Yesterday Intel lost its patience because Silicon Valley Group Inc., a manufacturer of lithographic equipment, postponed a release of 193 nm argon-fluoride (ArF) lithographic scanners once again, and Intel has decided to refuse such SVG equipment. The only reason to draw such a solution and to cancel a $100M order was constant postponement of delivery of SVG equipment.
Such a turn is a also serious blow for a parental company ASM Lithography which bought SVG two months ago at $1.6 billion. The representatives of ASML in Holland still refuse to make any comments on the situation.
The today's press-release of Intel is not an impulsive solution. According to Mark T. Bohr, Intel Fellow and Director of Process Architecture and Integration, SVG had a window for delivering 193 nm scanners for Intel. Now this window is closed. Let's recover the prehistory of the events.
18 months ago Intel placed its $100M order for 193 nm Micrascan equipment from SVG. First SVG planned on supplying of Micrascan 193 scanners in April this year, but on 25 April they announced a put-off of the delivery date for July. But at the Semicon West display in San Francisco they postponed the date for another couple of months, promising to start the delivery in October.
Technological plans of Intel: corrections, corrections...
The delay of such long-awaited SVG equipment affected the terms of applications of new technological processes of the company.
Last week Intel said the delivery of the equipment won't influence the schedule of delivery of new 0.13 micron processors. Well, the first 0.13 chips were announced on 30 July.
That time Intel said that the 193 nm lithographic equipment is not required for production of 0.13 micron chips, and it's meant for the next generation of the technological process - a 0.10 micron one (P1262 technology) which Intel plans to start up in 2003.
However, initially Intel wanted to use the SVG Micrascan 193 equipment for the 0.13 micron process. It would have allowed Intel to refuse expensive phase-shifting photomasks ("old" 248 micron DUV scanners). But Intel had to follow the old fab process for the announced 0.13 micron processors with Tualatin core. Today these processors are based on the 248 micron lithographic equipment from Nikon Corp.
As a result, Intel incurred losses. First of all, the prime cost of the 0.13 micron chips grew due to the old fab process. Secondly, Intel lost a possibility to try the new technology.
What about SVG?
According to the analysts from ASML Holding, SVG must substantially correct financial forecasts for the second half year of 2001. In April the Ministry of Defense of the USA permitted to sale SVG to the Dutch company of ASM Lithography. Thus, they eliminated a major obstacle for this $1.6 billion deal. Earlier, the Ministry of Defense didn't allowed this arrangement because of the strategic importance of SVG's technologies.
Before 2001 ASML conducted brisk business: in 2000 the company's net profit was $322 million and the turnover rose to $1.2 billion. In 2000 ASML entered the Japanese market which had been occupied by Nikon. At the beginning of 2001 ASML had orders exceeding $1.2 billion, including orders from Intel, Cypress, IBM and other manufacturers who used SVG lithographic equipment.
What's the problem?
Today there are 4 manufacturers of such equipment: ASML, Canon, Nikon and Silicon Valley Group (SVG) which is now included into ASML but still continues production of its own series of 193 nm scanners.
But now the situation in this sphere is far not perfect. The majority of the 193 nm equipment manufacturers can't supply the equipment due to problems mainly connected with production of lenses made of CaF2. Besides, the companies often face problems concerned with photoresists and templates. So, all delays are connected only with technological factors.
Intel: who to go with?
Intel uses lithographic equipment from two suppliers - Nikon and SVG, both delivering 248 micron lithographic equipment.
Of course, Intel won't abandon usage of 248 micron step-and-scan systems from SVG. Nevertheless, the company will soon transfer to production of new 193 nm systems. The only question is whose equipment will be used?
At present Nikon has delivered to Intel their first 193 nm scanners. I mean a series of 193 nm lithographic devices Nikon S305B used by Intel for experimental-design works, i.e. 193 nm scanners of the 4th generation S306C. Mass production of them will start only in spring of 2002.
Some sources assume ASML can happen to be among suppliers of such equipment for Intel. Not so long ago (on 10 July) a major Intel's competitor, AMD, started delivering 193 nm lithographic scanners AT:1100 developed by ASML. The new lithographic scanner AT:1100 can be used for production of 200 mm - 300 mm silicon wafers with production standards up to 0.10 micron. Lithographic lenses StarLith 1100 for the new device were delivered by an old ASML's partner Carl Zeiss. AT:1100 is meant, first of all, for production of modern chips DRAM and for logic, and can be used in the production process of microprocessors with the number of transistors more than 75 million. Apart from AMD, Infineon, Philips, Micron and TSMC have placed their orders for purchasing AT:1100.
Another player in this field is Canon. But today it has no arrangements with Intel. However, in this situation they can conclude an agreement. According to the latest data obtained, Intel has announced that despite all delays and its firm press-release they consider purchasing the equipment from SVG, but only if it appears in reasonable time.
Intel has quickly found the way out and announced new 0.13 processors in time. As you can see, a smooth transition to a new fab process depends not always on a manufacturer. But SVG turned to be in an unpleasant position as well, since orders for new lithographic equipment may be received by its competitors.
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