Paul van Gerven
24 October 2023

Following pressure from the US, the Dutch government enlisted the help of ASML to keep Mapper’s e-beam technology out of enemy hands. According to a reconstruction published by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad (link in Dutch), the US military initially worked with a contractor to save the ailing Delft-based company. When that plan fell through, Mapper went bankrupt and its IP was up for grabs. Realizing its mistake – Mapper had previously reached out to potential investors from China, for example – the Pentagon urged the Dutch government to intervene. Economic Affairs Secretary Mona Keijzer then turned to ASML, which eventually outbid the competition.

Mapper Leti
Mapper’s e-beam lithography tool at French research outfit CEA-Leti. Credit: CEA-Leti

Although it briefly considered e-beam lithography as a successor to DUV patterning, ASML concluded around the turn of the century that the technique would never meet throughput requirements. For a long time, Mapper challenged that view, but after EUV industrialization turned a corner, the spinoff from Delft University of Technology started marketing e-beam as a way to manufacture unique ICs (link in Dutch). This would enable new security applications, which apparently grabbed the attention of the Pentagon.

ASML still wasn’t impressed, however. “That’s such a small market, mainly driven by the US military. We’re talking one tool a year at most,” CEO Peter Wennink told Bits&Chips in 2019, a week before his company acquired Mapper’s IP and announced it would offer technical staff a job (link in Dutch). He neglected to mention that Secretary Keijzer had already paid him a visit a few weeks earlier, urging ASML to step up.

Of course, Mapper’s expertise and people weren’t at all wasted on ASML: e-beam metrology is prominently featured in its holistic lithography suite, a set of techniques to support the patterning process. ASML entered the market in 2016, after acquiring Taiwan’s Hermes Microvision (HMI) (link in Dutch). After some delays, the single-beam inspection tool has evolved to 9 and now 25 parallel beams.

BCe24 save the date