As the global semiconductor market enters the “extreme ultraviolet (EUV)” era, competitions between multinational semiconductor equipment makers that support chip makers are getting intensified. There have been activities where some semiconductor equipment makers are focusing on upgrading their current technologies in order to protect their key business areas while other companies are working on new technologies in order to break any dominance held by their competitors.
Prime example is the competition between TEL based in Japan and Lam Research regarding new technologies on EUV photoresist (PR) track system.
Track system evenly spreads PR on top of a circular wafer and develops and cleans the wafer after lithography process.

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<TEL’s track system (source: TEL)>

TEL currently owns more than 90% of the global EUV track system market. TEL is looking to secure competitive edge by upgrading its current liquid PR application technology.
For example, TEL recently introduced technology that is able to maximize performance and patterning of EUV PR at the SPIE Advanced Lithography Conference.
Generally, EUV PR is applied on top of a wafer as thick as possible in order to create even and uniform circuits. However, a problem arises as there is a greater chance of a defect as PR becomes thicker. This is a same concept as how tall buildings are much susceptible for collapse without proper construction techniques.
In order to solve the issue, TEL is conducting research and development (R&D) on various solutions. One of these solutions involves upgrading “rinsing” materials that clean wafers after lithography process. TEL is looking into minimizing any damage to the shape of a circuit by using a new material called “FIRM” that has lower surface tension than that of water. Also, it plans to implement a technology that prevents pattern collapse by removing moisture on wafers as much as possible after cleaning process in its track systems.
It is also actively researching into various systems in order to introduce a new liquid PR. TEL explained that its track system for inorganic “MOR” PR, which is developed by TEL along with its partnering PR manufacturers such as Inpria and TOK (Tokyo Ohka Kogyo), is able to remove up to 87% of foreign substances compared to traditional organic CAR (Chemically Amplified Resist) PR.

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<Researchers from Lam Research (source: Lam Research homepage)>

Lam Research, which is a semiconductor processing equipment manufacturer based in the U.S., is working on new technologies while coveting the position that TEL holds in the global track system market.
The company’s main business area is etch system that removes materials that have been added. However, it is looking to threaten TEL with its new PR coating system technology “dry resist”. Its new technology is based on an innovative concept of covering a wafer with EUV PR by applying the chemical vapor deposition (CVD) process rather than spreading liquid PR.
Lam Research explained that its dry resist technology is able to develop a more precise and stronger PR and raise resolution and sensitivity while drawing a circuit shape with an EUV light source and minimize roughness of wiring. It also states that the technology is able to reduce cost by a ten fold while minimizing any wasted PR when using liquid PR.
However, the company still needs to work on important tasks such as improved productivity and development of chemical materials such as precursor.
Once it completes these tasks however, it will be able to bring some impact on the global track system market that is practically owned by TEL at the moment.
Just like the example of TEL and Lam Research, there will be more fierce competitions between multinational semiconductor equipment manufacturers in order to solve tasks that are newly emerging during the EUV era.
A spokesperson for the industry said that just as Samsung Electronics and TSMC are fiercely competing against one another regarding EUV manufacturing process, semiconductor equipment manufacturers will also come up with innovative technologies and products in order to beat out companies that are dominating particular fields.
Staff Reporter Kang, Hyeryung |