Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Technology -

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.

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