What is EUV lithography?

Extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography is a semiconductor industry process for producing very small integrated circuit patterns on silicon wafers using powerful laser-driven beams of light. EUV technology uses a much narrower 13.5 nanometer (nm) wavelength of light to create those patterns, less than 1/10th as wide as the 193nm light used in current leading-edge lithography processes. That allows EUV lithography tools to print much smaller, more detailed features.

Samsung’s new 7-nanometer Low Power Plus (7nmLPP) process technology is the first commercially available chip manufacturing process to use EUV lithography, which allows it to create circuits with features as small as 7 nanometers (nm). While other companies’ latest manufacturing processes can also produce 7nm chip features, their multi-patterned 193nm lithography technology is already stretched to its performance limits, and will likely not be feasible for producing much smaller chip features.

What advantages does EUV offer?

Compared to Samsung Foundry’s previous leading-edge 10nm technology, we expect our new 7LPP EUV process to provide significant benefits in power, performance, and area. Specifically, we expect chips designed for EUV production to use up to 35 percent less power while providing 10 percent higher performance and up to 40 percent better area efficiency (room to add new features). We also expect the new process to simplify manufacturing by requiring fewer processing steps and producing better yields.

EUV process technology should enable the semiconductor industry to build the next several generations of chips with ever-smaller features, while squeezing increasing amounts of functionality onto each chip. It should also reduce production costs by reducing the number of mask layers required, and taking less time to design and manufacture than traditional multi-patterned processes.

Why has EUV technology been delayed?

The semiconductor industry has been working on EUV technology for decades, but numerous obstacles needed to be overcome to make the technology both technically and economically feasible.

Until recently the biggest problem has been the plasma light sources, which needed to produce 250 watts of light in order to process at least 125 wafers per hour – the minimum level needed to make the technology cost-effective. In 2017, however, ASML removed that major area of concern by developing a more efficient way of converting laser energy to EUV light.

The industry still needs to improve the transparency of the pellicle membranes used to protect EUV wafers from contamination, as well as better photoresist materials and systems for inspecting photomasks for defects. But those advances don’t appear to be essential at this time, and aren’t likely to delay the commercial rollout of EUV technology in 2018.

How much will EUV manufacturing cost?

For EUV to be commercially successful, it will have to compete with the cost of existing lithography processes. And that won’t be easy, with EUV lithography tools expected to cost more than $100 million each. Yet despite that initial cost barrier, we expect EUV to be cost-competitive for producing chips with ultra-fine sub-10nm details.

Today’s leading-edge chip designs can use as many as 100 different masks and the same number of time-consuming exposures to reproduce the circuit patterns for a single layer of chip. EUV lithography offers a promising way to way to drastically reduce the number of mask steps, production time and, ultimately, costs required.

When and where will Samsung begin EUV chip production?

Samsung plans to start mass-producing the world’s first commercial-scale EUV chips by the end of 2018 on our new S3 manufacturing line in Hwaseong, Korea. To provide additional capacity and an alternate manufacturing source, we recently broke ground for a second EUV line in Hwaseong. The $6 billion facility should be fully equipped and ready to start production in 2020.

Who’s supplying Samsung’s EUV equipment?

Samsung Foundry has been developing EUV technology for years, in partnership with Netherlands-based ASML Holding N.V. and other key technology suppliers. Samsung has ordered several of ASML’s NXE:3400B EUV scanner tools to launch each of its two initial EUV-equipped production lines.

Who’s planning to use EUV?

Qualcomm Inc. has announced plans to use Samsung’s new 7LPP EUV process technology to build its latest Snapdragon™ 5G mobile chipsets for cell phones and other mobile devices.

Thanks to EUV’s ability to create smaller circuit features, Qualcomm expects the chipsets to have a smaller footprint than previous designs. That, in turn, will provide more usable space inside upcoming products to support larger batteries or slimmer designs, as well as achieving significantly improved battery life.

How far can EUV lithography be extended?

Although our 7nmLPP lithography process is just reaching the market, Samsung is already working on a technology roadmap for future EUV process developments with improved performance, which should extend the usefulness of EUV lithography for at least several more generations.

By then, we plan to be using a next-generation gate-all-around FET architecture, rather than today’s prevalent fin field-effect transistor (FinFET) architecture, to produce chips with features as small as 3nm.