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3D-NAND Deposition and Etch Integration

Thursday, September 1st, 2016


By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

3D-NAND chips are in production or pilot-line manufacturing at all major memory manufacturers, and they are expected to rapidly replace most 2D-NAND chips in most applications due to lower costs and greater reliability. Unlike 2D-NAND which was enabled by lithography, 3D-NAND is deposition and etch enabled. “With 3D-NAND you’re talking about 40nm devices, while the most advanced 2D-NAND is running out of steam due to the limited countable number of stored electrons-per-cell, and in terms of the repeatability due to parasitics between adjacent cells,” reminded Harmeet Singh, corporate vice president of Lam Research in an exclusive interview with SemiMD to discuss the company’s presentation at the Flash Memory Summit 2016.

“We’re in an era where deposition and etch uniquely define the customer roadmap,” said Singh,“and we are the leading supplier in 3D-NAND deposition and etch.” Though each NAND manufacturer has different terminology for their unique 3D variant, from a manufacturing process integration perspective they all share similar challenges in the following simplified process sequences:

1)    Deposition of 32-64 pairs of blanket “mold stack” thin-films,

2)    Word-line hole etch through all layers and selective fill of NAND cell materials, and

3)    Formation of “staircase” contacts to each cell layer.

Each of these unique process modules is needed to form the 3D arrays of NVM cells.

For the “mold stack” deposition of blanket alternating layers, it is vital for the blanket PECVD to be defect-free since any defects are mirrored and magnified in upper-layers. All layers must also be stress-free since the stress in each deposited layer accumulates as strain in the underlying silicon wafer, and with over 32 layers the additive strain can easily warp wafers so much that lithographic overlay mismatch induces significant yield loss. Controlled-stress backside thin-film depositions can also be used to balance the stress of front-side films.

Hole Etch

“The difficult etch of the hole, the materials are different so the challenges is different,” commented Singh about the different types of 3D-NAND now being manufactured by leading fabs. “During this conference, one of our customer presented that they do not see the hole diameters shrinking, so at this point it appears to us that shrinking hole diameters will not happen until after the stacking in z-dimension reaches some limit.”

Tri-Layer Resist (TLR) stacks for the hole patterning allow for the amorphous carbon hardmask material to be tuned for maximum etch resistance without having to compromise the resolution of the photo-active layer needed for patterning. Carbon mask is over 3 microns thick and carbon-etching is usually responsive to temperature, so Lam’s latest wafer-chuck for etching features >100 temperature control zones. “This is an example of where Lam is using it’s processes expertise to optimize both the hardmask etch as well as the actual hole etch,” explained Singh.

Staircase Etch

The Figure shows a simplified cross-sectional schematic of how the unique “staircase” wordline contacts are cost-effectively manufactured. The established process of record (POR) for forming the “stairs” uses a single mask exposure of thick KrF photoresist—at 248nm wavelength—to etch 8 sets of stairs controlled by a precise resist trim. The trimming step controls the location of the steps such that they align with the contact mask, and so must be tightly controlled to minimize any misalignment yield loss.

A) Simplified cross-sectional schematic of the staircase etch for 3D-NAND contacts using thick photoresist, B) which allows for controlled resist trimming to expose the next “stair” such that C) successive trimming creates 8-16 steps from a single initial photomask exposure. (Source: Ed Korczynski)

Lam is working on ways to tighten the trimming etch uniformity such that 16 sets of stairs can be repeatably etched from a single KrF mask exposure. Halving the relative rate of vertical etch to lateral etch of the KrF resist allows for the same resist thickness to be used for double the number of etches, saving lithography cost. “We see an amazing future ahead because we are just at the beginning of this technology,” commented Singh.


Memristor Variants and Models from Knowm

Friday, January 22nd, 2016


By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

Knowm Inc. (, a start-up pioneering next-generation advanced computing architectures and technology, recently announced the availability of two new variations of memristors targeting different neuromorphic applications. The company also announced raw device data available for purchase to help researchers develop and improve memristor models. These new Knowm offerings enable the next step in the R&D of radically new chips for pattern-recognition, machine-learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) in general.

There is general consensus between industry and academia and government that future improvements in computing are now severely limited by the amount of energy it takes to use Von Neumann architectures. Consequently, the US Whitehouse has issued a grand challenge with the Energy-Efficient Computing: from Devices to Architectures (E2CDA) program ( actively soliciting proposals through March 28, 2016.

