Russian MEMS production of European quality
Mapper Lithography develops e-beam systems for maskless lithography, which requires components of electronic optics – MEMS on silicon wafers with a layer of molybdenum. The peculiarity of these elements are very high requirements to the accuracy and repeatability of geometric dimensions, and at the stage of developing lithographic systems they were required in a small amount. None of the European factories accepted such an order. Then the management of Mapper Lithography decided to organize its own production and began to look for an investor. The best was the proposal of RUSNANO, which implied the construction of a factory in Russia. So the Mapper LLC was founded, a subsidiary of Mapper Lithography, whose shareholder is RUSNANO.
What are the capabilities of the factory?
We have a full range of modern solutions for MEMS production on 100 mm wafers, which includes ASML's PAS 5500/275D stepper for projection lithography, EVG 620 automated mask aligner, equipment for wet processing, SPTS's APM PECVD system, SPTS's Rapier DRIE system, metrological tools and other equipment.
As for the technological capabilities, they are sufficient to produce the products most in demand by the market. If the original design is not optimal in terms of technology, then in the dialogue with customers we adapt it to our production capabilities. Among the principal limitations is only that we do not work with precious metals and ferromagnets. Since the main task of the factory is the production of elements of electronic optics, and the electrons are very sensitive to magnetic fields, we can not allow contamination of the equipment with ferromagnetic materials.
How is the factory positioned in the market and what is your order portfolio?
Our niche is the production of small batches of MEMS for applications where quality is important, and price does not play a decisive role since the cost of production on 100 mm wafers is always relatively high. It should be noted that we do not have our own design center, so we do not develop the design of the device from scratch. The minimum batch size is not actually limited at present, as long as production is not fully loaded and we even perform single operations. The upper limit is determined by the cost price – if the customer requires a large batch, then it is difficult for us to compete with enterprises working on large wafers.
The maximum capacity of the factory at around-the-clock work is about 10 thousand wafers per year. So far, the volume of orders are increasing every year in geometric progression. Of course, it can not continue for a long time, and in the future growth will inevitably slow down, but as long as the potential remains, and the portfolio of orders can be increased several times without additional investments in equipment. The current output is about 2.5 thousand wafers a year.
In addition to the elements of electronic optics for the parent company, we mainly produce accelerometers and gyroscopes – they account for 95% of Russian orders. But, although from a formal point of view, the product portfolio seems small, it is very diverse in its designs. MEMS for similar tasks can have completely different design and fundamentally different process flows.
The competition in the field of MEMS production is quite large, what are the advantages of work with your factory?
We initially built production and business processes using a Western model, so we can offer products of European quality manufactured in Russia. In the context of international sanctions, when enterprises of the military-industrial complex are forced to minimize use of components of foreign production, this proposal is very important. Of course, there are many small fabs and labs in Russia that can produce MEMS, but the ability to provide high accuracy with minimal deviations in the characteristics of devices in a batch is a special competence that few factories possess. Our factory was created specifically for the production of small batches with high repeatability. I want to note that the feedback from customers, not only Russian, but also experts of Mapper Lithography, confirms the consistently high quality of our products.
How do you assess the state of the Russian MEMS market?
The market is highly fragmented, and often people and organizations dealing with the same issues do not know each other. So far, almost all of our clients have learned about us from their acquaintances, so we even undertake not very profitable orders, so that people learn about us, tell their friends, that is, we consider such orders as marketing promotions. In general, we can state that there is demand, and our main task is to inform potential customers about ourselves. I believe that in the future we can expect a significant growth in the market, as the growth in the use of MEMS in industry and everyday life is an objective reality.
Is there a prospect for growth in the volume of orders from foreign companies?
The parent company from the Netherlands is still our only foreign customer, and it is unlikely that the state of affairs will change in the near future. A lot of factories in Europe and other regions of the world specialize in the production of MEMS, and from the point of view of foreign customers we do not have significant advantages over them, but risks associated with customs and additional shipping costs are added. If in the future the situation with delivery and customs clearance becomes simpler, then, perhaps, we will try to get additional orders from Europe, but it's too early to talk about it.
Active work in the Russian market does not contradict the tasks of the factory as a division of Mapper Lithography?
