ASML is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of chip-making equipment. Headquartered in Veldhoven, the Netherlands, ASML employs more than 21,000 people.
The semiconductor industry is fascinating. Every two years, the calculating capacity of seminconductor chips is doubled, Flash memory can store more, and products like MP3 players and cameras keep getting smaller. Speaking of small, how small is one nanometer or 10-9 meters? That’s difficult to explain to an outsider and hard to imagine. For example grass grows at 10 nanometres per second. And in my job, we talk of differences of a couple of nanometres.
Controlling and minimizing the many external and internal factors such as vibration and pressure differentials and variations in exposure energy or temperature. All these have an impact on how our systems operate. And when you’re working in cutting-edge production, a few nanometers can be the difference between operating at full-capacity and having a critical system out.
It is our role in the Customer Support Metrology & Sensors group to ensure all these variations are compensated for and that our systems are performing optimally. This is easier said than done. We are the last step in the Customer Service process. That means we mostly handle unique problems and as you can imagine often under severe time pressure. There’s no blueprint for a solution and even though everything lies just within familiar territory, the technology is so new and advanced that we constantly have to think creatively.
The one process that we know works is measure, measure and measure again. For me, a wafer altitude map is the best source of information about how the machine is performing, indicating any problems as well as possible solutions. To read and interpret the data correctly you really need to understand the architecture, and both the potential and limitations of the machine. Who better to do that than the people who build them? Based on our measurements, we create an action plan that will have the machine operating within specification again as quickly as possible. This all has to happen fast so that production losses are kept as low as possible for the customer.
I studied microelectronics, and chip design in Delft, and got my degree in 2007. My wish was to work at the highest technological level and that meant a job at ASML. Why? Because ASML continues to push back frontiers. This raises expectations and creates obligations, with our customers as well as with ourselves.
There are many challenges at ASML. Nothing is ordinary or routine. In fact, everything is unusual. That takes some getting used to and it can take a year before you can really work independently. Although I found it a long learning process, I’ve now built up the experience and am able to work at the customer site. This means that I clock up a lot of travel time going to customers’ factories to work on their machines. I suppose you could say that I’m getting to see the world one nanometer at a time!