OEM on CVD processes for dielectric fill, and the process can be tuned to be highly repeatable and relatively low-cost if a critical masking step can be avoided. In 1998, Shieh et al. from Stanford (Shieh, Saraswat & McVittie. IEEE Electron Dev. Lett., January 1998) showed proof-of-concept for this approach to lower k values.

Figure 2: CVD can be easily tuned to initially coat sidewalls (top), then pinch-off (middle), and finally form a closed pore (bottom) during one step. (Source: Ed Korczynski)

Four years ago at IEDM 2010, Intel presented details of how to engineer air-gaps using CVD. As this editor wrote at that time in an extensive analysis:

The lithographic masking step is needed for two reliability reasons. First, by excluding air-gap formation in areas near next-layer vias, alignment between layers can be more easily done. Second, wide spaces are excluded where the final non-conformal CVD step wouldnt automatically pinch-off to close the gaps; leaving full SiOC(H) in wider spaces also helps with mechanical strength. The next layer is patterned with a conventional dual-damascene flow, with the option to add air-gaps.

Now we know that Intel kept air-gaps on the metaphorical shelf by skipping use at the 22nm-node. The 2014 IEDM paper from Intel will discuss details of 14nm-node air-gaps:   two levels at 80nm and 160nm minimum pitches, yielding a 17% reduction in capacitance delays.

This process requires regularly spaced 1D line arrays as a design constraint, which may also be part of the reason for additional metal layers to allow for 2D connections through vias. Due to lithography resolution advantages with 1D “gridded” layouts, other logic fabs may soon run 1D designs at which point additive air-gaps like that used by Intel will provide a relatively easy boost to IC speeds.

The Week in Review: May 30, 2014

Friday, May 30th, 2014

Applied Materials, Inc. introduced the Endura Ventura PVD system that helps customers reduce the cost of fabricating smaller, lower power, high-performance integrated 3D chips.

STATS ChipPAC Ltd., a provider of advanced semiconductor packaging and test services, today introduced encapsulated Wafer Level Chip Scale Package, a packaging technology that raises the industry standard of durability for Wafer Level Chip Scale Packaging (WLCSP).

The Semiconductor Industry Association announced that global semiconductor industry leaders reached an agreement at the 18th annual meeting of the World Semiconductor Council (WSC) last week on a series of policy proposals to strengthen the industry through international cooperation.

The 60th annual IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) has issued a Call for Papers seeking the world’s best original work in all areas of microelectronics research and development.

SEMI announced that SEMICON West 2014 will feature Bob Metcalfe, professor at the University of Texas at Austin, as the Silicon Innovation Forum’s keynote speaker.

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