Etching: A crucial step in semiconductor manufacturing

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Plasma etching is a key step in wafer fabrication, from deposition to the patterning of photolithography to dry or wet etch. As such, it is a crucial and hotly-contested area for vendors of semiconductor manufacturing equipment.

Lam Research holds about half of the worldwide etch equipment market and principally competes with Applied Materials, Tokyo Electron, and Hitachi High-Technologies.

In May, Lam introduced the Kiyo F Series conductor etch system for volume production of advanced DRAMs and 3D NAND flash memory devices. Lam says the Kiyo F Series is employed for critical conductor etch applications at “all major memory manufacturers.”

A year ago, Lam brought out the 2300 Kiyo F Series with the Hydra Uniformity System, which corrects for critical-dimension non-uniformities on the incoming wafer. The company also unveiled an atomic layer etch (ALE) capability on the 2300 Kiyo F Series conductor etch system, which is paired with Lam’s atomic layer deposition (ALD) systems, the VECTOR ALD Oxide system for dielectric film ALD and the ALTUS system for tungsten metal film ALD.

Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron set plans in 2013 to merge their companies. The merged company, to be called Eteris, would have commanded about one-third of the worldwide etching equipment market. The merger was called off in April, however, as U.S. antitrust regulators indicated that they would not approve the transaction.

SEMI cheered a decision by the U.S. Department of Commerce in February to remove export controls on certain etch equipment, concluding a four-month investigation. SEMI had petitioned the federal government agency in July 2014 to look at the foreign availability of anisotropic plasma dry etching equipment.

“SEMI stands for free trade and open markets to support the development and success of the global semiconductor manufacturing industry supply chain,” Denny McGuirk, president and CEO of SEMI, said in a statement. “We applaud the decontrol of semiconductor etch equipment as a rational response to current technology, trade, and commercial realities. This is a win for both equipment makers and their customers operating in the global market.”

“The Commerce Department’s decision to remove export control restrictions for etch equipment is a big victory for the U.S. semiconductor equipment sector and our customers around the world,” said Randhir Thakur, executive vice president and general manager of the Silicon Systems Group at Applied Materials. “Recognizing the availability of these tools will help fuel growth and promote the success of the global industry supply chain.”

In May, imec and Tokyo Electron presented a direct copper etch scheme for patterning copper interconnections. This would replace the usual copper damascene process, according to imec and TEL. The Belgian research organization worked with nine leading chipmakers on developing the direct copper etch technology.

Dry or wet, etching technology will be the subject of discussions at the SEMICON West 2015 conference and exhibition.


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