TECHNOLOGY & INNOVATION
ASMI is a leading supplier of semiconductor process equipment for wafer processing. Our broad portfolio of innovative technologies and products is being used right now by the most advanced semiconductor fabrication plants around the world. Helping them to achieve their technology roadmap. Making integrated circuit chips smaller, faster and more powerful for everyone.
We have a proven track record of innovation that spans a wide range of technologies that have become standard among the top semiconductor manufacturers in the world. Using these technologies enables them to create semiconductors the size of a thumbnail, today, that are more powerful than computers the size of a small car were a few decades ago. Progress has been fast and the pace unrelenting. Our ability to bring innovations from R&D into volume manufacturing is as sought after now as it was when we were founded in 1968.
INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES, RELIABLE RESULTS
At ASMI, we have grown by meeting customer demand for more sophisticated wafer processing. From the very start of the semiconductor industry to the present day, we have helped to keep our customers delivering in line with Moore’s Law, by developing ever more sophisticated technologies to put more transistors on a single chip.
In order to create ever smaller components on a chip, the industry had to invent new process technologies. ASMI’s atomic layer deposition ('ALD') technology is one of these advancements. ALD is a surface-controlled layer-by-layer process that results in the deposition of thin films one atomic layer at a time, which enables precise control of film thickness and chemical composition.
We were one of the first companies to have the vision to realize the potential of atomic layer deposition ('ALD') technology for the semiconductor industry. In 1999, we acquired Microchemistry in Finland, forming ASM Microchemistry. Originally developed for use in the flat panel display industry, ALD had already been researched for various applications for over 20 years. We dedicated a further eight years R&D to turning it into a process that could be used reliably and efficiently by advanced semiconductor chip manufacturers.
What benefits does ALD bring? Using ALD allows semiconductor manufacturers to form thin films atom by atom, assuring incredible precision. Creating nanoscale structures and devices with unique properties to meet the challenges posed by very small dimensions.
To put it in perspective, a 22 nanometer ('nm') transistor is roughly 3000 times thinner than a single hair. And a single strand of human DNA is 2.5 atoms wide. ALD creates films as thin as a single atom thick. Building devices, atom by atom, gives us very precise control over the process. It means we can deposit materials at a uniform thickness over all types of topographies. Such precision also enables the use of materials that could not be considered before.
ALD – A DRIVER OF FUTURE GROWTH
Using ALD, we are now able to deposit new materials several atoms thick on wafers at low temperatures, producing ultra-thin films of exceptional quality and uniformity. In plasma ehanced ALD ('PEALD'), a plasma is used to further enhance the process. Using ALD technology, we have been able to scale devices to smaller dimensions while reducing the power consumption of transistors. All of which helps to keep the industry on Moore’s Law.
ALD is now our basic platform for the development of a wide range of new materials. Our research centers in Finland, the US, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands, and Belgium are all working on ALD. We are also conducting joint research projects with Europe’s largest independent research institute imec. All this is helping to make ALD one of the principal drivers of future growth in microelectronics.
ALD IS NOW MAINSTREAM
ALD and PEALD are now both mainstream technologies used in volume manufacturing in the semiconductor industry. ASMI’s ALD technology is now being used to build a wide range of applications such as leading-edge products like high-performance computers as well as wireless handheld smart devices. The results of ALD are everywhere in the world around us.
Plasma enhanced ALD ('PEALD') is another in the line of ASMI innovations. It widens the spectrum of materials that can be deposited. Its capability to deposit materials at temperatures as low as room temperature makes it possible to carry out processes on temperature-sensitive substrates like photoresist. This technology is currently in use for spacer-defined double patterning ('SDDP'). A technique that can reduce device dimensions at 32nm and below, postponing the need for new lithography technologies. This is just one example of how ALD continues to open up new possibilities for further process breakthroughs.
Global research and development
The key to our success lies in our commitment to research and development ('R&D'). We maintain the widest and most diverse ALD development organization in the industry. We are active at all stages in its life cycle, from developing the basic chemistry to implementing at our customer’s production sites. Our research centers in Finland, US, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands, and Belgium are all working on ALD. We also have joint research projects with Europe’s largest independent research institute, imec, in Belgium. ASMI is a truly global company. Diversity means that we get the benefit of wider viewpoints while being able to bring together the best minds in the world to create new breakthroughs. We will continue to expand the scope and depth of our research and development capabilities through strategic alliances with independent research institutes, universities, customers and suppliers. We will also keep expanding our patent portfolio where necessary and beneficial.
