Producing smaller feature sizes by extending current and near-term lithographic printing tools is a cost-effective strategy for high-volume production of integrated circuits. The hardbake process, as an annealing step to strengthen resist structures, includes a desirable thermal reflow that can facilitate this objective. Thermal reflow of polymer-based resists is a phase-dependent phenomenon in which a polymeric material with recyclable/reversible thermal characteristics experiences dimensional changes through relaxation during thermal cycling at hardbake. Unlike polymer melts, resist reflow is accompanied by a continuous change in the physical state of the resist over a specific temperature range, so it can be described on the basis of the relaxation modulus-temperature relation. Resist behavior during thermal transitions (e.g., glassy, leathery, rubbery plateau, etc.) can effectively be classified into either solid or viscous, depending on whether the resist material is below or above the characteristic glass transition temperature. In general, resist contact hole size can be significantly reduced by optimizing the principal factors driving resist reflow, i.e., temperature-dependent material properties, bake cycle parameters, contact-hole dimensions, and the type of contact array. Recognizable size reduction of the contact hole appears as the resist passes through the leathery state, and its maximum permanent deformation after thermal cycling completely depends on the resist material used. This research focuses on a bake profile of the resist described by the parameters in typical three-stage proximity contact wafer processing. Simulation programs were developed to characterize the primary thermal properties and process parameters affecting the bake profile, and to identify their relative effects on the resist contact-hole response.
Accurate contact-hole imaging depends on the relative size of the contact hole to be patterned and the resolution of the stepper. The hardbake process includes desirable thermal reflow of the resist contact-hole arrays; this effect is driven by the temperature dependence of the polymer-based resist that is densified on the silicon substrate. Thermal reflow is completely independent of current and near-term lithographic printing tools. Resist reflow is a thermomechanical phenomenon dominated by the polymer after development, during which thermal reactions of the polymer produce permanent mechanical deformations of the contact holes. Resist behavior can effectively be classified into solid and viscous, below and above the characteristic glass transition temperature, respectively. The basic states are characterized by changes in the stress states and the phases depending on the thermal behavior of the resist material. The thermal transitions of the resist in the process are strongly influenced by the temperature-dependent mechanical properties, i.e., the modulus, the yield stress, and the coefficient of thermal expansion. Other influences include the surface tension and the bake cycle parameters. This analysis assumes conventionally generated contact holes in the resist, followed by thermal cycling until the thermal reflow produces reduced size contact holes of the desired dimensions. Finite element models were utilized to identify the principal physical parameters influencing resist thermal reflow.