Fab equipment firm FST said on Thursday that it has developed the “world’s first” pellicle mounter/demounter for the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) process used in semiconductor production.
The equipment mounts and dismounts pellicles on the masks automatically. The equipment has passed a review conducted by a large chip making customer based in South Korea.
FST has relied on chillers and pellicle materials as its main revenue streams so far. The new equipment will likely boost its sales substantially in the coming years as more semiconductor companies expand their application of EUV in their advanced chip production lines.
The new mounter, called EUV Pellicle Mounter|Demounter (EPMD), has been in development since 2019. FST made a demo version of the equipment and supplied them to its potential customer in the first quarter this year, the company said. It passed the review recently.
EPMD will likely be supplied right before the customer begins using EUV pellicles in its chip production.
Pellicles are thin layers used to protect masks from dusts. Those used in the EUV process needs to be 50-nanometer or thinner. Pellicles are ultra-thin and are prone to flapping, so placing them flatly on top of the mask is a difficult process.
ASML of the Netherlands has provided a “guideline” version of a pellicle mounter which has been applied to the EUV process of a device maker. However, the machine requires human assistance in a lot of its steps to operate. A pellicle costs around 100 million won per unit. If a person carries them around by hand during operation, they could be dropped or misplaced, which can cause errors and increase cost burdens. This is the reason why FST has been developing a mounter like its EPMD.
The machine mounts and demounts the pellicle automatically. The customer’s review showed that the procedure had a 100% success rate. Manually operated EUV pellicle mounter costs tens of billions of wons and more of them are needed as pellicle usage goes up, a person familiar with the matter said.
Pellicles are set to be used more widely going forward and mounters like EPMD will secure new revenues for fab equipment makers, the person said.
Besides EPMD, FST has also developed EUV Pellicle Inspection System (EPIS) and EUV POD Inspection Systems (EPODIS), which is used to inspect the pod where the masks are stored. These two machines were also received positively by the potential customer and passed their respective reviews.
EPIS is used to inspect whether there are foreign objects on the pellicle and its frame. It can analyze and review the foreign object automatically as well, identifying there location and characteristics. EPODIS inspects whether the pods have contamination. Both machines use laser and image processing technologies.
FST research director Choi Sung-won said: “With the development of this equipment series, we have laid the foundation to become a EUV total solution company. The series is the world’s first and South Korea’s first; it is meaningful that their valued has been accepted by our customer.”
FST said it expected new sales from the EUV machines within the year at the earliest and next year at the latest.
The company added that it was also developing new equipment related to the EUV process such as an assembly kit.