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Lithographic Stochastic Limits on Resolution

Monday, April 3rd, 2017


By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

The physical and economic limits of Moore’s Law are being approached as the commercial IC fab industry continues reducing device features to the atomic-scale. Early signs of such limits are seen when attempting to pattern the smallest possible features using lithography. Stochastic variation in the composition of the photoresist as well as in the number of incident photons combine to destroy determinism for the smallest devices in R&D. The most advanced Extreme Ultra-Violet (EUV) exposure tools from ASML cannot avoid this problem without reducing throughputs, and thereby increasing the cost of manufacturing.

Since the beginning of IC manufacturing over 50 years ago, chip production has been based on deterministic control of fabrication (fab) processes. Variations within process parameters could be controlled with statistics to ensure that all transistors on a chip performed nearly identically. Design rules could be set based on assumed in-fab distributions of CD and misalignment between layers to determine the final performance of transistors.

As the IC fab industry has evolved from micron-scale to nanometer-scale device production, the control of lithographic patterning has evolved to be able to bend-light at 193nm wavelength using Off-Axis Illumination (OAI) of Optical-Proximity Correction (OPC) mask features as part of Reticle Enhancement Technology (RET) to be able to print <40nm half-pitch (HP) line arrays with good definition. The most advanced masks and 193nm-immersion (193i) steppers today are able to focus more photons into each cubic-nanometer of photoresist to improve the contrast between exposed and non-exposed regions in the areal image. To avoid escalating cost and complexity of multi-patterning with 193i, the industry needs Extreme Ultra-Violet Lithography (EUVL) technology.

Figure 1 shows Dr. Britt Turkot, who has been leading Intel’s integration of EUVL since 1996, reassuring a standing-room-only crowd during a 2017 SPIE Advanced Lithography ( keynote address that the availability for manufacturing of EUVL steppers has been steadily improving. The new tools are close to 80% available for manufacturing, but they may need to process fewer wafers per hour to ensure high yielding final chips.

Figure 1. Britt Turkot (Intel Corp.) gave a keynote presentation on "EUVL Readiness for High-Volume Manufacturing” during the 2017 SPIE Advanced Lithography conference. (Source: SPIE)

The KLA-Tencor Lithography Users Forum was held in San Jose on February 26 before the start of SPIE-AL; there, Turcot also provided a keynote address that mentioned the inherent stochastic issues associated with patterning 7nm-node device features. We must ensure zero defects within the 10 billion contacts needed in the most advanced ICs. Given 10 billion contacts it is statistically certain that some will be subject to 7-sigma fluctuations, and this leads to problems in controlling the limited number of EUV photons reaching the target area of a resist feature. The volume of resist material available to absorb EUV in a given area is reduced by the need to avoid pattern-collapse when aspect-ratios increase over 2:1; so 15nm half-pitch lines will generally be limited to just 30nm thick resist. “The current state of materials will not gate EUV,” said Turkot, “but we need better stochastics and control of shot-noise so that photoresist will not be a long-term limiter.”

TABLE:  EUVL stochastics due to scaled contact hole size. (Source: Intel Corp.)


From the LithoGuru blog of gentleman scientist Chris Mack (

One reason why smaller pixels are harder to control is the stochastic effects of exposure:  as you decrease the number of electrons (or photons) per pixel, the statistical uncertainty in the number of electrons or photons actually used goes up. The uncertainty produces line-width errors, most readily observed as line-width roughness (LWR). To combat the growing uncertainty in smaller pixels, a higher dose is required.

We define a “stochastic” or random process as a collection of random variables (, and a Wiener process ( as a continuous-time stochastic process in honor of Norbert Wiener. Brownian motion and the thermally-driven diffusion of molecules exhibit such “random-walk” behavior. Stochastic phenomena in lithography include the following:

  • Photon count,
  • Photo-acid generator positions,
  • Photon absorption,
  • Photo-acid generation,
  • Polymer position and chain length,
  • Diffusion during post-exposure bake,
  • Dissolution/neutralization, and
  • Etching hard-mask.

