SkyWater and Multibeam look to deploy innovative MEBL system

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Multibeam has announced a partnership with SkyWater to deploy its Multicolumn Electron-Beam Lithography (MEBL) system into SkyWater’s expanded fabrication facility in support of its roadmap to 45nm manufacturing capabilities.

The ground-breaking MEBL system is set to launch in 2021 and will be capable of full-wafer, all-maskless patterning at 45 nm and beyond. It was funded by a $38 million contract award from the Department of Defence (DoD) in a programme managed by the Air Force Research Lab.

This “security lithography” technology is designed to pattern entire wafers at 45nm and larger nodes, without the use of any masks for back-end-of-line (BEOL) and is intended for “low-volume, high-mix” chips that are typically produced for the DoD. Optical lithography equipment leaders have tended to have little interest in smaller quantities of chips with a large variety because their businesses are geared toward high-volume production.

There continues to be a need for early-generation chips with “mature” nodes but while masks for such nodes are less expensive, mask-related costs tend to be high. Masks in less demand often have long lead-times, negatively impacting fab productivity in production as well as cycles of learning in new-chip development.

IoT chip production faces a similar challenge as they are generally small, simple SoCs that perform specific tasks and are ubiquitous on the Internet. As a whole, IoT chipmakers are high-volume producers, but their batch sizes are relatively small because IoT applications are diverse and the IoT market is fragmented.

“In product development, MEBL cuts prototyping cost and time because ‘respins’ no longer require a new set of masks,” explained Multibeam chairman David Lam. " As all e-beam columns in our MEBL system write independently and in parallel, they empower production of multi-project wafers and chips larger than the typical optical field of view. Our versatile MEBL system design has a throughput capability that extends significantly beyond single e-beam approaches to support volume manufacturing.”