Collaboration Making Maskless System-on-Chips Feasible for Prototypes and Low-Volume Designs

The eBeam Initiative, a forum dedicated to the education and promotion of a new design-to-manufacturing approach known as design for e-beam (DFEB), today announced that steering group members D2S, Inc. and Advantest Corporation have collaborated to enhance throughput to make maskless system-on-chips (SoCs) feasible for prototypes and low-volume designs. Specifically, D2S has introduced its design for e-beam (DFEB) packed stencil technology, which works in conjunction with Advantest Corporation's e-beam direct write (EbDW) lithography equipment. D2S' packed stencil technology increases the number of characters available for a given layer, which in turn, reduces shot count. This allows fabs using Advantest's EbDW equipment to improve throughput for DFEB designs implemented with packed stencil technology.

D2S' proprietary DFEB solution works with character or cell projection (CP) capability on EbDW machines. The characters on a stencil mask are co-designed with a DFEB standard cell library overlay so that any design using that library will have a matching stencil mask in the EbDW machine. The stencil mask on the EbDW machine allows these complex patterns to be written on the wafer in a single shot, achieving an order-of-magnitude improvement in EbDW write times.

The packed stencil technology lays out the characters on the stencil mask to pack more in the same space than was previously possible. By co-designing the DFEB overlay library along with the stencil mask, D2S can customize the placement of the characters on a stencil mask that is optimized for each set of characters. The number of characters available in a character block for writing any given layer of a design increases substantially, making DFEB more effective and allowing the direct writing of wafers to be faster. Advantest and D2S have worked together on implementing the packed stencil for the Advantest EbDW equipment and enhanced the number of characters available from the Advantest equipment from 100 to more than 250, an improvement by a factor of 2.5. The collaboration further resulted in the Advantest EbDW equipment improving the number of character blocks per stencil mask from 12 to 20. The net increase in the number of characters available on a stencil mask goes from 1,200 to 5,000, or 4X.

As cost trends associated with advanced semiconductor fabrication continue to rise, application-specific and other custom IC manufacturers are under increasing pressure to find new manufacturing approaches. Photomask costs alone are expected to double at every new node, shrinking the application range and market for these devices, as well as threatening the profit potential of future applications.

The combination of D2S' advanced DFEB technology and Advantest's existing EbDW technology provides a viable solution to these challenges without requiring a fundamental lithography shift. By enhancing today's most advanced EbDW technology, DFEB eliminates mask costs and can speed time-to-market by shortening the design-to-lithography process flow.

Haruo Matsuno, president of Advantest, stated, "In collaboration with D2S, Advantest is now able to offer a viable e-beam direct-write solution with dramatically enhanced throughput. This technological leap forward quadruples the characters available to our F3000 lithography tool, vastly improving its throughput over what was previously possible. We look forward to furthering our relationship with D2S as we continue to enhance the effectiveness of our e-beam direct-write solutions for the low-volume high-mix SoC business, among other applications."

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