The accelerated introduction of ASML’s NXE:3400C EUV scanner should take care of logic makers’ production capacity needs. In fact, even memory makers are getting on board now.
Pretty soon, in Q3, ASML will ship its first full-fledged EUV production scanner, the NXE:3400C. Many more machines will follow: the NXE:3400C will be the IC industry’s EUV workhorse until 2021, unless ASML decides to develop another NXE-model or two before moving to the next (and last) generation of 0.33 NA scanners, called NXE Next. These NXE Next machines will take advantage of components designed for 0.55 NA (or High NA) scanners to further improve performance. High NA itself is scheduled to be introduced in 2023.
Originally, the first NXE:3400C shipment was supposed to happen at a later date. ASML accelerated its introduction last year when chipmakers got convinced of EUV’s viability and started ordering more scanners than ASML could build. Quickly ramping up production capacity in Veldhoven and Oberkochen proved impossible, but by moving up delivery of better spec’d machines, IC makers are expected to be able to meet their capacity needs after all.
The NXE:3400C is indeed faster than its predecessors. On the Q2 conference call, ASML CEO Peter Wennink told investors and analysts his engineers recently demonstrated the targeted throughput of 170 wafers per hour. A fully upgraded NXE:3400B, its predecessor, processes up to 155 wafers per hour.
Wennink did not state if the NXE:3400C meets the 90 percent availability target as well. According to an ASML spokesman, availability is measured across the installed base of 51 systems and hence cannot be specifically stated for the latest addition to ASML’s range of EUV systems alone.
Clearly, though, current productivity is high enough for logic makers, since these are the companies that will be installing the systems over the next quarters. With the only alternative being extensive multi-patterning, even relatively low EUV productivity – by DUV standards – could be good enough. Last April, TSMC said EUV ‘exceeds our needs’.
Tellingly, in term of productivity improvements, the DRAM industry is also preparing to adopt EUV. Since scanner productivity is even more important in memory production, it took a little longer before memory producers got on board. But, according to Wennink, the break-even point of 2000 wafers per day under customer memory conditions has been exceeded. “As a confirmation of the potential of the NXE:3400C for cost effective, high volume memory production, we received a number of EUV orders this quarter for systems slated for use in memory,” Wennink said.
ASML will ship at total of 30 EUV systems this year, and has the capacity to build 33 to 35 next year. Surprisingly, there are still some slots available. Wennink explained he expects to be fully booked before the end of the year, once a successful “marathon test” wins over DRAM customers.
Looking further ahead, ASML will expand its production capacity of 45 EUV scanners per year from 2021 and onward. “There are scenarios where we might have to go even higher,” Wennink added, referring to uncertainties in IC demand as well as in the number of EUV patterned layers in the chips. 7nm chips, of which production is currently being ramped up, contain 7-12 EUV layers. That number could double at the 5 nm node, suggested Wennink. Further increases in productivity can partially offset any additional, unforeseen IC production capacity needs, but not fully. In that case, ASML is committed to assembling more than 45 systems per year.