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Applied Materials said it has reached a breakthrough in chip wiring that will enable semiconductor chip production to miniaturize to chips so the width between circuits can be as little as three billionths of a meter. Current chip factories are making 7nm and 5nm chips, so the 3nm chips represent the next generation of technology.

These 3nm production lines will be part of factories that cost more than $22 billion to build — and generate a lot more revenue than that. The breakthrough in chip wiring will enable logic chips to scale to three nanometers and beyond, the company said.

Chip manufacturing companies can use the wiring tools in their huge factories, and the transition from 5nm factories to 3nm factories could help ease a shortage of semiconductor chips that has plagued the entire electronics industry. But it will be a while before the chips go into production. In addition to interconnect scaling challenges, there are other issues related to the transistor (extending the use of FinFET transistors and transitioning to Gate All Around transistors), as well as patterning (extreme ultraviolet and multi-patterning).

Santa Clara, California-based Applied Materials is the largest maker of equipment used in semiconductor factories, so its breakthrough will be good for the overall semiconductor industry.

The challenge

While size reduction benefits transistor performance (smaller chips mean electrons have shorter distances to travel, so computing tasks can be handled faster), the opposite is true in the interconnect wiring. Smaller wires have greater electrical resistance, which reduces performance and increases power consumption. Without a materials engineering breakthrough, interconnect via resistance would increase by a factor of 10 from the 7nm node to the 3nm node, negating the benefits of transistor scaling.

Applied Materials has developed a new materials engineering solution called the Endura Copper Barrier Seed IMS. It’s an Integrated Materials Solution that combines seven different process technologies in one system under high vacuum: ALD, PVD, CVD, copper reflow, surface treatment, interface engineering, and metrology. The combination of these processes replaces conformal ALD with selective ALD, eliminating a high-resistivity barrier at the via interface.

The solution also includes copper reflow technology that enables void-free gap fill in narrow features. Electrical resistance at the contact interface is reduced by up to 50%, improving chip performance and power consumption and enabling logic scaling to continue to 3nm and beyond. All of this means the solution improves the flow of electricity through a chip and enables it to operate at the next level of miniaturization.

Above: Applied Materials chip-making equipment.

Image Credit: Applied Materials

“A smartphone chip has tens of billions of copper interconnects, and wiring already consumes a third of the chip’s power,” said Prabu Raja, senior vice president and general manager of the semiconductor products group at Applied Materials. Raja said in a statement that a smartphone chip has tens of billions of interconnections based on copper wiring, which takes up a third of the chip’s power. By integrating multiple process technologies, Applied Materials can reengineer materials and structures so consumers enjoy more capable devices and longer battery life. This integrated solution is designed to accelerate the performance, power, and area-cost roadmaps of customers, Raja said.

The Endura Copper Barrier Seed system is now being used by leading foundry-logic customers worldwide. Additional information about the system and other innovations for logic scaling will be discussed at Applied’s 2021 Logic Master Class being held today.

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