For more than 50 years, we've grown by meeting customer demand for more sophisticated wafer processing. From the very start of the semiconductor industry to the present day, we've been technology leaders who have pioneered innovation and brought new processes into mainstream manufacturing.
RECOGNIZING THE POTENTIAL OF ALD
We were one of the first companies with the vision to recognize the potential of Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) technology for the semiconductor industry. ALD technology was originally developed in Finland in the early 1970s to achieve good-quality ZnS thin films for electroluminescent devices in flat panel displays. This was the first application to demonstrate the excellent surface control that was possible through saturating gas-solid reactions. In 1999, we acquired the Finnish company Microchemistry, forming ASM Microchemistry. Microchemistry had been researching ALD for catalyst and solar cell applications since 1987. At the same time, new ALD reactor concepts were being studied, with the very first 200 mm wafer processing equipment being designed and built in the late 1990s. We invested a further 8 years of R&D efforts to design and produce the equipment and processes required to enable its reliable and efficient use by advanced semiconductor chip manufacturers.
What benefits does ALD bring? Using ALD allows semiconductor manufacturers to form thin films atom by atom. Creating nanoscale structures and devices with unique properties to meet the challenges posed at very small dimensions.
To put it in perspective, a 22 nanometer (nm) transistor is roughly 3000 times thinner than a single hair. And a single strand of human DNA is 2.5 atoms wide. ALD creates films as thin as a single atom thick.
Building devices, atom by atom, gives us very precise control over the process. It means we can deliver deposition materials at a uniform thickness over all types of topographies. Such precision also enables the use of materials that could not be considered before.
ALD – A DRIVER OF FUTURE GROWTH
Using ALD, we are now able to deposit new materials several atoms thick on wafers at low temperatures producing ultra-thin films of exceptional quality and uniformity. In Plasma Enhanced ALD (PEALD), plasma is used to further enhance the process.
Using ALD technology, we have been able to scale devices to 45nm and below while reducing the power consumption of transistors. All of which helps to keep the industry on Moore's Law.
ALD is now our basic platform for the development of a wide range of new materials. Our research centers in Finland, the US, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, and Belgium are working on ALD. We're also conducting joint research projects with Europe's largest independent research institute IMEC.
All this is helping to make ALD one of the principal drivers of future growth in microelectronics.
ALD IS NOW MAINSTREAM
ALD and PEALD are now both mainstream technologies used in volume manufacturing in the semiconductor industry. ASM's ALD technology is now being used to build a wide range of applications such as leading edge products like high performance computers as well as wireless handheld smart devices. The results of ALD are everywhere in the world around us.
Plasma Enhanced ALD (PEALD) is another in the long line of ASM innovations. It widens the spectrum of materials that can be deposited. Its capability to deposit materials at temperatures as low as room temperature makes it possible to carry out processes on temperature sensitive substrates like photoresist.
This technology is currently in use for Direct Spacer Defined Double Patterning (DSDDP). A technique that can reduce device dimensions at 32nm and below, postponing the need for new lithography technologies. This is just one example of how ALD continues to open up new possibilities for further process breakthroughs.
The key to our success lies in our commitment to Research and Development (R&D). We maintain the widest and most diverse ALD development organization in the industry. We're active at all stages in its life cycle, from developing the basic chemistry to implementing at our customer's production sites.
Our research centers in Finland, the US, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, and Belgium are all working on ALD. We also have joint research projects with Europe's largest independent research institute, IMEC, in Belgium. ASM is a truly global company. Diversity means that we get the benefit of wider viewpoints while being able to bring together the best minds in the world to work create new breakthroughs.
We will continue to expand the scope and depth of our research and development capabilities through strategic alliances with independent research institutes, universities, customers and suppliers. We will also keep expanding our patent portfolio where necessary and beneficial.
SUSTAINABLE GROWTH FOR THE NEXT DECADE
This is just the beginning. Fundamentally, ALD has been around for 30 years but as a technology in semiconductor manufacturing it is still relatively new. We expect it to be one of the principal drivers of growth in microelectronics over the coming decade. At ASM, we will continue to develop the huge potential of ALD in support of the semiconductor industry. Helping the industry to support future demands from consumers who want to understand, create and share more of what they love.