Today hardly anything runs, plays, travels or flies without microchips. They are the heart of computers and cell phones, servers and machines. Microchips are crucial for efficient manufacturing processes, innovative medical technology, autonomous blockchains and digital currencies – to mention just a few examples. The more powerful and efficient semiconductors become, the more they drive our future forward.
It is increasingly difficult to imagine a future without ZEISS. Our products and manufacturing processes fuel key areas of progress in semiconductor manufacturing. For example, the lenses from our Semiconductor Manufacturing Optics (SMO) strategic business unit, are being used to produce extremely powerful and energy-efficient microchips around the globe. In addition, ZEISS Process Control Solutions (PCS) provides unique metrology and process control solutions for the semiconductor industry.
Fast, precise, and versatile
The wide-ranging ZEISS high-tech portfolio is used not only in semiconductor manufacturing, but also in medical and material research. One of the biggest challenges in these areas is making structures in the nanometer range visible and measurable. The traditional scanning electron microscope is often not suitable for this task. It may provide the required resolution, but it lacks the speed required to keep up with production in a modern semiconductor fab.
To address the challenge of imaging large areas with nanometer resolution quickly, ZEISS developed the world’s fastest scanning electron microscope (SEM) which overcomes the throughput limitation of traditional SEMs by using 61 or 91 electron beams in parallel. The result is a high-resolution, high-contrast image within the fraction of the time a traditional SEM would have required. In the next step, an artificial intelligence-driven integrated analysis platform supports the evaluation of the image. ZEISS’s multibeam SEM (multiSEM) is just as suitable for the research of biological tissue as for the inspection of the surfaces of logic and memory chips.
The modern fab requires 3D metrology
As a result of the rapid proliferation of 3D structures in semiconductor devices, particularly in NAND and DRAM memory chips and the associated challenges in manufacturing such complex 3D semiconductor structures, production engineers increasingly require 3D metrology information to control production processes. Specifically to supply this critical information, ZEISS developed its 3D tomography solution. It is based on the combination of a scanning electron microscope with a focused ion beam. The ion beam acts like a scalpel, removing nanometer thin layers from the material under investigation which are then imaged by the scanning electron microscope. Subsequently, ZEISS software combines the 2D SEM images into a three-dimensional model, from which various critical 3D measurement data can then be extracted.
Due to the optimized combination of high resolution imaging, precise cutting and analytical capabilities, ZEISS 3D tomography provides best in class 3D information that enable unique process control insights. Thanks to these comprehensive capabilities, a limited number of images taken at a few selected locations can provide crucial process control information with high statistical significance in a short time. The fab’s production engineers are thereby enabled to make timely process control decisions thus optimizing yield and performance of the chips in production.
Time is money
To avoid being overpowered by competitors’ products and to capitalize on product design R&D, semiconductor companies need to launch their products in a timely fashion. To achieve this, they need to produce working chips as early as possible, e.g. to conduct lifetime and performance tests, and to supply their customers with samples for their own product development. Unfortunately, the first production runs often yield chips that are not adequately working. To overcome this, semiconductor manufacturers are relying on circuit edit (CE): the reliable repair of a few chips with surgical precision.
As important as CE has become for semiconductor manufacturers, the continued lateral shrink and the increasing proliferation of 3D structures in microchips continues to make this task ever more challenging. This is where the unique gas field ion technology (GFIS) from ZEISS offers a powerful solution: the use of focused helium or neon ion beams dramatically increases the precision and control in circuit edit. Also with this technology, ZEISS thus makes a major contribution to the successful market launches of future generations of semiconductor products.
Does that sound like cutting edge research and innovation? Without a doubt! ZEISS process control solutions occupy a place close to the boundaries of what is currently technologically possible, but we are continually pushing these boundaries. But to do this we need more pioneers who want to move forward with us – nanometer by nanometer towards the future.