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Brainport is a global innovation hotspot, with its flagship ASML, world’s largest developer and manufacturer of machines for the production of semiconductor chips. In the coming years, the launch of the next technological step of this multinational company is scheduled: the EUV High NA machine. In developing and building the crucial and complex Reticle Masking (ReMa) module, ASML is making use of the powerful high-tech ecosystem in the region. It joined forces with Sioux Technologies and Frencken Mechatronics.
ASML’s machines work on the basis of a lithographic process; a transistor pattern is projected onto a wafer with a lightsensitive layer after which complex chips are being made from this. The ReMa (Reticle Masking Unit) has long been part of these systems. The module plays an important role in light management; light
that should not fall on the wafer is masked by moving four metal blades in horizontal directions with extreme precision. In these new machines, this is done with accelerations of up to 400 metres per second squared. By comparison, a rocket accelerates at 120 metres per second squared.
‘At ASML in Veldhoven, thousands of developers work together towards one goal: enabling our customers to apply ever more detailed transistor patterns to chips to increase computing power and memory capacity and reduce energy consumption’, says Menno Fien, head of Development & Engineering EUV High NA at ASML. ‘There are two main things we can adjust in this regard: using ever shorter light wavelengths and ever better projection mirrors with larger Numerical Aperture (NA). In our EUV machines we use extreme ultraviolet light of 13.5 nanometres. These operate under vacuum and equipment space is limited. The development was therefore accompanied by challenging requirements for the ReMa, for example in terms of dimensioning and integration into the system. In 2024-2025, we will bring our next generation to the market: EUV High NA, which, thanks to new projection optics, can image patterns smaller than 8 nanometres.’
As ASML emerges from the high-tech ecosystem of Brainport, it also makes thankful use of all the expertise nearby. The region has many companies with high-quality competences in developing and manufacturing high-tech mechatronic systems. This allows ASML to rely on world-class partners. ‘Our R&D and production always operate at full speed’, says Fien. ‘Having a direct environment that can support us in this is a great thing. Also, it’s not like everyone wants to work at ASML. And demand in our market may
be booming at the moment, but we can never rule out tougher times. So, cooperation also means spreading risk and reward. ASML can thus continue to grow in a healthy way. Our supply chain also benefits from this. In this way, we keep making each other increasingly stronger in the region, and then things really take flight.’
The development of the EUV High NA once again raises the bar for the ReMa, including in terms of speed, accuracy and purity. ASML is taking up that challenge with Sioux as co-developer. Paul van den Avoort, market director at Sioux: ‘The ReMa is cutting-edge technology at the limit of physical possibilities. But that also makes what we do so much fun. Sioux took care of the mechanical design, together with ASML, and created a functional model of subcomponents to contain risks at the earliest possible stage. Currently, we are still working closely wit ASML and Frencken to realize working instructions for the construction of the ReMa, testing and validation, so that we will soon have a first working example. Working together as one team is key here.’
No hard cut
Frencken is also active within Brainport and developed into an important partner for ASML over the past decade, focusing mainly on the industrialization and manufacturing of complex high-tech equipment. ‘We will take care of the process of industrialization and manufacturing of the new ReMa’, says Marcel Slot, Vice President Technology & Engineering of Frencken Europe. ‘The cut-off with development is not hard to make here; you cannot separate this from setting up a cost-efficient and high-quality manufacturing process and supply chain. A balance has to be found in this; choices have to be made all the time. You don’t do that alone, but together. After five years of development, we are now on the verge of building the first one.’
Best in class
Why is ASML collaborating with Sioux and Frencken to develop and build the new ReMa? Fien emphasizes that ASML is in a good position within Brainport; it has the choice of several first-tier specialists in fine mechanics and mechatronics. ‘In other words, there is bandwidth in capacity. The best partners are selected, after that, it’s a matter of deciding who does what.’ According to Fien, it helps that everyone knows each other’s qualities, and that the strategic and technical roadmaps of suppliers are in line with those of ASML. ‘You
can also see that in the ReMa project’, Slot says. ‘We are a strong trinity; it feels like working with direct colleagues.’ Van den Avoort agrees with him. ‘There is always great pressure on projects like this. The stakes are enormous. The work is complex. Failure is not an option. Things really don’t always go smoothly. Then it is important to keep each other on our toes. But we do so with an open mind and in the knowledge that we will come out of it together. That is our strength, and Brainport’s.’