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Moores Law- Desire Or Reality

The technical information presented at the SPIE conference in Santa Clara made it clear that the lithography technologists believe they can meet the demands of a roadmap defined by Moores Law. The question that is increasingly required is whether or not current business models can support such technological advancement. David Ridsdale reports.
The technical information presented at the SPIE conference in Santa Clara made it clear that the lithography technologists believe they can meet the demands of a roadmap defined by Moores Law. The question that is increasingly required is whether or not current business models can support such technological advancement. David Ridsdale reports.

There was once a time when technologists would report on a brick wall that could halt technological advancement in its tracks. The rest of the industry would then be amazed when these same technologists would report on another envelope pushing achievement. The tone of the recent SPIE microlithography conference in Santa Clara, USA provided a different perspective. The technologists were still reporting advancements but the brick wall was now economic rather than technological.

There have been recent industry discussions as to the validity of Moores Law as an industry benchmark. This was evident in the coffee break discussions as engineers discussed the new difficulties facing technological advancement. This time it is not the brick walls but the growing realisation that the cost of creating some microelectronic advancement is outstripping the benefit. The keynote speaker was Chris Mack of KLA-Tencor who stated the IC industry faces several economic roadblocks in order to move towards the new version of Moores Law. Among those roadblocks are chip yields, fab-tool costs and productivity, and the ability to move beyond 300-mm substrates in future fabs.

Of course there was plenty of technical issues to discuss The most obvious was extension methods for optical lithography and the ongoing search for the next generation lithography (NGL). For optical lithography extension the odds seem to be shortening for immersion lithography. In immersion lithography, the space between the projection lens and the wafer is filled with a liquid. For the 193-nm exposure wavelength, water turns out to be the preferred transparent medium. Immersion technology could offer better resolution enhancement over conventional projection lithography because the liquid filled lens can be designed with numerical apertures higher than one, which results in being able to produce smaller images.

Despite the excitement and eloquent presentations on the technology there was very little discussion on the potential added issues it may raise. I spoke with Molecular Analytical who were able to discuss the potential headaches that will come with the new technology. Despite its simplicity and brilliance, the level of monitoring and testing required is of a higher degree than currently required. Just one tiny bubble in the immersion lens would destroy the process. All of the hype will only become hope when the extraneous requirements of immersion lithography are addressed.

Future plans

As far as NGLs go the public discussions were all about EUV lithography. The one process that was taken off the international roadmap a few years ago.

Privately all the lithography companies admitted to having alternative NGL programmes suggesting the industry is as fractured and unsure as it was four years ago in regards to the future of lithography.
With recent figures showing Europes ASML has taken the lithography lead there was a noticable change in PR tack from the Japanese litho companies. Canon led the way with a much more open and forthcoming approach that left some journalists agog at first. Canon made it be known that they intend to become the number one in five years. ASML was happy to let the figures speak for themselves.

Another positive European story was the decision by Leica to enter the NGL race via the emerging maskless, direct-write electron-beam market. Since the SPIE conference Leica have received attention regarding their technology culminating in the European SEMI 2003 award being presented to Dr. Carola BlŠsing, the head of Leicas R&D group. The company plans to develop a multi-beam, direct-write tool for use in high-throughput chip production at the 45-nm node and beyond.

Despite all the positive commentary by major tool makers that there were no show stoppers for immersion lithography at 65nm node there are still some fundamental questions not being addressed. With the pushing out of optical lithography to 65nm and beyond, how long before an NGL is truly needed and at what node? The other question that is difficult to receive an answer in relation to new generation as well as extension is the speed of throughput. This is so important as it does not matter how clever a process is if it cannot be done at a viable economic rate.

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