A backgrounder on Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography

Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography is on the cusp on being introduced in volume chip manufacturing. What is it? How does it work? And why does it matter? Brush up on your knowledge in this 5-minute backgrounder about the technology that will help enable the devices of tomorrow.

What EUV lithography is
Our lithography systems use ultraviolet light to create billions of tiny structures on thin slices of silicon. Together, these structures make up an integrated circuit, or chip. The more structures that chipmakers can cram on a chip, the faster and more powerful it is. That’s why our systems focus on making such structures smaller and smaller. With Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, we do just that by harnessing light of a much shorter wavelength (13.5 nanometer light) than with previous lithography machines (193 nanometer light). This cutting-edge EUV lithography system enables our customers to create smaller, faster and more powerful chips.

An illustration of the open TWINSCAN NXE:3350B ©ASML

How it works
A lithography system essentially is a projection system. Light is projected through a blueprint of the pattern that will be printed (known as a ‘mask’). Optics focus the pattern onto the silicon wafer, which has earlier been coated with a light-sensitive chemical. When the unexposed parts are etched away, the pattern is revealed. The tricky thing with EUV light is that it’s absorbed by everything, even air. That’s why an EUV system has a large high-vacuum chamber in which the light can travel far enough to land on the wafer. The light is guided by a series of ultra-reflective mirrors, made by our German partner Carl Zeiss. But EUV light is also notoriously hard to generate. An EUV system uses a high-energy laser that fires on a microscopic droplet of molten tin and turns it into plasma, emitting EUV light, which then is focused into a beam.

Why it’s necessary
Lithography with 193 nanometer light has been pushed further than many would have thought possible, but it has come at a cost: the industry has had to reach deep into a bag of tricks to continue shrinking chip features. Think of it like this: if you were to write your name with a marker pen in increasingly smaller handwriting, you’d like to switch to a different kind of pen at some point, right? With EUV lithography, we are offering the industry a fineliner. Chipmakers will be able to continue making smaller, faster and more powerful chips while keeping costs in check.

What it will mean for you
We expect that EUV lithography will start to be used in mass production by our customers from late 2018 or early 2019 onwards. That means that the first devices with chips made on EUV lithography will hit the electronics stores in the coming few years. What will be the next big thing? Who knows. But we know this: our industry is one of the most creative and innovative in the world. And whether it’s virtual reality, health applications, self-driving cars, or the Internet of Things — the advances in lithography will help drive innovation ever forward.

Key moments on our EUV journey

1990s: EUV research projects start in several key places, such as Japan, the USA and in the Netherlands. The research gains traction when Zeiss shows it can make specialized EUV optics. At an industry conference, ‘Soft X-ray lithography’ (later dubbed EUV) is voted the manufacturing technology of the future.
2001: ASML assigns people and resources to its modest EUV program. The aim is to build a working prototype system.
2006: We ship the first Alpha Demo Tools, the earliest EUV protoypes. These two systems were installed at research institutes imec (Belgium) and SUNY (USA).
2007: The phased construction of 10,000 m2 cleanroom space in Veldhoven starts. This is the first cleanroom dedicated to EUV lithography.
2010: We ship the first NXE:3100, the first EUV R&D system, to the research facility of an Asian chip maker. The machine achieves ‘first light’ on Christmas eve.
2012: To accelerate the development of next-generation lithography technologies, key customers Intel, TSMC and Samsung participate in our Customer Co-Investment Program. All agree to contribute to the R&D of next-generation lithography technologies over five years, and acquire equity stakes in the company.
2013: We ship the first NXE:3300B, which is used by our customers for process development. Later that year, we complete the acquisition of Cymer, the San Diego-based manufacturer of light sources, to further accelerate the development of EUV.
2015: We ship the first NXE:3350B, a further improvement, most notably on availability and productivity. The next-generation NXE:3400B, to be first shipped in 2017 and meant for volume manufacturing, receives its first orders.
2016: Customers start placing a significant number of orders, leading to an EUV backlog of about EUR 2 billion. These orders show that customers are committed to taking EUV into production. At ASML’s annual results in January 2017, CEO Peter Wennink says that ASML is “…now moving to the next phase of EUV industrialization. We remain committed to deliver the performance requirements for customer volume manufacturing, while continuing to build up our manufacturing, supply chain and service capabilities.”


Quick facts

  • One EUV system contains 100,000 parts, 3,000 cables, 40,000 bolts and 2 kilometers of hosing
  • An EUV system weighs approximately 180,000 kilograms
  • An EUV system ships in 40 freight containers, spread over 20 trucks and 3 cargo planes
  • A total of 15 EUV systems were operating in customer fabs worldwide at the end of 2016
  • Together, these systems have exposed more than 700,000 wafers in customer fabs
  • The mirrors used in an EUV system need to be extremely flat. If one were to be blown up to the size of Germany, the biggest bump would be less than 1 millimeter high
  • We create EUV light by firing a high-energy laser on a droplet of molten tin — 50,000 times per second
  • An EUV system controls beams of light so accurately that it is equivalent to shining a light torch from the earth and hitting a 50 eurocent coin placed on the moon
  • An EUV system contains a large vacuum chamber that weighs 7,600 kilograms
  • ASML’s total R&D organization has more than 5,500 engineers and a budget of over 1 billion Euro annually

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