Figure 2 shows the stochastics within EUVL start with direct photolysis and include ionization and scattering within a given discrete photoresist volume, as reported by Solid State Technology in 2010.

Figure 2. Discrete acid generation in an EUV resist is based on photolysis as well as ionization and electron scattering; stochastic variations of each must be considered in minimally scaled areal images. (Source: Solid State Technology)

Resist R&D

During SPIE-AL this year, ASML provided an overview of the state of the craft in EUV resist R&D. There has been steady resolution improvement over 10 years with Photo-sensitive Chemically-Amplified Resists (PCAR) from 45nm to 13nm HP; however, 13nm HP needed 58 mJ/cm2, and provided DoF of 99nm with 4.4nm LWR. The recent non-PCAR Metal-Oxide Resist (MOR) from Inpria has been shown to resolve 12nm HP with  4.7 LWR using 38 mJ/cm2, and increasing exposure to 70 mJ/cm2 has produced 10nm HP L/S patterns.

In the EUVL tool with variable pupil control, reducing the pupil fill increases the contrast such that 20nm diameter contact holes with 3nm Local Critical-Dimension Uniformity (LCDU) can be done. The challenge is to get LCDU to <2nm to meet the specification for future chips. ASML’s announced next-generation N.A. >0.5 EUVL stepper will use anamorphic mirrors and masks which will double the illumination intensity per cm2 compared to today’s 0.33 N.A. tools. This will inherently improve the stochastics, when eventually ready after 2020.

The newest generation EUVL steppers use a membrane between the wafer and the optics so that any resist out-gassing cannot contaminate the mirrors, and this allow a much wider range of materials to be used as resists. Regarding MOR, there are 3.5 times more absorbed photons and 8 times more electrons generated per photon compared to PCAR. Metal hard-masks (HM) and other under-layers create reflections that have a significant effect on the LWR, requiring tuning of the materials in resist stacks.

Default R&D hub of the world imec has been testing EUV resists from five different suppliers, targeting 20 mJ/cm2 sensitivity with 30nm thickness for PCAR and 18nm thickness for MOR. All suppliers were able to deliver the requested resolution of 16nm HP line/space (L/S) patterns, yet all resists showed LWR >5nm. In another experiment, the dose to size for imec’s “7nm-node” metal-2 (M2) vias with nominal pitch of 53nm was ~60mJ/cm2. All else equal, three times slower lithography costs three times as much per wafer pass.


Edge Placement Error Control in Multi-Patterning

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017


By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

SPIE Advanced Lithography remains the technical conference where the leading edge of minimum resolution patterning is explored, even though photolithography is now only part of the story. Leading OEMs continue to impress the industry with more productive ArFi steppers, but the photoresist suppliers and the purveyors of vacuum deposition and etch tools now provide most of the new value-add. Tri-layer-resist (TLR) stacks, specialty hard-masks and anti-reflective coatings (ARC), and complex thin-film depositions and etches all combine to create application-specific lithography solutions tuned to each critical mask.

Multi-patterning using complementary lithography—using argon-fluoride immersion (ArFi) steppers to pattern 1D line arrays plus extreme ultra-violet (EUV) tools to do line cuts—is under development at all leading edge fabs today. Figure 1 shows that edge placement error (EPE) in lines, cut layers, and vias/contacts between two orthogonal patterned layers can result in shorts and opens. Consequently, EPE control is critical for yield within any multi-patterning process flow, including litho-etch-litho-etch (LELE), self-aligned double-patterning (SADP) and self-aligned quadruple-patterning (SAQP).

Fig.1: Plan view schematic of 10nm half-pitch vertical lines overlaid with lower horizontal lines, showing the potential for edge-placement error (EPE). (Source: Y. Borodovsky, SPIE)

Happening the day before the official start of SPIE-AL, Nikon’s LithoVision event featured a talk by Intel Fellow and director of lithography hardware solutions Mark Phillips on the big picture of how the industry may continue to pattern smaller IC device features. Regarding the timing of Intel’s planned use of EUV litho technology, Phillips re-iterated that, “It’s highly desirable for the 7nm node, but we’ll only use it when it’s ready. However, EUVL will remain expensive even at full productivity, so 193i and multi-patterning will continue to be used. In particular we’ll need continued improvement in the 193i tools to meet overlay.”

