Toshiba is going to conduct collaborative research with fellow Japanese company Canon with a view to using imprint lithography for production of 15nm NAND-type flash memory in 2015, according to a report in Japan's Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun newspaper.
Canon announced last month that it has agreed to buy Molecular Imprints Inc. (Austin, Texas) – a long-time pioneer of semiconductor imprint lithography equipment – for an undisclosed amount. Imprint lithography forms circuit details by pressing a mold on to a wafer coated with resist. Although some form of optical lithography is usually used to define the mold, because this is formed once and used thousands of times it can be done using the electron-beam lithography, which is generally considered to slow for volume manufacturing production lines.
If imprint lithography can be used to make 15nm memory circuits, 19nm is current leading generation, it will be a big blow to extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, which has been in development for more than a decade at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars if not billions of dollars, with doubt still hanging over the outcome.
According to the Nikkan report there is also some national interest in the project. Japan's semiconductor industry has been in decline for a number of years and Canon has been almost forced out of supplying chip-manufacturing equipment by the success of European rival ASML Holding NV (Veldhoven, The Netherlands).
Canon is going to introduce imprint lithography equipment into Toshiba's Yokkaichi campus in Mie Prefecture, the report said. Toshiba is constructing the second phase of its Fab 5 with a view to being able to move to vertically-organized 3D-NAND. The building work on that second phase is due to be completed in summer 2014. When fitted out with equipment Fab 5 Phase 2 will be capable of running Toshiba's multi-layered BiCS (Bit-Cost Scalable) manufacturing process for 3D NAND memories. Samples are due this year with volume production in 2015.
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