SUSTAINABLE GROWTH FOR THE NEXT DECADE
This is just the beginning. Fundamentally, ALD has been around for 30 years, but as a technology in semiconductor manufacturing it is still relatively new. We expect it to be one of the principal drivers of growth in microelectronics over the coming decade. At ASMI, we will continue to develop the huge potential of ALD in support of the semiconductor industry. Helping the industry to support future demands from consumers.
Semiconductors are everywhere. In the dishwashers, microwaves and TVs in our homes. In our smartphones, PCs and tablets. In our workplaces and in the transportation we use – cars, trains, ships and planes. Driving the everyday devices we have come to take for granted for nearly 50 years. Their use has revolutionized how we live, work and play. Enabling us to understand, create and share information faster and more easily. We now assume that devices will get more powerful and ever smaller every year. But, despite this, how semiconductors are actually made remains a mystery to the general public. To explain how this works, let’s take a look at how a chip is made. There are two basic parts to chip manufacturing. We refer to them as wafer processing and assembly and packaging. ASMI is an equipment supplier for the Front-end part: wafer processing. During wafer processing – the start of the manufacturing ‘line’ – manufacturers process wafers made of silicon, on which the electrical components are formed. During assembly and packaging – the end of the manufacturing ‘line’ – the wafers are divided up into individual chips and tested before being assembled and packaged.
1. FROM SAND TO PURE SILICON
It all starts with one simple, common substance – sand. The silicon found in sand is in the form of silicon dioxide. To make chips, manufacturers need pure silicon so the first step in the process is to separate the silicon from the oxygen molecules. The pure silicon needed to make silicon chips can have only one foreign atom for every billion silicon atoms. It must also be in mono-crystalline form. The way atoms are organized in this form of silicon is essential to some of the later processes.
2. WAFER BLANKS
The silicon is then extracted, or pulled, from liquid silicon in the form of long cylindrical ingots at around 1,400 degrees centigrade.
3. WAFERS ARE CUT
Wafers are cut from the ingots before being polished to produce a smooth surface. They are then sent to chip manufacturers for processing. The following steps in wafer processing are then repeated many times to create the finished wafer containing chips.
4. COATING A WAFER
The wafer is put into a high-temperature furnace and exposed to oxygen, forming a layer of silicon dioxide on the surface. Then chemical vapor deposition ('CVD') is used to add a layer or film of nitride.
5. CREATING MASKS
Once the circuit layout of the chips has been designed, glass plates or masks are created which help copy the design onto the surface of the wafer. Several masks are used in sequence to add more and more complexity to the chips.
6. ADDING A PATTERN
Now it’s time to begin creating the design on the surface of the wafer using the masks as a guide. Photolithography, a type of optical printing, is used. The wafer is first coated with photoresist, that changes when exposed to ultraviolet ('UV') light. The mask is placed above the wafer and precisely aligned with it. UV light shining above the mask reacts with the exposed parts of the photoresist, creating a pattern. The wafer is covered with a developing solution to develop these patterns, that are then etched, leaving the parts not exposed to UV light intact. The surface now contains ‘trenches’ that run across the surface.
A dielectric or insulating film is deposited in the trenches by one of a number of deposition technologies such as chemical vapor deposition ('CVD'), atomic layer deposition ('ALD') or plasma enhanced ALD ('PEALD'). Gates are formed between the trenches, creating part of the many millions of transistors that may be created on a single chip. Gates can be switched to allow charge carriers like electrons to flow or to prevent them from flowing. Contacts are formed by each gate to create a source and drain. Ion implantation is used to implant special elements into the wafer for the source and drain. The charge carrier enters a gate channel at the source contact and exits at the drain contact.
Once the basic chip components have been created, they need to be connected. The same processes of lithography, etching and deposition are used to form trenches filled with metal connections. These connections between components are created not just on one level but on many. The finished wafer will contain up to several thousand individual chips in a space of 200 to 300mm, and some chips can hold billions of transistors.
7. WAFERS SEPARATED INTO INDIVIDUAL CHIPS
Once wafer processing has been completed, the finished wafers are transported to another plant for cutting, assembly and packaging. The individual wafers are cut into separate chips.
8. LEAD FRAMES
The chips are then placed in a lead frame forming a protective housing.
9. TESTING PACKING
Each chip is then tested before being packaged to be sent for placement on circuit boards.
The equipment and processes used to create chips are very complex and draw on leading-edge research. But the objective is simple. To keep enabling us to understand, create and share more of what people love.