Yuichi Shibazaki— Nikon Fellow and the main architect of the current generation of Nikon steppers—explained that the current generation of 193i steppers, featuring throughputs of >200 wafers per hour, have already been optimized to the point of diminishing returns. “In order to improve a small amount of performance it requires a lot of expense. So just improving tool performance may not decrease chip costs.” Nikon’s latest productivity offering is a converted alignment station as a stand-alone tool, intended to measure every product wafer before lithography to allow for feed-forward tuning of any stepper; cost and cost-of-ownership may be disclosed after the first beta-site tool reaches a customer by the end of this year.

“The 193 immersion technology continues to make steady progress, but there are not as many new game-changing developments,” confided Michael Lercel, Director of Strategic Marketing for ASML in an exclusive interview with SemiMD. “A major theme of several SPIE papers is on EPE, which traditionally we looked at as dependent upon CD and overlay. Now we’re looking at EPE in patterning more holistically, with need to control the complexity with different error-variables. The more information we can get the more we can control.”

At LithoVision this year, John Sturtevant—SPIE Fellow, and director of RET product development in the Design to Silicon Division at Mentor Graphics—discussed the challenges of controlling variability in multi-layer patterning. “A key challenge is predicting and then mitigating total EPE control,” reminded Sturtevant. “We’ve always paid attention to it, but the budgets that are available today are smaller than ever. Edge-placement is very important ” At the leading edge, there are multiple steps within the basic litho flow that induce proximity/local-neighbor effects which must be accounted for in EDA:  mask making, photoresist exposure, post-exposure bake (PEB), pattern development, and CD-SEM inspection (wherein there is non-zero resist shrinkage).

Due to the inherent physics of EUV lithography, as well as the atomic-scale non-uniformities in the reflective mirrors focusing onto the wafer, EUV exposure tools show significant variation in exposure uniformities. “For any given slit position there can be significant differences between tools. In practice we have used a single model of OPC for all slit locations in all scanners in the fab, and that paradigm may have to change,” said Sturtevant. “It’s possible that because the variation across the scanner is as much as the variation across the slit, it could mean we’ll need scanner-specific cross-slit computational lithography.” More than 3nm variation has been seen across 4 EUVL steppers, and the possible need for tool-specific optical proximity correction (OPC) and source-mask optimization (SMO) would be horrible for managing masks in HVM.

Thin Films Extend Patterning Resolution

Applied Materials has led the industry in thin-film depositions and etches for decades, and the company’s production proven processing platforms are being used more and more to extend the resolution of lithography. For SADP and SAQP MP, there are tunable unit-processes established for sidewall-spacer depositions, and chemical downstream etching chambers for mandrel pull with extreme material selectivity. CVD of dielectric and metallic hard-masks when combined with highly anisotropic plasma etching allows for device-specific and mask-specific pattern transfers that can reduce the line width/edge roughness (LWR/LER) originally present in the photoresist. Figure 2 from the SPIE-AL presentation “Impact of Materials Engineering on Edge Placement Error” by Regina Freed, Ying Zhang, and Uday Mitra of Applied Materials, shows LER reduction from 3.4 to 1.3 nm is possible after etch. The company’s Sym3 chamber features very high gas conductance to prevent etch byproducts from dissociation and re-deposition on resist sidewalls.

Fig.2: 3D schematics (top) and plan view SEM images (bottom) showing that control of plasma parameters can tune the byproducts of etch processes to significantly reduce the line-width roughness (LWR) of minimally scaled lines. (Source: Applied Materials)

TEL’s new SAQP spacer-on-spacer process builds on the work shown last year, using oxide as first spacer and TiO2 as second spacer. Now TEL is exploring silicon as the mandrel, then silicon-nitride as the first spacer, and titanium-oxide as second spacer. This new flow can be tuned so that all-dry etch in a single plasma etch chamber can be used for the final mandrel pull and pattern transfer steps.

