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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.

SPIE panel tackles mask complexity issues

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Photomasks that take two-and-a-half days to write. Mask data preparation that enters into Big Data territory. And what happens when extreme-ultraviolet lithography really, truly arrives?

These were among the issues addressed by eight panelists in a Thursday session at the SPIE Photomask Technology conference in Monterey, Calif. Participants in the “Mask Complexity: How to Solve the Issues?” panel discussion came from multiple segments of the photomask food chain, although only one, moderator Naoya Hayashi of Dai Nippon Printing, represented a company that actually makes masks.

The panelists were generally optimistic on prospects for resolving the various issues in question. Dong-Hoon Chung of Samsung Electronics said solutions to the thorny challenges in designing, preparing, and manufacturing masks were “not impossible.”

Bala Thumma of Synopsys said he was “going to take the optimistic view” regarding mask-making challenges. “Scaling is going to continue,” he added.

“We are not at the breaking point yet,” Thumma said. “Far from it!” Electronic design automation companies like Synopsys will continue to improve their software tools, he asserted. Mask manufacturers will also benefit from “strong partnerships” with vendors of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, and “strong support from semiconductor companies,” he said.

“There is a lot of complexity,” he acknowledged. Still, going by past experience, “this group of people has been able to work together and solve these issues,” Thumma concluded.

To resolve the issue of burgeoning data volumes in mask design and manufacture, Suichiro Ohara of Nippon Control System (NCS) proposed the solution of a unified data format – specifically MALY and OASIS.MASK software. Shusuke Yoshitake of NuFlare Technology later said, “OASIS is gaining, but GDSII still predominates.”

Several panelists took the long-term view and looked beyond the coming era of EUV lithography to when multiple-beam mask writers and actinic inspection of masks will be required. EUV and actinic technology, it was generally agreed, will arrive at the 7-nanometer process node, possibly in 2017 or 2018. Multi-beam mask writers are also several years away, it was said.

As the floor was opened to questions and comments, consultant Ken Rygler noted that commercial mask makers have “very low margins” and asked, “How does the mask maker pay for the inspection tools, the EDA, materials?” Yalin Xiong of KLA-Tencor said the mask business is in “a tough time economically.” He added, “We have to look at where the high-end business is going. Captive [mask shops] should step up.”

ASML on EUV: Available at 10nm

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

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By Jeff Dorsch, contributing editor

Extreme-ultraviolet lithography systems will be available to pattern critical layers of semiconductors at the 10-nanometer process node, and EUV will completely take over from 193nm immersion lithography equipment at 7nm, according to Martin van den Brink, president and chief technology officer of ASML Holding.

Giving the keynote presentation Tuesday at the SPIE Photomask Technology conference in Monterey, Calif., Martin offered a lengthy update on his company’s progress with EUV technology.

Sources for the next-generation lithography systems are now able to produce 77 watts of power, and ASML is shooting for 81W by the end of 2014, Martin said.

The power figure is significant since it indicates how many wafers the litho system can process, a key milestone in EUV’s progress toward becoming a volume manufacturing technology. With an 80W power source, ASML’s EUV systems could turn out 800 wafers a day, he noted.

The goal is to get to 1,000 wafers per day. ASML has lately taken to specifying throughput rates in daily production, not wafers per hour, since many wafer fabs are running nearly all the time at present.

ASML’s overarching goal is providing “affordable scaling,” Martin asserted, through what he called “holistic lithography.” This involves both immersion litho scanners and EUV machines, he said.

Martin offered a product roadmap over the next four years, concluding with manufacturing of semiconductors with 7nm features in 2018.

The ASML president acknowledged that the development of EUV has been halting over the years, while asserting that his company has made “major progress” with EUV. He said the EUV program represented “a grinding project, going on for 10 years.”

For all of EUV’s complications and travails, “nothing is impossible,” Martin told a packed auditorium at the Monterey Conference Center.

With many producers of photomasks in attendance at the conference, Martin promised, “We are not planning to make a significant change in mask infrastructure” for EUV. He added, “What you are investing today will be useful next year, and the year after that.”