ASML ships third generation EUV lithographs. What does this mean for the industry?


The Dutch company ASML continues to develop, developing new technologies for the production of modern chips. At the end of 2023, it became known that the company had developed a lithograph capable of working with the 2nm process technology. And now the shipment of these systems has begun with a cost of $300 million per unit. By the way, 6/10 of the lithographs that ASML will produce in a year were ordered by Intel®. Other clients include TSMC, Samsung, SK Hynix and Micron. Details are under the cut.

What kind of lithographs are these?

The company will continue to dominate the lithography market in the near future. ASML now offers the TWINSCAN NXE:3800E, the next generation in the TWINSCAN NXE:3600D and TWINSCAN NXE:3400C line. Previous models are used by contract chip manufacturers that produce processors and other components using 7 and 5 nm manufacturing processes. Well, the TWINSCAN NXE:3800E system, as mentioned above, is designed for the production of chips using a 2- and 3-nm process technology.

In addition, productivity has also increased. The TWINSCAN NXE:3800E can process 33% more wafers per hour than the TWINSCAN NXE:3600D. The main difference of this system is a projection lens with a numerical aperture of 0.33 – this allows you to increase the number of plates processed per hour. Productivity is extremely important for some companies, since TSMC is loaded with customer orders, as they say, to capacity. Accordingly, having received a more efficient lithograph, the company can earn more. Of course, after recouping costs of US$300 million.

By the way, ASML has another new product. We are talking about the TWINSCAN NXE:5000 scanner for innovative High-NA EUV technological processes. These are the systems supplied by Intel®; the first lithographic scanner has already been installed in the corporation's development department. More advanced lithograph optics make it possible to create elements with a thickness of no more than 8 nm on a silicon substrate; the transistor placement density can ultimately be increased threefold. This is a huge machine. Thus, a system weighing 150 tons when disassembled occupies 250 containers, and it takes a team of 250 engineers about six months to install it.

TWINSCAN NXE:3800E is also installed at one of the company's clients. Who exactly is still unknown. However, only three partners were considered for initial delivery: Intel®, Samsung and TSMC.

According to ASML, the gradual increase in the productivity of EUV scanners makes it possible to offset the main disadvantage of this type of system – the relatively low speed of operation. Accordingly, EUV will be increasingly used by chip developers such as Apple®, AMD, Intel®, Nvidia and Qualcomm. In addition, the same system could become key for memory manufacturers such as Micron, Samsung and SK Hynix.

And that's not it

The fact is that Canon has recently announced its desire to change the lithography market. She not only developed her system, but also began production. Its installations, however, are designed to work on a 5nm process technology, so ASML has no competitors in a more modern direction.

But 5 nm is quite a modern technology. At the end of last year, deliveries of equipment to customers began. And there is an interesting feature here: installation costs about 10 times less than lithographs from the Dutch company ASML. It is not known exactly how much such a system will cost. But the approximate framework was outlined by the head of Canon, Fujio Mitarai.

He stated that modern EUV systems cost more than $150 million. Canon expects its NIL lithography press to cost around $15 million, although the price is “to be determined.” According to the manufacturer, the cost of the device makes it possible for relatively small companies to engage in chip production.

The name of the unit supplied by the Japanese is FPA-1200NZ2C. The Canon executive said that the system is not only much less expensive, it is also more energy efficient. So here too it outperforms systems from ASML. True, all these statements still need to be verified, since deliveries have just started, and no one, except Canon and a small number of partners, has tested the system in practice.

And there is one more nuance. The fact is that with photolithography you can work with entire plates, but in the case of nanoprinting technology this is impossible. Accordingly, DUV and EUV lithography equipment is capable of producing more chips per unit time. How much more, unfortunately, is unknown; these details have not yet been disclosed.

In addition, to work with such systems, the rooms in which these systems are installed must be extremely clean. Otherwise, the level of defects in manufactured chips increases—extremely small particles can have an impact. And this makes production more expensive, since maintaining virtually sterile production conditions requires significant resources.

Be that as it may, lithographic equipment is improving. Soon we will be able to have more modern, faster and energy-efficient chips at our disposal. This is good news.

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