Using a wavelength of just 13.5 nm (almost x-ray range), ASML’s extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography technology can do big things on a tiny scale. EUV drives Moore’s Law forward and supports 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.
Using a wavelength of 13.5 nm, our EUV systems pattern the finest lines on microchips. They are used in high-volume manufacturing to create the highly complex foundation layers of the most advanced microchips (7.5 and 3 nm nodes).
Driving affordable scaling
Using EUV makes scaling more affordable for chipmakers and allows the semiconductor industry to continue its pursuit of Moore’s Law. The EUV systems are used to print the most intricate layers on a chip. For example, an advanced Logic chip at the 3 nm node is made up of about 80 layers. Around twenty six of these are printed using EUV, 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.
EUV lithography system portfolio
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
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.
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.
What’s next after EUV NXE? Reaching High-NA
To enable further innovation in chip manufacturing, we’re developing a next-generation EUV platform that increases the numerical aperture (NA) from 0.33 to 0.55 (‘High-NA’).
The High-NA platform, called ‘EXE’, has a novel optics design and significantly faster wafer and reticle stages. It will enable geometric chip scaling well into the next decade. The EXE platform has been designed to enable multiple future nodes, starting at the 2 nm Logic node and followed by Memory nodes at similar density.
Development of this next-generation platform is ramping up, with first shipments of High-NA systems to customers for R&D purposes expected to take place at the end of 2023. EXE high-volume manufacturing systems are expected to be fully operational in customer factories by 2025.
Frequently asked questions about EUV lithography
What does EUV stand for?
EUV stands for ‘extreme ultraviolet’. It refers to the light’s wavelength. The deep ultraviolet (DUV) light used in chip production has wavelengths of 248 and 193 nm, whereas the light used in EUV lithography has a wavelength of 13.5 nm.
How does EUV light in lithography work?
To generate extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light, a CO2 laser fires two separate laser pulses at a fast-moving drop of tin. This vaporizes the tin and creates EUV light. It does this up to 50,000 times per second. Several multilayer mirrors to guide the EUV light to the wafer, shrinking the reticle pattern by a factor of four. The wafer stage positions the wafer under the light to within a quarter of a nanometer for each exposure, checking and adjusting 20,000 times per second.
What is EUV lithography used for?
EUV lithography is used to pattern the finest details on the most advanced microchips. Because EUV lithography can pack more transistors onto a single chip, these chips can be mass produced affordably. They also have more processing brainpower, use less energy and have higher performance. In turn, this is enabling smart cars, phones and homes, augmented reality and voice recognition solutions, and much more.
What companies manufacture EUV lithography systems?
EUV lithography is currently a technology entirely unique to ASML. Other companies also produce lithography systems, but ASML’s cutting edge EUV platform is leading the semiconductor game and enabling cutting-edge technology.