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Luminaries See Growth Opportunities For Photomask Writers

Sales of new photomask writers are expected to increase across all segments.

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Multi-beam mask writers (MBMWs) are the new kid on the block of the photomask writers, so growth predictions aren’t surprising. In fact, 90% of the industry luminaries surveyed by the eBeam Initiative think that new MBMW purchases will increase over the next three years, as shown in figure 1. Looking at that chart, industry luminaries predict sales of new photomask writers to increase across all segments. In this 12-minute video, three expert panelists give valuable insight on what’s behind the optimism and where there might still be gaps in the market.

This video discussion, moderated by Aki Fujimura of D2S, starts by looking at the complex end of the market where MBMWs are being adopted because their write time is independent of the complexity of the shapes on photomasks. As Tom Cecil from Synopsys explains, write time is no longer an issue for photomasks with curvilinear shapes if you use MBMWs. From Tom’s point of view, the most significant impact of MBMWs is that curvilinear masks are enabled. He thinks curvilinear shapes would be used everywhere because they improve wafer resolution but only if some other issues can be overcome now that write time is solved. Tom calls for the industry to work together to address bottlenecks to curvilinear adoption like data volume. Chris Progler from Photronics agrees and points to additional challenges like inspection and repair. Chris goes on to revisit the idea of the “repair what prints only” model to enable the use of more complex, curvilinear photomasks.


Fig. 1: Opportunities for growth in the photomask writer segment according to the eBeam Initiative Luminaries survey from July 2021.

The panel discussion turns back to the topic of the growth of the mid-range photomask market discussed in an earlier blog. Chris Progler sees the mid-range market as the most exciting opportunity for a commercial photomask maker due to the resurgence in ASICs and more pervasive use of ICs, especially in China and elsewhere in Asia. Chris sees a gap in the photomask writer for a high-speed, mid-range writer that could target 40-nm and 28-nm nodes with writing speeds under 2 hours per mask, but the cost of ownership has to be in line with the price.

Mikael Wahlsten of Mycronic describes that cost of ownership has been the focus for the development program of the new Mycronic SLX family of laser writers, which launched at the end of 2019. Mikael reports that 15 SLX units have been sold (as of September 28, 2021). As reported in past eBeam Initiative surveys, more than 70% of the industry’s photomasks are written by laser writers.

The panelists illustrate that opportunities exist across the board, from advanced nodes to mature nodes, for new sales of photomask writers as the eBeam Initiative survey predicts. You can watch the entire 82-minute panel video covering the additional topics of EUV photomasks, curvilinear photomasks, and deep learning here.



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