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5 November 2005 A mask manufacturer's perspective on maskless lithography
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Maskless Lithography (ML2) is again being considered for use in mainstream CMOS IC manufacturing. Sessions at technical conferences are being devoted to ML2. A multitude of new companies have been formed in the last several years to apply new concepts to breaking the throughput barrier that has in the past prevented ML2 from achieving the cost and cycle time performance necessary to become economically viable, except in rare cases. Has Maskless Lithography's (we used to call it "Direct Write Lithography") time really come? If so, what is the expected impact on the mask manufacturer and does it matter? The lithography tools used today in mask manufacturing are similar in concept to ML2 except for scale, both in throughput and feature size. These mask tools produce highly accurate lithographic images directly from electronic pattern files, perform multi-layer overlay, and mix-n-match across multiple tools, tool types and sites. Mask manufacturers are already accustomed to the ultimate low volume - one substrate per design layer. In order to achieve the economically required throughput, proposed ML2 systems eliminate or greatly reduce some of the functions that are the source of the mask writer's accuracy. Can these ML2 systems meet the demanding lithographic requirements without these functions? ML2 may eliminate the reticle but many of the processes and procedures performed today by the mask manufacturer are still required. Examples include the increasingly complex mask data preparation step and the verification performed to ensure that the pattern on the reticle is accurately representing the design intent. The error sources that are fixed on a reticle are variable with time on an ML2 system. It has been proposed that if ML2 is successful it will become uneconomical to be in the mask business - that ML2, by taking the high profit masks will take all profitability out of mask manufacturing and thereby endanger the entire semiconductor industry. Others suggest that a successful ML2 system solves the mask cost issue and thereby reduces the need and attractiveness of ML2. Are these concerns valid? In this paper we will present a perspective on maskless lithography from the considerable "direct write" experience of a mask manufacturer. We will examine the various business models proposed for ML2 insertion as well as the key technical challenges to achieving simultaneously the throughput and the lithographic quality necessary to become economically viable. We will consider the question of the economic viability of the mask industry in a post-ML2 world and will propose possible models where the mask industry can meaningfully participate.
© (2005) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.
Peter Buck, Charles Biechler, and Franklin Kalk "A mask manufacturer's perspective on maskless lithography", Proc. SPIE 5992, 25th Annual BACUS Symposium on Photomask Technology, 599225 (5 November 2005);


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