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Thin Film Equipment Market Runs Wild

Stocks in this article: AMATNVLSASMI

The film deposition equipment market for semiconductor manufacturing was down 38% in 2009, but on a sector-by-sector basis, sales dropped between 8.7% to 71.7%.

The huge variation in sector non-growth is attributed to the transition to copper damascene processing from aluminum interconnects for memory devices. The adoption of copper in memory devices is currently under way and all memory suppliers, led by Samsung, spent huge sums of money upgrading as many of its lines as it could to copper and this change had an important impact on purchases of copper deposition equipment and materials in 2009.

The deposition equipment business has become highly selective, and certain types of equipment work better on a given technology or device than others. For example, HDPCVD (high-density plasma chemical vapor deposition) is a technology which can do gap-fill. For subtractive Al technology, in which you lay down a slab of Al, etch it into lines, and then fill the gaps with oxide, these technologies do well.

In the Cu dual damascene scheme, the dielectric is laid down as a planar film, etched, and the gaps are filled with metal. Thus, the metal deposition technology needs to be able to do gap-fill, not the dielectric. PECVD (plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition) is the technology of choice. In fact, there are more than 20 PECVD processing steps required to fabricate a typical memory device.

Key players in the deposition market are Applied Materials (AMAT), Novellus (NVLS) and ASM International (ASMI). Applied Materials held a 64% share of the market followed by Novellus with a 22% share.

The growth of the PVD market was strong for the deposition of the copper barrier metal, which is typically a bi-layer of Ta/TaN, or TiN. However, the transition to memory presents challenges. As feature size continues to shrink, a thinner barrier metal is required to maximize copper volume in the damascene structure and maintain effective resistivity. Ultra-thin barrier metals must achieve optimum step coverage, density, and morphology in high aspect ratio trenches and vias.

Samsung announced Monday it would double its capital spending to boost its capacity in semiconductor and flat-panel display manufacturing. As stated, Samsung's move to copper interconnects for memory devices was instrumental in preventing some sectors of the deposition equipment market from following the course of the overall semiconductor equipment market, which dropped 42% in 2009.

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