Reports ... in depth ...
lithography refinement essential to meet increasing challenge
from NGL technologies
Technical Insights Semiconductor
Alto, Calif. - -- Optical lithography may currently offer the
advantage of high wafer throughputs, but to sustain in the long
term and compete with the next generation lithography (NGL)
technologies, it must deliver finer resolution and achieve the
desired quality, reliability, and cost targets.
"Constant improvements in optical lithography are likely
to play a crucial role in assisting the semiconductor industry
to achieve shrinking device sizes and increased chip performance,"
says Technical Insights Research Analyst Sivakumar Muthuramalingam.
Extending optical lithography toward the 193-nm wavelength is
expected to provide feature sizes of 65-nm and beyond for the
high-volume production of advanced memory and semiconductor
devices. Extensions beyond 193-nm wavelength require better
enhancement techniques and precision sources than are currently
Optical lithography must also tackle the issue of low contrast
aerial image to reduce mask error. Sophisticated engineering
techniques such as advanced lithography masks and off-axis illumination
are likely to be critical in minimizing mask error.
However, with optical lithography methods approaching their
limits and semiconductor manufacturers looking at the sub-50
nm node to create smaller, lighter, faster, and more powerful
devices, NGL technologies are anticipated to prove to be the
future of the semiconductor industry.
"A successful NGL candidate must demonstrate extendibility
below 70-nm, reduced cost of ownership, high wafer throughput,
and defect-free mask technology," emphasizes Muthuramalingam.
Despite technical and economical hurdles, extreme ultra violet
lithography (EUVL) and electron projection lithography (EPL)
with their ability to pattern features as small as 32-nm are
the prime contenders to replace optical lithography.
Researchers believe EUVL is the right step toward a 32-nm node,
although certain concerns such as masks, costs, and timing need
to be addressed before commercialization.
EUVL improves the quality of the pattern projected onto the
silicon wafer, thereby increasing the chip performance. This
technology is likely to be extremely useful for creating universal
language translators and high-volume applications such as processors
and dynamic random access memories (DRAMs).
EPL is also an attractive candidate vying to succeed optical
lithography. In EPL standard stencil masks reduce costs while
the mature electron beam resists eliminate the timing risks
associated with EUVL.
However, the relatively low throughput works against EPL as
a possible successor to optical lithography. Scaling the throughput
from the present 10-15 wafers to 25-30 wafers per hour is anticipated
to allow EPL to meet increasing demands from the semiconductor
Nano-imprint lithography (NIL) is also a promising and cost-effective
NGL solution that avoids the use of expensive optics and sophisticated
enhancement techniques such as phase-shift masks.
NGL prototype tools have to first be developed and demonstrated
successfully in the laboratories. Their commercial success will
depend on the amount of applied and product-oriented research
conducted in the near future.
"Researchers must develop adequate techniques to manufacture
and assemble NGL tools into prescribed geometries and also adopt
comprehensive quality assurance steps that ensure adherence
to requirements," concludes Muthuramalingam.
Semiconductor Microlithography, part of the Semiconductor Vertical
Subscription Service, examines challenges facing the optical
lithography technology and the potential of next-generation
lithography technologies. Apart from key technology drivers,
evaluation of the challenges facing NGL technologies is also
provided. Executive summaries and interviews are available to
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