Brussels, 11 Jan 2005
A European advisory board on maskless lithography has been established by MEDEA+, the industry-initiated pan-European programme for cooperative research and development in microelectronics within Eureka.
In 1965, Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, noted that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since the integrated circuit was invented. He predicted that this trend would continue for the foreseeable future. In subsequent years, the pace slowed down a bit, but data density has doubled approximately every 18 months. Most experts, including Moore himself, expect Moore's Law to hold for at least another two decades.
The theory is being driven by lithography, which has thus far enabled a 30 per cent decrease in the size of printed dimensions every two years. The mask is a vital component of this technology, but increasing mask costs in recent years have constrained the economic viability of new technology generations.
Several European consortia are currently developing tools for maskless pattern definition. Different approaches are making use of either particle optics or photons. A number of ideas on beam modulating devices are also being tested.
The advisory board, EAB-ML2, will serve as a platform for the exchange of ideas between suppliers and users whilst exploring application scenarios for the implementation of maskless lithography.
'The expertise and skills that are needed to create maskless lithography tools are available in Europe,' said Mart Graef, chair of EAB-ML2. 'The involvement of the major European semiconductor manufacturers and semiconductor equipment companies will ensure that the solutions provided will be tuned to the requirements of the IC [integrated circuit] industry. This is the most important issue that we will address in the EAB-ML2.'
Vice Chairman of MEDEA+ Peter Tischer emphasised the importance of lithography research: 'We estimate maskless lithography as a promising solution for low-volume IC products, maybe also for the prototyping of new designs. [The advisory board] offers the chance to identify joint technical challenges and address them in collaborative work within the MEDEA- programme.'
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