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Enabling the production of energy-efficient chips

ASML continued to improve the performance of our machines so our customers can produce ever more energy-efficient computer chips. In this way, our products contribute to making the world more sustainable.

The Cray 1, the world’s first supercomputer, was built in 1976. It had 8 MB of memory, used 150 kilowatts and weighed 5.5 tons. Today, an average mobile phone has 512 MB of memory, plus gigabytes of flash storage and a processor that does not use much more than 1 watt. ASML’s NXE 3100 latest generation machines – the first six were shipped to customers by end 2011 – have the technology  to produce chips in the future that use 0.2W per GB and make exponentially more calculations per second than their predecessors only a few decades ago. 

Our business success and market leadership are closely tied to our ability to enable our customers to produce ever smaller and thus more energy-efficient chips. The width of a circuit that transports electricity on chips produced by our latest generation machines, which use the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) technology, is 16 nanometer.

Producing a chip is a complex process with hundreds of processes and measurement steps, including multiple lithographic steps.  ASML supports this with a mix of litho machines (i-line, KrF, ArF and ArF-immersion), measurement tools (YieldStar) and maintenance support.

In addition to delivering our newest generation NXE machines, which use extreme ultraviolet (EUV) technology, we also continued producing other systems (i-line, KrF, ArF and ArF-immersion), and modified products such as machines to produce ‘CCD’ chips, used in the latest generation digital cameras, and ‘thin film heads’, machines used by customers who produce reading heads for hard disks.    

Tackling the growth challenge

We are aware that by enabling the production of ever more powerful and cheaper computer chips, we also enable the development and growth of new electronic applications –in all areas of life –that have a significant ecological footprint. This development poses a challenge for our entire industry.  For us, it confirms the importance of working with all stakeholders in the value chain to make our industry more sustainable, and contributing to the creation of a sustainable world through research and innovation.

Increasing productivity, ‘shrink’ and yield

Not only do our lithography machines enable our customers to produce more energy-efficient chips, we also strive to make these machines more resource efficient. To do this, we focus on three aspects of our machines: productivity, shrink and yield.  

Increasing productivity means making machines that produce more wafers per hour and can produce uninterruptedly for longer periods of time without requiring maintenance.

The energy used by a complete semiconductor facility is on one hand consumed by maintaining the right conditions in the room, such as cooling and filtering air to limit the number of particles, and on the other hand, is consumed by the machines. Almost half (46%) of a lithography machine’s own energy consumption is on keeping the air temperature and other conditions inside the machine at the optimal level. Moving the wafers in the machine uses about the same amount of energy (44%), while the other 10% of energy is used to control the electronics and robots in the exposure system.1 In this way, a faster production is released with a small energy increase to move the wafers but with lower energy use per wafer. 

machineenergy

We have introduced improved XT machines and upgraded packages for our XT and NXT platform, boosting productivity of these systems by 12-14 %. A number of TWINSCAN NXT:1950i machines have reached the productivity milestone of more than 4,000 wafers in a single day at customer manufacturing sites.

We have been improving the energy efficiency of electronics used in our systems since 2005. The power supplies of our machines are rated ‘gold plus’2, meaning they are more than 90% energy efficient, while the large pumps for cooling water and the larger air fans in our machines are controlled by frequency controllers to optimize their use.

We also raised productivity for our customers by shortening the downtime of our systems and the time it takes to install new systems. In 2011, we continued to improve our procedures to reduce repair times.

Shrink is the process of developing ever smaller transistors on chips, using increasingly sophisticated lithography techniques. Shrink is the core of our success. Over the years, we have invented machines that drive the miniaturization of semiconductors. Our latest generation machines use extreme ultraviolet (EUV) technology. We are convinced they won’t be the last. Shrink is a major focus area of our research and development activities, in which we invested 590 millions euros in 2011. It helps our customers enter the future.

Our NXE 3100 machine using EUV technology provides the semiconductor industry with opportunities for further shrink. We shipped the first NXE 3100 machine in 2010 and a further five in 2011. Mass production of chips on these NXE machines will start once the customers develop sufficient EUV processes and have EUV production capacity available. EUV technology has helped us to further improve the resolution of our systems, enabling the production of chips with smaller line sizes. In parallel, our improved NXT machines (which use the immersion lithography technology) also allow our customers to apply new technologies, such as double patterning techniques, to make chips with smaller line sizes.

Improving overlay was another focus area. Overlay refers to the alignment of the different layers of a chip. This alignment requires extreme accuracy and we continue to make further progress on this. The overlay accuracy of the TWINSCAN NXT:1950i improved to four nanometers from 5.5 nanometers on product wafers to levels that are sufficient to support most advanced manufacturing nodes.

Increasing yield means having machines that produce wafers with ever fewer flaws. Each wafer can contain hundreds to thousands of chips. Just one dust particle can disturb the lithographic process, rendering one or several chips useless. By creating the cleanest possible conditions and the clearest possible lenses, we can reduce the number of flawed chips per wafer. This means our machines produce more useable chips for our customers (a higher yield) and there are fewer defective chips wasted. For our machines that use immersion technology we increased the yield by reducing the number of bubbles in the fluid that is inserted between the lens and the wafer during the production process. The tiniest bubble can reduce the accuracy of circuits projected on a wafer during lithography. Creating a smooth, clean fluid is an art in itself. In addition, our refined measurement equipment, Yieldstar, helps our customers measure the accuracy of the transistors during the production process, allowing them to fine-tune settings and increase yield.


1These figures show the energy consumption distribution of a typical ASML lithography machine and do not include the laser needed for generating the light.

2Based on the 80 Plus energy level certifications. 80 Plus is an initiative to promote energy efficiency in computer power supply units.

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