Imec and ASML sign agreement to support chip research and sustainable innovation

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Imec, the research and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, and ASML a supplier to the semiconductor industry, are to intensify their collaboration in the next phase of developing a state-of-the-art high-numerical aperture (High-NA) extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography pilot line at imec.

The pilot line is intended to help those industries using semiconductor technologies to better understand the opportunities that advanced semiconductor technology can bring and have access to a prototyping platform that will support their innovations.

The collaboration, which will also involve other partners, will enable the exploration of novel semiconductor applications, the potential development of sustainable, leading-edge manufacturing solutions for chip makers and end users, as well as the development of advanced holistic patterning flows in collaboration with the equipment and material ecosystem.

The agreement includes the installation and service of ASML’s full suite of advanced lithography and metrology equipment in the imec pilot line in Leuven, Belgium, such as the model 0.55 NA EUV (TWINSCAN EXE:5200), latest models 0.33 NA EUV (TWINSCAN NXE:3800), DUV immersion (TWINSCAN NXT:2100i), Yieldstar optical metrology and HMI multi-beam. The intended engagement represents a very significant value in the advanced pilot line.

This groundbreaking new High-NA technology is seen as being crucial for developing high-performance energy-efficient chips, such as next-generation AI systems. Significant investments are needed to secure industry-broad access to High-NA EUV lithography beyond 2025 and retain the related advanced node process R&D capabilities in Europe.

This agreement kickstarts the next phase of intensive collaboration between ASML and imec on High-NA EUV. The first phase of process research is being executed in the joint imec-ASML High-NA lab using the first High-NA EUV scanner (TWINSCAN EXE:5000).

Imec and ASML are working with all the leading-edge chipmakers and materials and equipment ecosystem partners, with the goal being to prepare the technology for the fastest possible adoption in mass manufacturing. In the next phase, these activities will be ramped up in the imec pilot line in Leuven (Belgium) on the next-generation High-NA EUV scanner (TWINSCAN EXE:5200).

The intensified collaboration plans on lithography and metrology technology between the two semiconductor players are in line with the ambitions and plans of the European Commission and its member states (Chips Act, IPCEI) to strengthen innovation to tackle societal challenges. Part of the collaboration between imec and ASML is therefore captured in an IPCEI proposal which is currently in review by the Dutch government.

“ASML is making a substantial commitment in imec's state-of-the-art pilot fab to support semiconductor research and sustainable innovation in Europe.  As artificial intelligence (AI) rapidly expands into domains such as natural language processing, computer vision and autonomous systems, the complexity of tasks escalates. Therefore, it is crucial to develop chip technology that can meet these computational demands without depleting the planet's precious (energy) resources,” said Peter Wennink, President and Chief Executive Officer of ASML.

“This commitment from ASML sends a powerful signal of our unwavering dedication to drive the advancement of sub-nanometer chip technology,” commented Luc Van den hove, President and Chief Executive Officer of imec. “While these projects enable us to fortify our regional strengths initially, they also pave the way for future global cooperation, allowing partners worldwide to benefit from local breakthroughs. It is through these collective efforts that we can truly accelerate innovation and propel the semiconductor industry to new heights.”