ASML plans to manufacture lithography equipment with sci-fi features: the Hyper-NA machine

The most advanced chip manufacturing machine currently in existence is the extreme ultraviolet (UVE) and high-aperture (High-NA) lithography equipment produced by the Dutch company ASML. Right now, only Intel has one of these devices In the testing phase At its plant in Hillsboro (USA), although ASML plans to deliver to its customers annually starting from 2025 about 20 pieces of equipment of this type with one purpose: to put in their hands the possibility of producing chips of 2 nm and beyond.

The engineers of this Dutch company have invested a decade in developing the technology needed to fine-tune this machine. Its useful life is assumed to be long, considering that this parameter is the time during which this machine maintains its competitiveness from a purely technological point of view and continues to be profitable to use. She is supposed to remain on the front line for more than a decade, but there is a possibility that her successor may arrive sooner than expected.

ASML plans to begin work on the next Hyper-NA lithography equipment

ASML announced at ITF World 2024 that its engineers have achieved a new record for transistor density during the integrated circuit manufacturing process. They used, of course, the first high-aperture UVE lithography machine. This accomplishment tells us that this team should be able to operate with an exceptional level of integration. However, this is not the most surprising news of the event. Martin van den Brink confirmed that he had suggested to his colleagues at ASML to start working on lithography equipment that was designed to succeed the high-aperture UVE machine.

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Martin van den Brink is not just a CEO. He was president and CTO of ASML, so he definitely knows what he's doing. He currently works as a consultant, and if he decides to publicly defend the possibility that the company he works for will begin to develop and even more advanced lithography equipment The reason for using a high-aperture EUV machine is that this plan is already on the table. Moreover, the United States and its allies are interested in expanding the technological advantage they maintain over China regarding chip manufacturing, so their agreement does not allow for discussion.

The digital aperture will go from 0.33 on UVE devices and 0.55 on high aperture UVE devices to 0.75 on Hyper-NA.

To develop the high-aperture UVE lithography equipment, ASML engineers developed a highly advanced optical architecture that has an aperture of 0.55 compared to the 0.33 value found in first-generation UVE lithography equipment. This improvement in optics allows higher resolution patterns to be transmitted to the chip, making it possible to manufacture chips using more advanced integration techniques than those currently used in 3nm nodes.

In the article dedicated to the Rayleigh criterion we explain in great detail what the parameter 'NA' consists of (Digital aperture), but in this text it is enough for us to know that this variable determines Optics aperture value Used by lithography equipment. In this context, this parameter essentially reflects the same aperture value when we talk about camera optics, so it determines how much light the optical elements are able to collect. As we can guess, the more light they collect, the better.

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Maarten van den Brink confirmed that the UVE Hyper-NA (ultra-high aperture) lithography equipment, which, he says, ASML is already ready to work on, will use the same wavelength of light as the UVE and UVE high-aperture (13.5 nm) lithography machines. However, the digital aperture will go from 0.33 on UVE devices and 0.55 on high-aperture UVE devices to 0.75 on Hyper-NA. As we have just seen, this improvement allows higher resolution patterns to be transferred to the wafer, so that the hyper-high aperture equipment is fully immersed in the angstrom scale.

And we still know something else. something important. It is supposedly the first UVE Hyper-NA lithography equipment It will be ready in 2033,So ASML engineers will spend less time adjusting it than with high aperture EUV machine. After all, the technological substrate is basically the same. At the moment, we don't have any hard evidence to reveal how much such a sophisticated lithography machine would cost, but we do know that a single high-aperture UV machine, like the one Intel has at its Hillsborough factory, costs €350 million. The Hyper-NA SVU machine will certainly be more expensive.

Image | ASML

More information | Tom's devices

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Aileen Morales

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