All project participants are interested in our work on the Russian market. For example, for Mapper Lithography, this is beneficial, since the actual cost of components of electronic optics is determined by the cost of maintaining our factory. The more we earn on third-party orders, the cheaper will cost our products for the Dutch side. For RUSNANO, the main goal of the project was the transfer of modern serial MEMS production technologies to Russia, and its success is confirmed by the demand for services and products of the factory in the domestic market. We, for our part, are interested in diversifying sources of income and less reliance on partners from the Netherlands.
At what stage is the development of the e-beam systems for maskless lithography at the moment?
Equipment of the third generation, in which 65 thousand parallel electron beams are used for recording, is tested at the production of the CEA-Leti Institute in Grenoble (France). There are no fundamental obstacles and unresolved problems and, in principle, it would be possible to announce the beginning of sales right now, but investors agreed to postpone the entry to the market in order to increase the reliability of some of the elements. I think this is the right decision, as it is very important for the success of the project to get positive feedback from the first users, and in case the product is "raw", the risks of failure are very high. Today we can state that the development is progressing in accordance with the adopted road map, the reliability and accuracy of the system are gradually improving.
What are the perspectives of the multi-beam system in your opinion?
Initially, it was positioned as a solution for obtaining ultra-high resolution, which will be able to compete with ASML's solutions that implement Double patterning technology. Today, the emphasis is on the possibility of working without masks, which at a resolution of about 40 nm opens several interesting niches.
First, a very promising area is the production of prototypes of new devices. Today, to obtain a prototype of for example 28 nm device, a set of masks is required, which costs about 1 million dollars and is manufactured about three months. A multi-beam electron lithograph allows you to make several variants of chips on one wafer, after which you can see which one works best, and already order a masks for its production. Thus, the new technology will allow to increase the speed of the development of devices and reduce the cost of their introduction to the market.
Secondly, multi-beam maskless lithography allows you to make each chip unique, which can be used for the protection of information at the hardware level.
The third niche is the manufacture of large-sized chips, for example, for photosensitive arrays. Today the size of the array is determined by the size of the scanner field, which expose the wafer. Bonding of several arrays is a very complicated and expensive process, therefore it is used only in special cases. A multi-beam lithograph writes an element behind an element and the size of the chip is limited only by the wafer size and the amount of RAM.
Thus, there are many interesting applications for the development of Mapper Lithography, where it will not compete with traditional ASML's equipment. Moreover, some of the listed market niches do not exist at the present time, for example, no one can produce batches of unique chips or of large photosensitive arrays, but there is already a demand..
What will be the price of the equipment?
I do not have exact data, but it can be predicted that the e-beam system will be significantly – two or three times – cheaper than the ASML's scanner. At the same time its capabilities will be much wider, for example, it is possible to write the lines at an angle of 45є, which can not be realized with the help of Double patterning technology.
How important is the role of the Russian factory in the success of the project?
Before the launch of our factory, manufacturing of elements of electronic optics was one of the most problematic parts of the project. After we have mastered their serial production, there are no problems with elements of electronic optics, which are key elements of a multi-beam lithography system.
Heads of industrial enterprises often complain about the lack of qualified personnel. How do you solve this problem?
Indeed, it is very difficult to find, for example, a good technologist. At the same time, people with experience in other Russian enterprises are not always suitable for us. Therefore, we launched an internship program for students of specialized universities, which work in our factory 2–4 days a week. If we have vacancies, then we offer it to well-established interns. Now about a third of our engineers are former interns.
However, the biggest problem in the field of staffing is the search for operators of equipment. Graduates of universities do not want to work long in this position, and at the first opportunity become engineers. As a result, we had to organize together with the Moscow State Educational Complex a special program for the training of operators for semiconductor manufacturing. I hope that it will be effective.
What are the plans for the development of the factory?
The main task is to attract new orders to fully use production facilities. In the future, we expect to earn equally in Russia and abroad, which will be in good agreement with our consumption structure, since we spend about half of the funds in rubles and half in the foreign currency. If these plans can be realized, then the prices for customers will not actually depend on exchange rates.
With the beginning of sales of Mapper Lithography equipment, we expect growth in orders for elements of electronic optics, since they, in fact, are consumables. Accordingly, the more machines will be installed, the more such components will be required. We are ready for this. If necessary, we will work in several shifts. In addition, available areas allow the installation of additional equipment, and by eliminating bottlenecks, we can increase the capacity of production by two to three times.
Interview: Dmitry Gudilin