eBeam Initiative Surveys Report Upbeat Photomask Market Outlook

Companies from across the semiconductor ecosystem shine light on key manufacturing technology trends.


Every year, the eBeam Initiative conducts surveys that provide valuable insight into the key trends that are shaping the semiconductor industry. This year, industry luminaries representing 42 companies from across the semiconductor ecosystem participated in the 2020 eBeam Initiative Luminaries survey. 89% of respondents to the survey predict that photomask (mask) revenues in 2020 will stay the same or increase compared to 2019 despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, 80% predict that COVID-19 will have a neutral or positive impact on 2021 mask revenues with 24% saying the impact will be positive. EUV lithography and multi-beam mask writing featured in this year’s survey as key technologies that are in the early days of production deployment. In additional results, 66% believe that EUV will drive business growth for masks, while nearly all respondents believe that the market for multi-beam mask writers will grow over the next three years, with EUV driving multi-beam writer purchases.

The eBeam Initiative also completed its sixth annual Mask Makers survey with feedback from 10 captive and merchant mask manufacturers. Among the results of the Mask Makers survey, the number of masks written with multi-beam writers more than doubled versus last year’s survey, while the average mask write time reported using multi-beam writers (which was recorded for the first time in this year’s survey) was approximately 12 hours.

During the eBeam Initiative’s first virtual reception at the SPIE Photomask Technology Conference in September, a panel of experts had a lively debate over the reasons and insights behind the survey results. Commenting on the Luminaries survey results in figure 1, Naoya Hayashi, research fellow at Dai Nippon Printing (DNP), emphasized that multi-beam mask writing is essential for EUV masks due to the superior throughput it provides for complex, high-density masks; however, its potential doesn’t stop there as it offers better resolution to enable nanoimprint templates and curvilinear masks. Jed Rankin, distinguished senior member of the technical staff at GlobalFoundries, agreed that the initial justification for multi-beam mask writers is based on EUV but emphasized that their flexibility to support masks from 40 nm down to 5 nm factors into the value proposition as well. When considering requests to support sub-30-nm assist features today, Emily Gallagher, principal member of technical staff at Imec, doesn’t see any other option but to use multi-beam mask writers.

Fig. 1: 2020 eBeam Initiative Luminaries survey participants were asked to rank the primary reasons for purchasing multi-beam mask writers.

The panel was also asked to comment on the average mask write time of approximately 12 hours for multi-beam mask writers versus approximately 8 hours for variable-shaped eBeam (VSB) reported in the Mask Makers survey and shown in figure 2. The panel noted that a complex mask targeted for a multi-beam writer could take days to write on a VSB writer, which would be impractical in the mask shop. Multi-beam mask writers enable writing shapes that VSB writers practically could not write. Average write time for multi-beam writers being longer than the average for VSB writers does not mean that multi-beam writers are slower than VSB writers.

Fig. 2: 2020 eBeam Initiative Mask Makers survey results for weighted-average mask write time by type of mask writer.

There wasn’t much of a debate about the trend in multi-beam mask writer purchases over the next three years – either on the panel or among the survey participants. 96% of the Luminaries survey participants who answered said new multi-beam mask writer purchases would increase over the next three years. An interesting prediction was that 32% of those answering that survey said that laser mask writer purchases would increase over the next 3 years. The panel experts were asked to comment on this result in light of the resurgence in trailing-edge nodes for applications such as the Internet of Things (IoT). Jed Rankin attributed the positivity in laser writer purchases to equipment suppliers creating new equipment at a new price point and continued strong demand in mature technology segments. Naoya Hayashi agreed that new offerings may fill the gap left by older and obsolete laser writers that need to be replaced.

Coming back to the overall positivity expressed by the survey participants, the panel experts summed it up nicely by saying that semiconductors are the backbone of the modern world. COVID-19 has put the semiconductor industry at the heart of remote work. EUV lithography and multi-beam mask writer deployment are creating new opportunities for growth (as well as challenges) in the photomask community. For the full results of both surveys and the replay of the eBeam Initiative reception video including the panel discussion, please visit www.ebeam.org.

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