by Debra Vogler, senior technical editor, Solid State Technology
July 5, 2009: In an ongoing bid to make jet and flash imprint lithography (J-FIL) the next-generation lithography choice over EUV, Molecular Imprints recently announced a partnership with Dai Nippon Printing (DNP) ,to provide Molecular Imprints with funding and related support for the development of a new mask replication platform designed to significantly lower imprint mask production costs -- an important step in establishing the imprint technology infrastructure needed for volume-production applications.
The mask replication platform development program will utilize J-FIL technology to replicate master imprint masks at higher throughputs compared to traditional mask e-beam writers -- resulting in reductions in total mask costs to levels well below the cost for optical photomasks used today, according to the company. The goal of the program is to develop mask replication technology that will be ready for commercial deployment for the 22nm half-pitch node.
"This partnership with DNP is a key component of our overall strategy to accelerate adoption of our J-FIL technology initially for advanced non-volatile memory production," said Mark Melliar-Smith, CEO of Molecular Imprints. "Through its support of our mask replication development program, DNP is helping to ensure the availability of low-cost imprint masks to address the growing global demand within the semiconductor industry for high-resolution, low cost-of-ownership lithography."
The lithography technology between the NVM and logic/MPU sectors -- with the memory sector's margins being highly challenged -- is bifurcating, and after 193nm the choices in lithography will be based on two criteria: cost-of-ownership (COO) and resolution extensibility, Melliar-Smith told SST. "We believe imprint has a significant advantage over EUV in both cases." Noting that memory manufacturers are the most cost-sensitive and the most resolution aggressive, Melliar-Smith believes that sector will be the first users of imprint lithography. "What happens after that in logic remains to be seen, but we're convinced the memory manufacturers will choose imprint (over EUV)." He also cited imprint's more aggressive resolution roadmap as compared to EUV as a key factor.
Patterned media template replicated with jet and flash imprint lithography (J-FIL). (Source: Molecular Imprints)
Molecular Imprints has a three-pronged approach to COO. First, the company cites its low costs for tooling (there is no track tool, no laser, no lenses, and no vacuum) and consumables (there is no laser maintenance, and it uses low power and minimal materials). Moreover, being able to use replication results in lower mask costs. There is also the potential for gaining higher throughput by clustering modules -- the company is already using clustering on tools for the HDD sector).
Melliar-Smith is further convinced of imprint lithography's advantage because standard optical lithography tools need to use more complex lenses and move to ever-shorter wavelength lasers to gain better resolution. The costs, therefore, become very large with each generation. "In the case of imprint, the resolution is determined by the imprint mask -- so the COO of the tool is completely independent of the tool...the industry [has] never had this before." -- D.V.