Intel Corporation revealed two significant milestones in the development of extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, a technology for making future microprocessors. The company installed the world’s first commercial EUV lithography tool and set up an EUV mask pilot line, marking the move of this technology out of research and into the development phase.
Lithography is the technology used to print circuits onto computer chips. In order to pack more and more transistors onto a chip, semiconductor manufacturers must print ever-smaller features. EUV lithography is being developed because current chip-printing technology is expected to reach its limits in the next few years. Intel is targeting this technology for high-volume manufacturing in 2009.
The EUV Micro Exposure Tool (MET) and the establishment of an EUV mask pilot line using the world's first EUV mask making tools will let Intel print circuits with feature sizes as small as 30nm, in preparation for the 15nm resolution that will be required when EUV lithography goes into production. By contrast, the smallest feature size being printed today in Intel's manufacturing facilities measures 50 nm.
Intel will use the MET to address two of the key challenges in the development of EUV lithography: the development of the photoresist, an important chemical mixture used in printing chips; and the impact of imperfections on the mask that includes the circuit pattern to be printed on the wafer. The MET will also allow Intel to focus on optimizing the variables that are required for printing the tiny features required in a high-volume manufacturing setting.
In addition to the installation of the MET, Intel successfully set up an EUV mask pilot line, the foundation needed for future mask production, which Intel intends to do internally. The pilot line builds in EUV-specific modules into Intel's existing in-house mask production process and includes the world's first commercial EUV mask making tools.
While the MET and EUV mask pilot line mark significant milestones, Intel continues to actively invest in and work with the industry on the development of the necessary infrastructure and additional tools to ensure that EUV lithography is ready for manufacturing in 2009. Strategic investments in research and development and joint development programs with such companies as Cymer, Media Lario and NaWoTec continue to move forward the development of EUV lithography.