Design rule shrinkage and the wider adoption of new device structures such as STI, copper damascene interconnects, and deep trench structures have increased the necessity of in-line process monitoring of step heights and profiles of device structures. For monitoring active device patterns, not test patterns as in OCD, AFM is the only non-destructive 3D monitoring tool. The barriers to using AFM in-line monitoring are its slow throughput and the accuracy degradation associated with probe tip wear and spike noise caused by unwanted oscillation on the steep slopes of high-aspect-ratio patterns. Our proprietary AFM scanning method, Step in mode®, is the method best suited to measuring high-aspect-ratio pattern profiles. Because the probe is not dragged on the sample surface as in conventional AFM, the profile trace fidelity across steep slopes is excellent. Because the probe does not oscillate and hit the sample at a high frequency as in AC scanning mode, this mode is free from unwanted spurious noises on steep sample slopes and incurs extremely little probe tip wear. To fully take advantage of the above properties, we have developed an AFM sensor optimized for in-line use, which produces accurate profile data at high speeds.
The control scheme we have developed for the AFM sensor, which we call "Smart Step-in", elaborately analyses the contact force signal, enabling efficient probe tip scanning and a low and stable contact force. The mechanism of the AFM sensor has been optimized for the higher scanning rate and has improved the accuracy, such as the scanning planarity, position and height accuracy, and slope angle accuracy. Our prototype AFM sensor can scan high-aspect-ratio patterns while stabilizing the contact force at 3 nN. The step height measurement repeatability was 0.8 nm (3σ). A STI-like test pattern was scanned, and the steep sidewalls with angles of 84° were measured with high fidelity and without spurious noises.