Manufacturing Bits: March 17

EUV source firm seeks help; technology services; 3D project wafers.


EUV source firm seeks help
In 2012, a startup called Zplasma came out of stealth mode and introduced its first technology—a next-generation power source for extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography.

But after much fanfare and hope, Zplasma has been unable to commercialize its EUV source technology. The company has also been unable to attract a development partner or outside funding.

And the startup is running out of options. “The status of the company now is exactly the status of the company three years ago: lab prototype proving (that) the breakthrough is real, exclusive license to the patents, and no capital with which anything can be built,” said Henry Berg, chief executive of Zplasma, in an e-mail.

“Having talked to everybody in the world with any interest in EUV, we have concluded that there is nobody to approach who will consider funding a new EUV source technology,” Berg said. “We would be happy to spring into action if this changed. The reaction we keep getting is: ‘This looks amazing. Wish we’d seen this earlier, but it is too late now.’ ”

Still, there is a glimmer of hope for Zplasma. EUV is late amid ongoing issues with the power source. Today, ASML Holdings’ EUV power source can generate 90 Watts of power. But to put EUV in mass production, the industry wants at least 250 Watts of power.

ASML and Gigaphoton are separately developing EUV power sources that could reach 250 Watts in the future, although there are no guarantees that the companies will make this happen. There are other efforts in the industry, most of which are still in the early R&D stage. For example, researchers at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory are exploring the development of a high-power EUV source based on a storage ring technology. This technology would require backing from the IC industry to make it commercially viable.

Still, the industry is taking a look at SLAC’s technology. Perhaps the industry should take another look at Zplasma, which was incorporated in 2011 to produce EUV light sources based on a technology developed at the University of Washington (UW). The university obtained federal funding as part of a program that started in 1998.

Zplasma is developing an EUV source based on a discharge produced plasma (DPP) technology. In contrast, ASML and Gigaphoton are developing EUV sources based on laser produced plasma (LPP) technology.

DPP, according to Berg, is more reliable, durable and affordable than LPP. “All EUV light is produced by generating and heating plasma. Other DPP EUV sources use a high voltage discharge to ionize xenon or stannane gas and produce an unstable zeta pinch (Z-pinch), which emits a brief pulse of EUV light before the unstable plasma flies apart,” he said. “The UW researchers discovered that introducing a sheared flow into the plasma stabilized the Z-pinch, producing a longer pulse of EUV light that ends gently without the explosion of high-energy debris produced by other sources.”

Zplasma has constructed a proof-of-concept prototype to demonstrate that its so-called Sheared Flow Stabilization (SFS) technology is commercially viable as an EUV source. “Our first approach was to try to find venture capital to back the development of our disruptive source. What we proceeded to find out was that venture capital had abandoned the semiconductor industry completely. There were no established venture capital firms willing to consider anything relating to semiconductor capital equipment,” he said.

Zplasma was also turned down by various chipmakers and tool vendors. Today, the startup continues to exist. Its technology remains viable, if the industry is willing to take a risk and a gamble. “The funny part is that when we started this dialogue in 2012, the most common reaction was: ‘You’re too late because we’ll be up and running later this year with LPP.’ Now, here we are three years later and EUV for HVM is as far away as it ever was. We would have shipped our source long ago, but we still haven’t been able to start the work,” he added.

Technology services
CEA-Leti, a French-based R&D organization, has launched a technology platform that enables chipmakers and OEMs to reduce their product cycle times.

The Silicon Impulse IC design competence center from CEA-Leti provides several technologies to customers, such as IC design, intellectual property (IP), emulation, test services, and multi-project wafer shuttles.

The platform includes prototyping and pre-production runs as well. Silicon Impulse offers its partners the following technologies from the R&D organization–analog, RF, digital and memory design, and hardware/software integration. It also involves FD-SOI, ReRAM, MEMS, monolithic 3D and silicon photonics.

“Pervasive wireless networking and groundbreaking low-power technologies are critical to the widespread adoption of the Internet of Things, because they improve the performance of portable devices and their network infrastructure,” said Leti CEO Marie-Noëlle Semeria, in a statement. “With Silicon Impulse’s one-stop-shop platform, 28nm FD-SOI heterogeneous, low-power design becomes a reality for the IoT community. Silicon Impulse helps Leti’s partners introduce innovative products that deliver optimal performance for these applications, and benefit from the most advanced technologies.”

3D project wafers
The Nanoelec Research Technological Institute (IRT) and CMP are launching a platform for multi-project-wafers for use in 3D chip integration applications.

These technologies include through-silicon-vias (TSVs), fine-pitch vertical interconnects and under-bump metallurgy. The technologies will enable 3D architectures, such as multiple-die stacking with flip-chip, side-by-side heterogeneous integration, and 3D partitioning.

Multi-project-wafer specialist CMP is responsible for supporting, checking and compiling the customer’s requests. IRT, which is headed by CEA-Leti, will manage the 3D post-processing.