Nikon building worldwide training center in California



BELMONT, Calif.—In what may be a sign of better times ahead, Nikon Precision Inc. (Belmont, Calif.) has announced it will build a worldwide training center aimed at meeting demand from English-speaking countries.

The center, which will be constructed alongside Nikon Precision's headquarters here, will feature cleanrooms that are ISO Class 5 or better. Plans call for the training center to house several of Nikon's latest generation and most advanced semiconductor lithography tools. The facility will be designed for a capacity of more than 500 training classes a year. Nikon plans to move equipment into the building by December and start holding classes by next February.

Behind this project lies a technical need, customer demand, and possibly an uptick in business. On the technical front, Nikon's latest products use 193-nanometer (nm) wavelength lasers and advanced optics to target bleeding edge processes. The recently announced NSR-S308F, for instance, is aimed at future mass production of 65-nm feature size and smaller devices. But such state-of-the-art tools don't come without requiring a bigger footprint and smaller contamination levels than previous generations. These demands can't be handled by the company's current training center.

Nikon Precision's worldwide training center will feature cleanrooms that are ISO Class 5 or better, and will house several next-gen advanced semiconductor lithography tools.
Click here to enlarge image

"The needs have increased; that's why a whole new facility is coming up," remarks Sal Mohammed, associate director in technical planning for Nikon Precision.

End user expectations are also playing a part in the project. Nikon's customers, who shell out millions of dollars for each tool, expect more than a manual and often require that classes and training be available. Such instruction typically involves classroom lectures and hands-on experience with the tools. That necessitates a cleanroom of the right size and specifications.

The training currently offered by Nikon, which will in all likelihood serve as a model for future classes, runs as long as five days. Nikon also offers applications training and seminars that outline the best-known methods to improve imaging and alignment as well as to optimize productivity.

Nikon's customers, even those who are not chipmakers, look forward to using the new facility for a variety of reasons. "It will allow us to train our personnel more quickly and cost-effectively, and it will give us access to new state-of-the-art technologies as they become available," remarks Ralph Dammel, director of technology for 193- and 157-nm at photoresist maker Clariant Corp. (Charlotte, N.J.).

As for the possible business upturn, Nikon claims to have rolled out more new lithography systems in 2003 and to have shipped a greater number of more advanced tools than any of its competitors. That momentum, the company says, needs nurturing.

John Schmitz, vice president and COO for manufacturing operations and technology at International SEMATECH (Austin, Texas), notes that companies using the training center will gain access to the latest technology, as well as a possible boost to productivity and profits.

"It will help Nikon improve the availability of these tools for our members' fabs," says Schmitz.