The research institution Imec and the manufacturer ASML who produce lithography equipment are planning to build a joint laboratory for research into the production of printed nanoscale devices for 3 nm and smaller structures.

They have already successfully collaborated for almost 30 years and are now planning a two-phase five-year program. The first phase is designed to develop and facilitate the take-up of EUV lithography for high volume production. The second phase will investigate the process of next-generation high-numerical-aperture EUV lithography to produce semiconductor structures in the 3 nm range.

For the first phase, ASML will install the EUV scanner NXE: 3400B in Imecs cleanroom and further refine the current 0.33 NA EUV lithography process. The EUV system operates with a 250 W light source and allows a throughput of more than 125 wafers / hour. The system installed at Imec will be equipped with state-of-the-art alignment and levelling sensors to achieve high throughput with optimum process control and to facilitate adaptation to the latest NXT: 2000i immersion scanner, which will be installed next year.

In the second phase, partners will set up a HighNA-EUV research laboratory to experiment with next-generation EUV lithography using higher Numerical Aperture. The Numerical Aperture (NA) of an optical system is a dimensionless number that characterizes the range of angles over which the system can accept or emit light. Higher NA systems can resolve finer features by condensing light from a wider range of angles.

The next generation EXE: 5000 system will have an NA of 0.55 compared to 0.33 of the current NXE: 3400 system and should be ready by 2021. It aims to meet the challenges of 3 nm exposure systems. This technology is expected to reach the limits of feasibility, considering the silicon lattice spacing is only 0.543 nm.