The Week In Review: Manufacturing

Drinking ALE; direct-write in Russia; what is Eteris?; Axcelis hires advisor.

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As feature sizes continue to shrink and new device architectures are introduced, the IC industry will require new breakthroughs.

In fact, feature dimensions will soon have tolerances that are on the order of a few atoms. For the most advanced structures, conventional plasma etch and deposition processes are unable to meet these requirements.

As a result, the industry will require tools that can process chips at the atomic scale. For years, chipmakers have made use of atomic layer deposition (ALD) in the gate stack and other applications.

What’s next? Looking to enable the next wave of chips, Lam Research has entered into the atomic layer etch (ALE) market. The new ALE capability is part of Lam’s 2300 Kiyo F Series conductor etch system. “It’s a hardware capability for the Kiyo F Series,” said Dave Hemker, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Lam Research. “It’s an add-on to the Kiyo F. So you can get Kiyo with ALE or not.”

The product leverages fast gas switching and advanced plasma techniques in the reactor to boost throughput. An RF bias enables the directional etching required to remove material in high aspect ratio features.

All told, ALE is an etch and removal technology that enables fine structures. “There are several sub-steps that go on,” Hemker said. “I have reactants and gases. Those gases may need to be disassociated to make them more reactive.”

One application for ALE could be chlorine etching of silicon. “I’ve got chlorine coming in (the reactor). The plasma is disassociating the chlorine. The atomic chlorine is then working its way down the surface. It absorbs on the surface and then ions, whether a chlorine ion or argon, comes in and adds enough energy to make the silicon and chlorine react and become volatile. Then, I must pump it away,” he said.

Lam Research has shipped the ALE technology to customers. “We’ve got a number of leading-edge customers looking at ALE for lots of different things,” he added.

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In addition, Lam Research also unveiled its latest thin film deposition and plasma etch products for 3D NAND fabrication. Separately, Lam Research also released two new products that deliver the process control and productivity needed for advanced patterning. Lam’s 2300 Kiyo F Series conductor etch system uses a new technology–the Hydra Uniformity System–to enable cross-wafer process control that corrects for incoming pattern non-uniformities. The Vector ALD Oxide system uses ALD to create highly conformal dielectric films that are used to define critical pattern dimensions in a multiple patterning sequence.

A plant for the production of electronic optical elements using MEMS technology has been launched at the Moscow Technopolis in Russia. The elements are among the most crucial components for Mapper Lithography, a multi-beam direct-write tool vendor. Mapper’s shareholders include Rusnano of Russia. Mapper has also invested in setting up the Moscow Technopolis-based facility.

Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron Ltd. (TEL) unveiled the new name of their combined company, which will be used once the merger closes in the second half of 2014. The new name is Eteris, which is derived from the concept of eternal innovation for society. No other details were given for the combined company.

In addition, looking to accelerate the development of finFETs and 3D NAND, Applied Materials has rolled out two new tools. One tool is targeted to bring down the cost of chemical mechanical polishing (CMP), while the other addresses issues with chemical vapor deposition (CVD).

SEMI projects back-to-back years of double-digit growth in worldwide semiconductor equipment sales. The SEMI outlook calls for the total semiconductor equipment market to grow 20.8% in 2014 to reach $38.4 billion and to expand another 10.8% in 2015 to exceed $42.6 billion.

SEMI announced that Martin Anstice, president and CEO of Lam Research; Kevin Crofton, president and COO of SPTS Technologies; Tien Wu, COO of ASE Group; and Guoming Zhang, executive vice president of Sevenstar Electronics, were elected as new directors to the SEMI international board of directors.

SEMI honored eight industry leaders for their accomplishments in developing standards for the microelectronics and related industries. The annual SEMI Standards awards were announced at the SEMI Standards reception held during Semicon West 2014.

Is Axcelis on the block? The company announced that multiple systems planned for late June shipment were pushed out. In addition, the company is looking at financing and strategic initiatives that will strengthen its long term position. It has hired Blackstone Advisory Partners to support those initiatives.

KLA-Tencor announced four new systems—the 2920 Series, Puma 9850, Surfscan SP5 and eDR-7110. The 2920 Series broadband plasma patterned wafer, Puma 9850 laser scanning patterned wafer, and Surfscan SP5 unpatterned wafer defect inspection systems deliver enhanced sensitivity and throughput gains.

Intel announced that it has entered into a foundry agreement with Panasonic’s LSI Business Division.

IBM’s chip unit is up for sale. Yet IBM says it is investing $3 billion over the next 5 years in two broad research and early stage development programs to push the limits of chip technology. The first research program is aimed at 7nm and beyond silicon technology. IBM will also be investing in emerging areas of research that are already underway at IBM, such as carbon nanoelectronics, silicon photonics, new memory technologies, and architectures that support quantum and cognitive computing.

Worldwide semiconductor revenue is on pace to reach $336 billion in 2014, a 6.7% increase from 2013, and up from the previous quarter’s forecast of 5.4% growth, according to Gartner. Sequential growth in the second quarter of 2014 is outpacing expectations, as can be seen in many companies including foundry leader TSMC, which is expecting second-quarter sequential growth of over 20%.