It took over 20 years of intensive joint development work but European companies and research institutes have finally introduced a revolutionary new manufacturing technology for mass-producing powerful microchips. By those in the business, it's been called EUV lithography.
EUV stands for extreme ultraviolet and it makes it possible to manufacture microchips that are much more powerful, energy-efficient, and affordable than ever before.
Lithography is shining exceptionally narrow beams of light with a EUV machine onto silicon wafers that have been treated with “photoresist” chemicals. The patterns which were laid beforehand are created on the wafer where the light comes into contact with the chemicals. Leading to the formation of the transistors that enable electric current to flow around a circuit. More transistors on a chip mean more power and efficiency.
The new manufacturing process works with 3 nanometers and above with leading optical lithography processes so far.
But it's not exactly super new. Smartphones using this advanced technology have been available since the fall of 2019. But how were they developed?
A long development process leading to 3 nanometers
ASML the leading semiconductor manufacturer is working on a new ultraviolet lithography machine. An ASML spokesperson told CNBC that the company's new EUV machine will be bigger and more complicated than its current machine. The new EUV machine has a higher resolution due to its novel optic designs enabling it 1.7 smaller chip features and 2.9 increased chip density, he said.
Alan Priestley, a semiconductor analyst at Connecticut-based technology research and consulting company Gartner, says that the new EUV machine will allow chip manufacturers to build chips using a process node under 3-nanometers, which is 33.3,000 times thinner than a human hair.
The manufacturers are beginning to mass-produce 5-nanometer node devices and starting to develop 3-nanometer node EUV machines by the end of next year.