The Figure shows a schematic cross-section of Knowm’s memristor devices—with Tin (Sn) and Chromium (Cr) metal layers as the new options to tungsten (W)—along with the device I/V curves for each. “They differ in their activation threshold,” explained Knowm CEO and co-founder Alex Nugent in an exclusive interview with Solid State Technology. “As the activation thresholds become smaller you get reduced data retention, but higher cycle endurance. As that threshold increases you have to dissipate more energy per event, and the more energy you dissipate the faster it will burn-out.” Knowm’s two new memristors, as well as the company’s previously announced device, are now available as unpackaged raw dice with masks designed for research probe stations.

Figure: Schematic cross-section of Knowm’s memristor devices using Tin (Sn) or Chromium (Cr) or tungsten (W) metal layers, along with the device I/V curves for each. (Source: Knowm)

Knowm is working on the simultaneous co-optimization of the entire “stack” from memristors to circuit architectures to application-specific algorithms. “The potential of memristors is so huge that we are seeing exponential growth in the literature, a sort of gold rush as engineers race to design new circuits and re-envision old circuits,” commented Knowm CEO and co-founder Alex Nugent. “The problem is that in the race to publish, circuit designers are adopting models that do not adequately describe real devices.” Knowm’s raw data includes AC, DC, pulse response, and retention for different memristors.

Additional memristors are being developed by Knowm’s R&D lab partner Dr. Kris Campbell of  Boise State University (, using different metal layers to achieve different activation thresholds beyond the three shown to date. “She has discovered an algorithm for creating memristors along this dimension,” said Nugent. “From a physics perspective it makes sense that there would be devices with high cycle endurance but reduced data retention.”

“In the future what I image is a single chip with multiple memristors on it. Some will be volatile and very fast, while others will be slow,” continued Nugent. “Just like analog design today uses different capacitors, future neuromophic chips would likely use memristors optimized for different changes in adaptation threshhold. If you think about memristors as fundamental elements—as per Leon Chua (—then it makes sense that we’ll need different memristors.”

The applications spaces for these devices have intrinsically different requirements for speed and retention. For example, to exploit these devices for pattern recognition and/or anomaly detection (keeping track of confidence in making temporal predictions) it seems best to choose relatively high activation thresholds because the number of operations is unlikely to burn-out devices. Conversely, for circuits that constantly solve optimization problems the best memristors would require low burn-out and thus low activation thresholds. However, analog applications are generally problematic because the existing memristors leak current, such that stored values degrade over time.

Knowm is shipping devices today, mostly to university researchers, and has tested thousands of devices itself. The Knowm memristors can be fabricated at <500°C using industry-standard unit-process steps, allowing for eventual integration with silicon CMOS “back-end” metallization layers. While still in early R&D, this technology could provide much of the foundation for post-Moore’s-Law silicon ICs.


3DIC Technology Drivers and Roadmaps

Monday, June 22nd, 2015


By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

After 15 years of targeted R&D, through-silicon via (TSV) formation technology has been established for various applications. Figure 1 shows that there are now detailed roadmaps for different types of 3-dimensional (3D) ICs well established in industry—first-order segmentation based on the wiring-level/partitioning—with all of the unit-processes and integration needed for reliable functionality shown. Using block-to-block integration with 5 micron lines at leading international IC foundries such as GlobalFoundries, systems stacking logic and memory such as the Hybrid Memory Cube (HMC) are now in production.

Fig. 1: Today’s 3D technology landscape segmented by wiring-level, showing cross-sections of typical 2-tier circuit stacks, and indicating planned reductions in contact pitches. (Source: imec)

“There are interposers for high-end complex SOC design with good yield,” informed Eric Beyne, Scientific Director Advanced Packaging & Interconnect for imec in an exclusive interview with Solid State Technology. ““For a systems company, once you’ve made the decision to go 3D there’s no way back,” said Beyne. “If you need high-bandwidth memory, for example, then you’re committed to some sort of 3D. The process is happening today.” Beyne is scheduled to talk about 3D technology driven by 3D application requirements in the imec Technology Forum to be held July 13 in San Francisco.

Adaptation of TSV for stacking of components into a complete functional system is key to high-volume demand. Phil Garrou, packaging technologist and SemiMD blogger, reported from the recent ConFab that Hynix is readying a second generation of high-bandwidth memory (HBM 2) for use in high performance computing (HPC) such as graphics, with products already announced like Pascal from Nvidia and Greenland from AMD.

