Better Resolutions Needed
Aaron J. Hand, Senior Editor/Technology
Chipmakers are taking great pains to keep development moving at the pace of Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors on a semiconductor chip doubles every 18 months. Keeping up, however, is bound to require major leaps in technology.
According to the Semiconductor Industry Association's 1997 National Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, the continuing increase in transistor count will require paring down circuits from today's commercially available 250-nm linewidths to 50 nm by 2012, and increasing the number of wiring layers from six to nine among a wide range of other requirements all while holding costs relatively stable.
To achieve these specifications, chipmakers will continue to look for support from photonics. While optical lithography will eventually lose out to more advanced systems, photonics may provide the right quality-control solution for increasingly complex chips.
Laser and optics vendors will continue to see plenty of opportunity to sell their products to semiconductor manufacturers (even most competing technologies, such as electron-beam and ion-beam lithography, incorporate lasers or interferometers into their systems), but they will have to be able to provide their solutions at the right cost. Semiconductor manufacturing is an expensive business, fraught with cyclical economic downturns.