Coventor’s 3D modeling software allows companies to do process integration experiments in virtual space, allowing for estimation of yield-losses in pattern transfer due to variations in side-wall profiles and LER. A simulation of 9 SRAM cells with 54 transistors shows that photoresist sidewall taper angle determines both the size and the variability of the final fins. The final capacitance of low-k dielectric in dual-damascene copper metal interconnects can be simulated as a function of the initial photoresist profile in a SAQP flow.


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.


A Study Of Model-Based Etch Bias Retarget For OPC

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Model-based optical proximity correction is usually used to compensate for the pattern distortion during the microlithography process. Currently, almost all the lithography effects, such as the proximity effects from the limited NA, the 3D mask effects due to the shrinking critical dimension, the photo resist effects, and some other well known physical process, can all be well considered into modeling with the OPC algorithm. However, the micro-lithography is not the final step of the pattern transformation procedure from the mask to the wafer. The etch process is also a very important stage. It is well known that till now, the etch process still can’t be well explained by physics theory. As we all know, the final critical dimension is decided by both the lithography and the etch process. If the etch bias, which is the difference between the post development CD and the post etch CD, is a constant value, it will be simple to control the final CD. But unfortunately this is always not the case. For advanced technology nodes with shrinking critical dimension, the etch loading effect is the dominant factor that impacts the final CD control. And some people tried to use the etch-based model to do optical proximity correction, but one drawback is the efficiency of the OPC running will be hurt. In this paper, we will demonstrate our study on the model based etch bias retarget for OPC.

To download this white paper, click here.

EUV Flare And Proximity Modeling And Model-Based Correction

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

The introduction of EUV lithography into the semiconductor fabrication process will enable a continuation of Moore’s law below the 22 nm technology node. EUV lithography will, however, introduce new and unwanted sources of patterning distortions which must be accurately modeled and corrected on the reticle. Flare caused by scattered light in the projection optics is expected to result in several nanometers of on-wafer dimensional variation, if left uncorrected. Previous work by the authors has focused on combinations of model-based and rules-based approaches to modeling and correction of flare in EUV lithography. This paper focuses on the development of an all model-based approach to compensation of both flare and proximity effects in EUV lithography. The advantages of such an approach in terms of both model and OPC accuracy will be discussed. In addition, the authors will discuss the benefits and tradeoffs associated with hybrid OPC approaches which mix both rules-based.

To view this white paper, click here.

Double Patterning From Design Enablement To Verification

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Litho-etch-litho-etch (LELE) is the double patterning (DP) technology of choice for 20 nm contact, via, and lower metal layers. We discuss the unique design and process characteristics of LELE DP, the challenges they present, and various solutions, including:

  • DP design methodologies, current DP conflict feedback mechanisms, and how they can help designers identify and resolve conflicts.
  • Effects on place and route (P&R) and new reqirements for physical design.
  • Why LELE DP cuts and overlaps are critical to optical process correction (OPC).
  • Mask misalignment and image rounding as new verification considerations.

To download this white paper, click here.

A Hybrid Model/Pattern-Based OPC Approach For Improved Consistency And TAT

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

As the technology advances, OPC run time turns to be a big concern, and a great deal of our effort is directed toward speeding up the litho operations. In addition, the OPC simulation consistency sometimes deteriorates, which is a critical issue—especially for anchor features. On the other hand, full-chip designs usually comprise large arrays of basic cells, used by OPC engineers to tune OPC recipes, which is evident for instance for memory design and processor chips. The model-based OPC technique is not necessary for such designs, provided that the equivalent mask shapes for one cell of these arrays are already known.

In this work, we introduce a combined approach using model- and pattern-based OPC. Pattern matching is used to extract regions from full chips that match the basic designs stored in pre-created libraries. When matching occurs, the OPC solution stored in these libraries is used and populated across matched areas. Special treatment for large array boundaries is applied due to proximity effects. Model-based OPC is used for the rest of the chip. This approach has two main advantages. First, simulation consistency is greatly improved because the OPC solution for standard cells is known. And second, pattern matching is a DRC-based tool, and thus it is very fast compared to litho operations and hence TAT is further enhanced.

To download this white paper, click here.