For a normalized 1 cm2 of silicon area, wide-IO memory needs 1600 signal pins (not counting additional power and ground pins) so several thousand TSV are needed for high-performance stacked DRAM today, while in more advanced memory architectures it could go up by another factor of 10. For wide-IO HVM-2 (or Wide-IO2) the silicon consumed by IO circuitry is maybe 6 cm2 today, such that a 3D stack with shorter vertical connections would eliminate many of the drivers on the chip and would allow scaling of the micro-bumps to perhaps save a total of 4 cm2 in silicon area. 3D stacks provide such trade-offs between design and performance, so the best results are predicted for 3DICs where the partitioning can be re-done at the gate or transistor level. For example, a modern 8-core microprocessor could have over 50% of the silicon area consumed by L3-cache-memory and IO circuitry, and moving from 2D to 3D would reduce total wire-lengths and interconnect power consumptions by >50%.

There are inherent thresholds based on the High:Width ratio (H:W) that determine costs and challenges in process integration of TSV:

-    10:1 ratio is the limit for the use of relatively inexpensive physical vapor deposition (PVD) for the Cu barrier/seed (B/S),

-    20:1 ratio is the limit for the use of atomic-layer deposition (ALD) for B/S and electroless deposition (ELD) for Cu fill with 1.5 x 30 micron vias on the roadmap for the far future,

-    30:1 ratio and greater is unproven as manufacturable, though novel deposition technologies continue to be explored.

TSV Processing Results

The researchers at imec have evaluated different ways of connecting TSV to underlying silicon, and have determined that direct connections to micro-bumps are inherently superior to use of any re-distribution layer (RDL) metal. Consequently, there is renewed effort on scaling of micro-bump pitches to be able to match up with TSV. The standard minimum micro-bump pitch today of 40 micron has been shrunk to 20, and imec is now working on 10 micron with plans to go to 5 micron. While it may not help with TSV connections, an RDL layer may still be needed in the final stack and the Cu metal over-burden from TSV filling has been shown by imec to be sufficiently reproducible to be used as the RDL metal. The silicon surface area covered by TSV today is a few percents not 10s of percents, since the wiring level is global or semi-global.

Regarding the trade-offs between die-to-wafer (D2W) and wafer-to-wafer (W2W) stacking, D2W seems advantageous for most near-term solutions because of easier design and superior yield. D2W design is easier because the top die can be arbitrarily smaller silicon, instead of the identically sized chips needed in W2W stacks. Assuming the same defectivity levels in stacking, D2W yield will almost always be superior to W2W because of the ability to use strictly known-good-die. Still, there are high-density integration concepts out on the horizon that call for W2W stacking. Monolithic 3D (M3D) integration using re-grown active silicon instead of TSV may still be used in the future, but design and yield issues will be at least comparable to those of W2W stacking.

Beyne mentioned that during the recent ECTC 2015, EV Group showed impressive 250nm overlay accuracy on 450mm wafers, proving that W2W alignment at the next wafer size will be sufficient for 3D stacking. Beyne is also excited by the fact the at this year’s ECTC there was, “strong interest in thermo-compression bonding, with 18 papers from leading companies. It’s something that we’ve been working on for many years for die-to-wafer stacking, while people had mistakenly thought that it might be too slow or too expensive.”

Thermal issues for high-performance circuitry remain a potential issue for 3D stacking, particularly when working with finFETs. In 2D transistors the excellent thermal conductivity of the underlying silicon crystal acts like a built-in heat-sink to diffuse heat away from active regions. However, when 3D finFETs protrude from the silicon surface the main path for thermal dissipation is through the metal lines of the local interconnect stack, and so finFETs in general and stacks of finFETs in particular tend to induce more electro-migration (EM) failures in copper interconnects compared to 2D devices built on bulk silicon.

3D Designs and Cost Modeling

At a recent North California Chapter of the American Vacuum Society (NCCAVS) PAG-CMPUG-TFUG Joint Users Group Meeting discussing 3D chip technology held at Semi Global Headquarters in San Jose, Jun-Ho Choy of Mentor Graphics Corp. presented on “Electromigration Simulation Flow For Chip-Scale Parametric Failure Analysis.” Figure 2 shows the results from use of a physics-based model for temperature- and residual-stress-aware void nucleation and growth. Mentor has identified new failure mechanisms in TSV that are based on coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) mismatch stresses. Large stresses can develop in lines near TSV during subsequent thermal processing, and the stress levels are layout dependent. In the worst cases the combined total stress can exceed the critical level required for void nucleation before any electrical stressing is applied. During electrical stress, EM voids were observed to initially nucleate under the TSV centers at the landing-pad interfaces even though these are the locations of minimal current-crowding, which requires proper modeling of CTE-mismatch induced stresses to explain.

