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Lithography is the process of using concentrated rays of light to burn lines into layers of materials deposited on silicon, a crucial step in creating transistors—and a natural choke point for engineers working at a near-atomic level. These days, companies are trying to etch lines smaller than the wavelength of the light used to do the work, hence the push into extreme ultraviolet beams with shorter wavelengths. “Without EUV … your economics are worse,” says Weston Twigg, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities. “If EUV is not ready, things get a lot harder.”
The problem is that beams with shorter wavelengths use a lot of energy, and ASML’S machines require substantial downtime because EUV dirties the mirrors used in the process. According to its public statements, ASML aims to cut the EUV machine’s required downtime, from the current 25 percent to 30 percent, to 20 percent by yearend. Not exactly what you want to hear when the price tag (even without the research and development funding) runs to eight figures, making it the most expensive device in the plant.
Stifel Nicolaus’s Ho says ASML, one of Europe’s few technology powerhouses, has to prove it can keep to its schedule. Its latest, that is. In 2007, former CEO Eric Meurice said EUV machines would be cost-effective for chipmakers by 2012. Says Pacific Crest’s Twigg: “It’s probably the most advanced scientific research program in the world. Yet the program is still behind.”
In February, TSMC CO-CEO Mark Liu told investors that his company has backup plans. That month, Intel’s director of lithography strategic sourcing, Janice Golda, wrote in a company blog post that the question with EUV is when, not if. But, she added, “the road to EUV lithography production is a long one.” Chipmakers tend to incorporate manufacturing advances in two- to threeyear cycles, so if EUV isn’t ready this year, ASML’S next big chance would be closer to 2020.
For now, the most obvious way to get smaller lines is to use current lithography techniques a greater number of times on each chip. The big chipmakers have been loath to do that because it takes longer, always top of mind in a $10 billion factory that will be obsolete within five years. Yet the complex nature of EUV development should be the bigger concern, says Robert Maire, president of Semiconductor Advisors. “There are so many things that can go wrong,” he says. “We may never see a payback on the investment and time put into EUV.” �Elco van Groningen and Ian King when stacked in plastic containers—with a computerized one that’s quieter, safer, and more efficient. The screens display a lineup of pending flights, as well as safety notifications and restrictions for each. “Nobody would go back to strips,” says Jean Beauregard, a supervisor at Ottawa/ Macdonald- Cartier International Airport’s tower.
The transformation of NAV CANADA from a public agency struggling with antiquated technology into a global leader in air traffic systems started 20 years ago. Today, its technology is used in air towers in eight other countries, including Australia and Dubai.
NAV CANADA’S success has U.S. congressmen calling for the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic system to be spun off and structured like Canada’s. “The pace of what they’re doing, you can’t compare it to what we’re doing here,” says Paul Rinaldi, president of the U. S. National Air Traffic Controllers Association union. After multiple visits to Canada, Rinaldi earlier this year reversed the union’s decades-long opposition to putting the FAA’S air traffic division into a nonprofit corporation. “The Canadian system is very impressive,” he says.
The FAA in the late 1990s declared more than $1 billion in losses related to the abandoned Advanced Automation System, a project that would have overhauled its computer network. Some similar improvements since then also have gone over budget and missed deadlines.
Four years after NAV CANADA took over Canada’s air traffic operations in 1996, it upgraded the computer code of a control system that suffered from delays and malfunctions, according to Kim Troutman, the company’s vice president for engineering, and Sidney Koslow, vice president and chief technology officer. Over 20 years, the company has
The bottom line Intel, Samsung, and TSMC may start to see signs that their $1.6 billion investment in ASML is paying off.