ASML invests €1 billion in Zeiss to boost EUV lithography

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ASML has acquired a 24.9 per cent minority stake of Germany-based Carl Zeiss SMT, a business group of Carl Zeiss AG (Zeiss), for €1 billion in cash. The main objective of this agreement is to facilitate the development of the future generation of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography systems that will enable the semiconductor industry to produce much higher performance microchips at lower costs.

In addition to the agreement of the minority interest, the two companies have also agreed that ASML will support Carl Zeiss SMT's research and development for approximately €220 million as well as capital expenditures and other supply chain investments for approximately €540 million over the next six years.

EUV holds the potential for transforming semiconductor manufacturing by allowing chipmakers to produce finer features in single step layers that would otherwise require multiple exposures, significantly reducing the cost of manufacturing. However, the commercial deployment of EUV lithography has been hit by years of delays, mainly due to the engineering challenges associated with creating EUV systems bright and reliable enough to operate in fabs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

ASML's investment into Zeiss is anticipated to result in the development of an entirely new high numerical aperture (NA) optical system for the future generation of EUV.  

This system will contain next generation EUV optics that offer a higher NA, making it possible to further reduce critical dimensions in the lithography process. The current EUV systems have an optical system with NA of 0.33 whereas the new optics will have NA larger than 0.5, enabling several generations of geometric chip scaling. 

'High-NA is the logical next step for EUV, as it circumvents complex and expensive 0.33 NA EUV multiple patterning. High-NA EUV is a robust way for chips to scale all the way down to the sub-3 nanometre logic node in a single exposure with high productivity and reduced cost per feature. That is several generations from where we are today and underlines our commitment to propel Moore’s law,' said Martin van den Brink, president and chief technology officer at ASML.

ASML is a key supplier of semiconductor patterning products and services used by the world's top producers of microchips. With its high-performance optics, Carl Zeiss SMT supplies an essential subsystem of ASML's semiconductor lithography scanners and is ASML's most important strategic partner. ASML and Carl Zeiss SMT have been in close partnership for more than 30 years. 

‘With this agreement we clear the road for advanced lithography to support the new concepts and designs for future generations of advanced chips. After the many years of fruitful partnership, we see this agreement as a further strong endorsement of our long term cooperation which allows us to further expand our joint leadership that we have already accomplished together’, said Michael Kaschke, president and CEO of Zeiss.

‘In 2018 the first chips made on current technology EUV scanners are expected to roll off the production lines of our customers,’ added Peter Wennink, president and CEO of ASML. ‘A lot of work is still being done to ensure the introduction of EUV in volume manufacturing, in tight conjunction with our highly successful immersion scanners which we continue to improve... We see a long and successful future for EUV lithography in advanced chip manufacturing and with this agreement we set the right conditions for development of the next generation of EUV by ASML and Carl Zeiss SMT, so that our customers can reap the rewards of their EUV investments up to the end of the next decade.’

Carl Zeiss SMT will pay an annual dividend to its shareholders Carl Zeiss AG and ASML. ASML expects that the minority share transaction will be accretive to its earnings before adjustments related to purchase price accounting and differences in accounting standards. Furthermore, ASML`s contribution to Carl Zeiss SMT's R&D and capital expenditures will be taken into account in the future pricing of SMT's next generation EUV optics to ASML.

Related stories

The future of EUV lithography: Extreme ultraviolet lithography holds the potential for transforming semiconductor manufacturing. Gemma Church finds that commercial systems could be put into production within the next two years

Further information 

EUV lithography production (ASML)

Zeiss SMT  

The technologies include two substrates of ultra-wide bandgap semiconductors, as well as electronic computer-aided design software for the development of complex integrated circuits. (Image: Shutterstock/sdecoret)

17 August 2022