Fig. 2: Calibration of an Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tool allows for accurate prediction of transistor performance depending on distance from a TSV. (Source: Mentor Graphics)

Planned for July 16, 2015 at SEMICON West in San Francisco, a presentation on “3DIC Technology Past, Present and Future” will be part of one of the side Semiconductor Technology Sessions (STS). Ramakanth Alapati, Director of Packaging Strategy and Marketing, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, will discuss the underlying economic, supply chain and technology factors that will drive productization of 3DIC technology as we know it today. Key to understanding the dynamic of technology adaptation is using performance/$ as a metric.

Monolithic 3D processing using non-equilibrium RTP

Friday, April 17th, 2015


By Ed Korczynski, Senior Technical Editor, Solid State Technology

Slightly more than one year after Qualcomm Technologies announced that it was assessing CEA-Leti’s monolithic 3D (M3D) transistor stacking technology, Qualcomm has now announced that M3D will be used instead of through-silicon vias (TSV) in the company’s next generation of cellphone handset chips. Since Qualcomm had also been a leading industrial proponent of TSV over the last few years while participating in the imec R&D consortium, this endorsement of M3D is particularly relevant.

Leti’s approach to 3D stacking of transistors starts with a conventionally built and locally-interconnected bottom layer of transistors, which are then covered with a top layer of transistors built using relatively low-temperature processes branded as “CoolCube.” Figure 1 shows a simplified cross-sectional schematic of a CoolCube stack of transistors and interconnects. CoolCube M3D does not transfer a layer of built devices as in the approach using TSV, but instead transfers just a nm-thin layer of homogenous semiconducting material for subsequent device processing.

Fig. 1: Simplified cross-sectional rendering of Monolithic 3D (M3D) transistor stacks, with critical process integration challenges indicated. (Source: CEA-Leti)

The reason that completed transistors are not transferred in the first place is because of intrinsic alignment issues, which are eliminated when transistors are instead fabricated on the same wafer. “We have lots of data to prove that alignment precision is as good as can be seen in 2D lithography, typically 3nm,” explained Maud Vinet, Leti’s advanced CMOS laboratory manager in an exclusive interview with SST.

As discussed in a blog post online at Semiconductor Manufacturing and Design ( last year by Leti researchers, the M3D approach consists of sequentially processing:

  • processing a bottom MOS transistor layer with local interconnects,
  • bonding a wafer substrate to the bottom transistor layer,
  • chemical-mechanical planarization (CMP) and SPE of the top layer,
  • processing the top device layer,
  • forming metal vias between the two device layers as interconnects, and
  • standard copper/low-k multi-level interconnect formation.

To transfer a layer of silicon for the top layer of transistors, a cleave-layer is needed within the bulk silicon or else time and money would be wasted in grinding away >95% of the silicon bulk from the backside. For CMOS:CMOS M3D thin silicon-on-insulator (SOI) is the transferred top layer, a logical extension of work done by Leti for decades. The heavy dose ion-implantation that creates the cleave-layer leaves defects in crystalline silicon which require excessively high temperatures to anneal away. Leti’s trick to overcome this thermal-budget issue is to use pre-amorphizing implants (PAI) to completely dis-order the silicon before transfer and then solid-phase epitaxy (SPE) post-transfer to grow device-grade single-crystal silicon at ~500°C.

Since neither aluminum nor copper interconnects can withstand this temperature range, the interconnects for the bottom layer of transistors need to be tungsten wires with the highest melting point of any metal but somewhat worse electrical resistance (R). Protection for the lower wires cannot use low-k dielectrics, but must use relatively higher capacitance (C) oxides. However, the increased RC delay in the lower interconnects is more than offset by the orders-of-magnitude reduction in interconnect lengths due to vertical stacking.

M3D Roadmaps

Leti shows data that M3D transistor stacking can provide immediate benefit to industry by combining two 28nm-node CMOS layers instead of trying to design and manufacture a single 14nm-node CMOS layer:  area gain 55%, performance gain 23%, and power gain 12%. With cost/transistor now expected to increase with sequential nodes, M3D thus provides a way to reduce cost and risk when developing new ICs.

