Mass production of globally competitive electronics equipment relies heavily on the performance and availability of the latest microelectronics devices. The EUREKA MEDEA+ microelectronics Cluster FOREMOST project ensured that the advanced process modules and chip architectures required for full 45nm node CMOS logic and 50nm DRAM memory technologies are now being applied in European wafer-fabrication plants. This project enabled key European players in semiconductor manufacturing to develop these advanced technologies in line with market demands, thus safeguarding and boosting the position of Europe's chipmakers as well as their equipment and materials suppliers on the world stage. The 45nm technology developed in the first phase has already become the core process worldwide for mobile phone applications. Project results are also paving the way for future 32/28nm nodes.
There is constant pressure from the consumer electronics market, particularly in mobile devices, for ever smaller components offering ever greater performance while reducing power requirements. With global chip production moving fast to the 45nm node - a measure of circuit detail - Europe needed to ensure it could mass produce semiconductors to this new world standard.
Initial work had been carried out in the EU Sixth Framework Program (FP6) NANOCMOS project, which screened appropriate materials, device and interconnect architectures for 45 nm CMOS logic. Complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology is the dominant process for integrated circuit manufacture worldwide and is used in microprocessors, microcontrollers, memory devices and other digital logic circuits.
Strong support from national public authorities
FOREMOST was setup within EUREKA with strong support from the national public authorities in France, Germany and the Netherlands, among others. "We aimed at developing advanced process modules and transistors architectures, and integrating them in a complete process flow to demonstrate a full CMOS 45nm process technology in European manufacturing industrial facilities," explains Jean-Louis Carbonero of project coordinator STMicroelectronics.
The consortium consisted of chipmakers, materials and equipment producers, academia and research institutes. A particular focus came from chipmakers Qimonda/Infineon in Dresden, Germany and the then Crolles 2 Alliance of Freescale, NXP Semiconductors and STMicroelectronics in France, with the aim of developing world-class production standards at these centres to compete with the largest players around the world.
FOREMOST targeted the 45nm node for CMOS logic, dynamic RAM (DRAM) and non-volatile flash memory. Work was split into two phases: development and qualification of the low power CMOS 45nm platform and DRAM technology steps; and integration of improved solutions into main core low power technology and in full DRAM process integration.
Rapid transfer to industrial production
FOREMOST was highly successful with rapid transfer of the architectures and process modules developed into full-scale industrial production at the chipmakers involved. As a result, STMicroelectronics was one of the first chipmakers worldwide able to offer 45 nm low-power technology and the even more highly integrated CMOS 40nm low-power process.
"This activity should lead to about 500 direct jobs in Crolles after production ramp-up of our CMOS 45nm/40nm technologies from 2010 on," says Carbonero. "This will allow the major European mobile phone manufacturers to serve the market with advanced products at the same time as their worldwide competitors." All major multimedia and mobile phone companies are expected to use these processes. There is also interest for consumer electronics applications such as printers and set-top boxes, thanks to the lower cost and early availability.
The success of FOREMOST is also paving the way for the development of 32/28 nm node technologies. As a result, several project partners have been able to join the worldwide IBM 32 nm CMOS foundation with promising chip fabrication activity in both Crolles and Dresden.
Research institutes CEA-LETI and Fraunhofer CNT were able to confirm their leading positions in electron-beam direct writing, applying advanced lithographic-writing techniques for 200- and 300-mm wafers in partnership with electron beam lithography specialist Vistec Electron Beam. In addition, CEA-LETI has pushed development of the back-end-of-the-line chip-flow process as one of the most mature technologies to be established as a standard within STMicroelectronics. This process is now used by most major companies involved in interconnect development. CEA-LETI is playing an important role in the IBM CMOS research consortium at Fishkill & Albany in the USA.
Thanks also to FOREMOST, Ion Beam Services (IBS) has been able to enter the microelectronics equipment market with its PULSION plasma immersion ion implanter (PIII) tool, which offers high process stability at ultra low energy. IBS has already made qualification demonstrations at major customers and a PULSION tool has been installed at CEA-LETI. Some 20% of low energy implanters could be plasma-immersion tools and IBS has increased its commercial network and extended it to Asia and the USA. Recent financial investments and a partnership deal with a big equipment manufacturer supported the building and sales of the first high productivity PULSION tools.
Tool-manufacturer partners have also benefited from FOREMOST. For example both AIXTRON and ASM are now marketing new systems and tools to underpin chip fabrication. And project participation has enabled materials suppliers SAFC Hitech and Air Liquide to maintain their global leadership positions through their precursor qualification conducted with the support of LMGP. UJF/LTM also anticipated advance gate-stack etching with narrow dimension control.
Maintaining and expanding world leadership
Overall, the strong international co-operation established in this EUREKA project has provided European electronics companies with early access to innovative world-class technology. It has also ensured that European materials and equipment manufacturers can expand their worldwide markets.