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).
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.
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.