February 22, 2001–Belmont, California–Nikon Corp. has accelerated its Electron Projection Lithography (EPL) development program initiated in 1995 with IBM, based on the determination that major IC manufacturers are relying on the availability of EPL production tools for critical level fabrication at the 70-nm node.
“Nikon has initiated a program to accelerate the production of EPL steppers to meet the needs of our customers for 70-nm critical layers,” says Shoichiro Yoshida, president of Nikon Corp. “In 1999, we reported results from the proof of concept electron optical system developed by IBM that confirmed the capability to fabricate ICs in volume production. We believe that EPL will provide our customers the capability to extend to sub-35-nm resolution.”
Papers to be presented at the SPIE Microlithography Conference in Santa Clara, CA, which begins February 25, will include results from the prototype electron optical system that confirmed the deflection performance of the 3-D curvilinear variable axis lens necessary for volume production. The prototype electron optical subsystem developed at IBM’s Semiconductor Research and Development Center recently was installed and is operating at Nikon’s facility in Kumagaya where it will be integrated into Nikon’s first commercial e-beam stepper. Electron optical system characterization data will be available the second quarter of 2001 and total system integration performance reported in mid-2002. Nikon plans to begin shipping production EPL tools by the fourth quarter 2004.
Nikon is strengthening its EPL infrastructure, which includes associations with mask makers, photoresist manufacturers, and chip makers worldwide. Mask makers have demonstrated the ability to fabricate EPL masks. HOYA is providing the test reticles for the first generation Nikon EPL system and HOYA and other mask makers will provide EPL production masks in the future. The IC manufacturing consortium members of Semiconductor Leading Edge Technology Inc. have agreed to support Nikon’s EPL program, and Texas Instruments anticipates using EPL as soon as it is available. Nikon is working with resist vendors on higher sensitivity e-beam resists but initially, existing e-beam resists can be used for EPL. The maturity of e-beam resists eliminates the timing risks associated with 157-nm and extreme ultraviolet (EUV) resists.
Nikon also plans to continue its aggressive programs on 157-nm and EUV, as well as EPL, to allow mix-and-match for the most economic and timely lithographic solutions to meet the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors.