EUV lithography systems
Using extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light, our NXE and EXE systems deliver high-resolution lithography and make mass production of the world’s most advanced microchips possible
EUV lithography does big things on a tiny scale. The technology, which is unique to ASML, prints microchips using light with a wavelength of just 13.5 nm – almost x-ray range. EUV is driving Moore’s Law forward and supporting novel transistor designs and chip architectures.
Mass producing leading-edge microchips
If you have a relatively new smartphone, one of the latest gaming consoles or a smart watch, it’s likely you’ve benefited directly from EUV lithography technology.
Leading-edge microchips contain billions of transistors. With each new generation (often referred to as a ‘node’), chipmakers pack in ever more and tinier transistors to make the chips more powerful, faster and energy efficient. Chips made with EUV lithography are enabling smart technology (cars, phones and homes), augmented reality, artificial intelligence and much more.
EUV lithography makes scaling more affordable for chipmakers and allows the semiconductor industry to continue its pursuit of Moore’s Law. EUV systems are used to print the most intricate layers on a chip, with the rest of the layers printed using various DUV systems. Both types of technology will be required in parallel for many years to come and we’re continuing to advance both technologies.
EXE, or ‘High NA’, systems are the latest generation in EUV lithography. With a numerical aperture (NA) of 0.55, their innovative new optics provide higher contrast and print with a resolution of just 8 nm.
The EXE platform will support high-volume chip manufacturing in 2025–2026, enabling geometric chip scaling into the next decade. That will include future advanced nodes, starting at the 2 nm Logic node and followed by Memory nodes at a similar density. By reducing the number of process steps in high-volume manufacturing, chipmakers will benefit from significant reductions in defects, cost and cycle time.
NXE lithography systems are used in high-volume manufacturing of advanced Logic and Memory chips. The first systems to use ASML’s novel 13.5 nm EUV light source, they print microchip features with a resolution of 13 nm, which is unreachable with deep ultraviolet (DUV) lithography. Chipmakers use our NXE systems to print the highly complex foundation layers of their 7 nm, 5 nm and 3 nm nodes. Read about how EUV lithography went from imagination to reality.
The road to EUV
EUV technology took more than two decades to develop
Engineering EUV was anything but simple. ASML invested more than €6 billion in EUV R&D over 17 years. We acquired Cymer – a company specialized in light source technology – to accelerate EUV source development. And once the technology was developed, we had to overcome numerous technical challenges to meet chipmaker’s requirements for high-volume manufacturing.
How EUV lithography was developed
Early days of EUV
Researchers and scientists first began to explore EUV lithography in the 1980s, with the first successful applications of this new technology occurring toward the end of the decade.
Work to industrialize the technology kicked off in 1994, with a coalition of semiconductor industry companies (including ASML) delivering the very first prototype. This prototype proved that EUV lithography was possible, and the industry started to pursue the technology.
But EUV was a challenging and costly pursuit and, in time, only ASML – with our partners and suppliers – continued work toward a viable system. In August 2006 we shipped the world’s first EUV lithography demo tool to the College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering in Albany, in the US, and to imec in Leuven, Belgium. The college and company used these prototypes to learn about EUV and how it might fit into the semiconductor manufacturing process.
From prototype to production
In spite of the global financial crisis in 2008, we continued to invest in EUV. In the Spring of 2008, the College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering used their demo tool to produce the world’s first full-field EUV test chips. And in 2009, we opened the buildings that would house cleanrooms and workspaces for EUV development and production at our Veldhoven headquarters in the Netherlands.
Then, in 2010, the first TWINSCAN NXE:3100, a pre-production EUV system, was shipped to one of our major customers. Two years later, six more systems were shipped to different customers. The first EUV production system – the TWINSCAN NXE:3300 – was shipped in 2013, signaling another step forward in the development of this new technology.
Though there were delays and difficulties, EUV lithography turned a corner in 2016. Customers began ordering the NXE:3400 in higher numbers. At the beginning of 2020, we celebrated the 100th EUV system shipment.
Pushing technological limits
To enable further innovation in chip manufacturing, we developed a next-generation EUV platform that increases the numerical aperture (NA) from 0.33 to 0.55 (‘High NA’). The platform, called ‘EXE’, has a novel optics design and significantly faster wafer and reticle stages.
The first High NA EUV lithography system was delivered in December 2023. The platform will support process development and is expected to be used in high-volume manufacturing in 2025–2026.