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EUV Processes Reach Mass Production

May 21, 2019

Author: Mike Demler

For more than 20 years, process engineers have worked to make extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) lithography the semiconductor industry’s next-generation IC-patterning technology. In 1Q19, that research finally came to fruition, as Samsung and TSMC delivered their first 7nm production wafers with EUV-patterned layers. This proof of EUV’s capabilities enables more process options as well as a path to future nodes.

Besides offering higher-resolution lithography, EUV eliminates process steps because it requires fewer masks. Replacing immersion lithography with EUV allows foundries to eliminate multipatterning on critical mask layers, shortening the manufacturing cycle and reducing cost. An EUV patterning step costs as much as three optical steps, however, so using it on just a few layers doesn’t save much. But now that they have some EUV experience, the foundries plan to use it on more layers in future nodes.

TSMC beat Samsung to market at 7nm by starting with a version built entirely using optical lithography, followed by a 7nm+ version using EUV. In contrast, the Korean company held off on 7nm until it could get EUV into production, hoping to gain a lead in this critical technology. Instead, its 7nm fell behind schedule by a quarter, leaving it neck and neck with TSMC’s first EUV process. To fill the gap and supply its Galaxy S10 phones, Samsung introduced an 8nm process late last year. The two foundries have similar schedules for 5nm, but Samsung disclosed ambitious plans to introduce in 2021 4nm and 3nm processes, the latter with a new gate-all-around (GAA) transistor. TSMC has disclosed no specific plans beyond 5nm.

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