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Launch Of Cutting-edge Photomasks Quality Control Program

Dainippon Printing (DNP) and U.S.-based Brion Technologies announced the initiation of a joint development program to improve the productivity and quality of leading-edge photomask production.

This program involves the application of Brion's verification tools, typically used for design verification in semiconductor manufacturing, to the photomask production process. Photolithography systems are currently reaching the physical limits of their resolution, and thus problems with advanced semiconductor designs, particularly densely populated circuit patterns, are inevitable.

To overcome this technical barrier, semiconductor device makers often add corrective patterns, including OPC (optical proximity correction), to the design data to obtain the results intended by the original design. OPC patterns for 65nm and 45nm designs may be so complex, however, that they cannot be printed successfully on a silicon wafer and still meet the chip designer's original intent. Thus, to prevent potential defects occurring in production, it is vitally important to perform highly accurate simulation and verification of the photolithography process prior to volume manufacturing in order to predict how the corrective OPC patterns on the photomask will be transferred to thousands of wafers during printing.

DNP purchased and installed Brion's Tachyon system at its facility in Japan and is using it to simulate and verify the viability of photomask pattern data provided by IC makers. After identifying any potential problems in the designs that would result in printed defects on a wafer, DNP will then share that data with the IC makers involved. The ultimate goal of the DNP/Brion joint partnership is to develop a system that can simulate the actual printed image on a wafer based on imported photomask data, a system that could be used to fabricate high-precision, high-quality masks free of defects and circuit faults. This will in turn lead to a huge productivity improvement for both photomask and semiconductor manufacturers.

DNP's R&D unit, Brion Technologies (USA) and Brion K.K. are all working collaboratively on these efforts to apply Brion's technology to photomask production. The companies anticipate that Brion K.K.'s R&D capability in particular will be enhanced by the joint program.

"The continuing rapid pace of IC geometry reduction makes the requirements for functional and accurate photomasks increasingly demanding," said Dr. Naoya Hayashi, director of the research and develop lab for DNP's Electronic Device Division. "

In order to comply with such a trend, photomask making from this point forward should be based on full knowledge of photolithography process characteristics. The Brion system, with its high-precision simulation capability, will no doubt prove effective in providing us with that data, and serve our purpose of ceaselessly pursuing quality improvement."

"The engineers and managers of DNP are recognized as world leaders in the photomask industry, and it is my and Brion's great pleasure and honor to be teamed up with such a formidable company in order to introduce Brion's technology to the photomask market," said Dr. Eric Chen, chief executive officer, Brion Technologies.

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