For the industry to use M3D, there are some unique new unit-processes that will need to ramp into high-volume manufacturing (HVM) to ensure profitable line yield. As presented by C. Fenouillet-Beranger et al. from Leti and ST (paper 27.5) at IEDM2014 in San Francisco, “New Insights on Bottom Layer Thermal Stability and Laser Annealing Promises for High Performance 3D Monolithic Integration,” due to stability improvement in bottom transistors found through the use of doping nickel-silicide with a noble metal such as platinum, the top MOSFET processing temperature could be relaxed up to 500°C. Laser RTP annealing then allows for the activation of top MOSFETs junctions, which have been characterized morphologically and electrically as promising for high performance ICs.

Figure 2 shows the new unit-processes at <=500°C that need to be developed for top transistor formation:

*   Gate-oxide formation,

*   Dopant activation,

*   Epitaxy, and

*   Spacer deposition.

Fig. 2: Thermal processing ranges for process modules need to be below ~500°C for the top devices in M3D stacks to prevent degradation of the bottom layer. (Source: CEA-Leti)

After the above unit-processes have been integrated into high-yielding process modules for CMOS:CMOS stacking, heterogeneous integration of different types of devices are on the roadmap for M3D. Leti has already shown proof-of-concept for processes that integrate new IC functionalities into future M3D stacks:

1)       CMOS:CMOS,

2)       PMOS:NMOS,

3)       III-V:Ge, and

4)       MEMS/NEMS:CMOS.

Thomas Ernst, senior scientist, Electron Nanodevice Architectures, Leti, commented to SST, “Any application that will need a ‘pixelated’ device architecture would likely use M3D. In addition, this approach will work well for integrating new channel materials such as III-V’s and germanium, and any materials that can be deposited at relatively low temperatures such as the active layers in gas-sensors or resistive-memory cells.”

Non-Equilibrium Thermal Processing

Though the use of an oxide barrier between the active device layers provides significant thermal protection to the bottom layer of devices during top-layer fabrication, the thermal processes of the latter  cannot be run at equilibrium. “One way of controlling the thermal budget is to use what we sometimes call the crème brûlée approach to only heat the very top surface while keeping the inside cool,” explained Vinet. “Everyone knows that you want a nice crispy top surface with cool custard beneath.” Using a laser with a short wavelength prevents penetration into lower layers such that essentially all of the energy is absorbed in the surface layer in a manner that can be considered as adiabatic.

Applied Materials has been a supplier-partner with Leti in developing M3D, and the company provided responses from executive technologists to queries from SST about the general industry trend to controlling short pulses of light for thermal processing. “Laser non-equilibrium heating is enabling technology for 3D devices,” affirmed Steve Moffatt, chief technology officer, Front End Products, Applied Materials. “The idea is to heat the top layer and not the layers below. To achieve very shallow adiabatic heating the toolset needs to ramp up in less than 100 nsec. In order to get strong absorption in the top surface, shorter wavelengths are useful, less than 800 nm. Laser non-equilibrium heating in this regime can be a critical process for building monolithic 3D structures for SOC and logic devices.”

Of course, with ultra-shallow junctions (USJ) and atomic-scale gate-stacks already in use for CMOS transistors at the 22nm-node, non-equilibrium thermal processing has already been used in leading fabs. “Gate dielectric, gate metal, and contact treatments are areas where we have seen non-equilibrium anneals slowly taking the place of conventional RTP,” clarified Abhilash Mayur, senior director, Front End Products, Applied Materials. “For approximate percentages, I would say about 25 percent of thermal processing for logic at the 22nm-node is non-equilibrium, and seen to be heading toward 50 percent at the 10nm-node or lower.”

Mayur further explained some of the trade-offs in working on the leading-edge of thermal processing for demanding HVM customers. Pulse-times are in the tens of nsec, with longer pulses tending to allow the heat to diffuse deeper and adversely alter the lower layers, and with shorter pulses tending to induce surface damage or ablation. “Our roadmap is to ensure flexibility in the pulse shape to tailor the heat flow to the specific application,” said Mayur.

Now that Qualcomm has endorsed CoolCube M3D as a preferred approach to CMOS:CMOS transistor stacking in the near-term, we may assume that R&D in novel unit-processes has mostly concluded. Presumably there are pilot lots of wafers now being run through commercial foundries to fine-tune M3D integration. With a roadmap for long-term heterogeneous integration that seems both low-cost and low-risk, M3D using non-equilibrium RTP will likely be an important way to integrate new functionalities into future ICs.

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