There are four main segments in the thin-layer deposition equipment market – atomic layer deposition (ALD), chemical vapor deposition (CVD), epitaxy, and physical vapor deposition (PVD), also known as sputtering. Although CVD equipment represents the largest equipment type, ALD represents the fastest growing equipment category.
ALD is a technique capable of depositing a variety of thin film materials from the vapor phase. As device requirements push toward smaller and more spatially demanding structures, ALD has demonstrated potential advantages over alternative deposition methods, such CVD and PVD due to its conformality and control over materials thickness and composition. These desirable characteristics originate from the cyclic, self-saturating nature of ALD processes .
Layers are formed during reaction cycles by alternately pulsing precursors and reactants and purging with inert gas in between each pulse. Each atomic layer formed by this sequential process is a result of saturated surface-controlled reactions. For example, a metal precursor pulse of trimethylaluminum (Al(CH3)3) followed by an oxygen reactant pulse (H2O vapor) results in the formation of a layer of aluminum oxide, a metal oxide compound that can be used as a high-k dielectric.
Building devices atom by atom enables very precise control over the process. Because the ALD process is self-limiting, it results in films with a precise thickness and conformality, even over varied surface topographies. It can be applied to produce different oxides, nitrides or other compounds. ALD provides excellent surface control and can produce thin, uniform and pinhole-free films over large areas by single or tailored multiple layer deposition. Nanolaminates or stacked layers of different materials can also be produced, in a straightforward manner, in the ALD reactor.
According to new report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc., the global market for thin layer deposition equipment in semiconductor applications is projected to reach US$13.6 billion by 2020, driven by expanding electronics industry and parallel growth in demand for semiconductor solutions.
In terms of R&D, metal ALD has been challenging because of lack of suitable chemistry and nucleation problems. The development of processes for platinum group metals was a success but need for good industrial processes for many other metals still exists. Metal sulfides are old ALD materials and in industrial use in electroluminescent display production but ALD of selenides and tellurides has been much less studied. The need of chalcogenides in phase change materials and development of alkyl silyl precursors for selenium and tellurium has improved the situation. There is still a need to develop new ALD processes for microelectronics, low-k materials, 2D materials and oxides for transparent TFTs, according to Markku Leskelä, University of Helsinki, Finland.
In addition to applications in microelectronics there are many emerging areas where ALD has been introduced. One important area is energy technology materials. ALD films are used in silicon solar cells as passivation layers and they are extensively studied in many other areas such as dye sensitized solar cells, lithium ion batteries, supercapacitors and fuel cells. Indicative for these and many other applications is the use of known – mostly oxide –processes for protection. Li ion batteries make an exception and new materials and processes have been developed for lithium compounds. Research is also underway to adapt ALD processes to high-throughput roll-to-roll production for printed/flexible electronics.
Key players in the ALD deposition arena include Applied Materials Inc., ASM International N.V., Jusung Engineering Co. Ltd., Lam Research Corporation, Oxford Instruments, Picosun, Tokyo Electron Limited, ULVAC Technologies Inc., Ultratech/Cambridge Nanotech and Veeco Instruments Inc., among others.
The American Vacuum Society hosts an annual conference on Atomic Layer Deposition dedicated to the science and technology of atomic layer controlled deposition of thin films.
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