Recently, the convergence of photonics and electronics, known as Silicon Photonics, has marked a significant advancement in both performance and the reduction of power consumption.

Nanopositioning and Motion Control Solutions for the Semiconductor Industry
Nanopositioning and Motion Control Solutions for the Semiconductor Industry

Article from | PI

Moore's Law - How we got from Micrometers to Nanometers

Nanometer accuracy was not a necessity when Intel developed its initial microchips. In 1971, the Intel 4004 processor featured structure widths of a substantial 10 microns, equivalent to 1/100 of a millimeter. This size stands in stark contrast to today's structures, which measure less than 10 nanometers. In a one-dimensional comparison, this represents a reduction by a factor of 1,000, and on a two-dimensional level, it's a staggering million times smaller. This reduction process, famously known as Moore's Law, dictates a doubling of the number of electronic circuits every 18 months. Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, accurately predicted this development as far back as 1965.
Recently, the convergence of photonics and electronics, known as Silicon Photonics, has marked a significant advancement in both performance and the reduction of power consumption. This progress is particularly crucial in addressing the environmental impact of extensive server farms necessary for cloud computing and Big Data applications. Essentially, the miniaturization of semiconductor components brings about a blend of faster, more cost-effective, economically efficient, and more reliable systems. Increased integration translates to fewer individual components, thereby lowering the risk of failures.

Video: A multi-axis wafer inspection stage combining different PI nanopositioning technologies: air bearings, linear motors, piezo-nanopositioning motors for dynamic leveling and angular corrections, operated by high performance ACS industrial motion controllers.


Precision Motion, Alignment and Nanopositioning Solutions for Highly Sensitive Manufacturing Processes

The semiconductor manufacturing and inspection processes are extremely demanding and sensitive. It starts with the pulling of the monocrystalline ingot and continues through to the contacting and final packaging of the finished chip. Advanced nano-lithography is of crucial importance for miniaturization. In the exposure process, which uses state-of-the-art laser sources, the structures for conductor tracks, transistors, and other functional elements are drawn on the raw silicon wafer. When dealing with nanometer sized features, extraordinary precision, tools, and conditions are required: maximum cleanliness, sharp-edged imaging of unimaginably small structures, highly dynamic, coordinated motion of masks and wafers in the lithography machines – the boundaries of what is technically feasible are being pushed ever further from chip generation to chip generation. And PI nanopositioning technology has been instrumental for many years.
A vacuum compatible, 6-degree-of-freedom, closed-loop piezo nanopositioning and alignment stage for semiconductor metrology. PI designs multi-axis nanopositioning systems with resolution down to 1/10 nanometer and better.

Involved in Many Process Steps

In addition to nano-lithography, PI ultra-high precision motion stages and (sub-)systems are also used in many other process steps in the manufacture of semiconductor components including quality assurance. And PI´s involvement in driving semiconductor progress is literally from the ground up, starting with enabling the most advanced vibration cancellation technologies in sub-floor platforms and tool structures.
For highly precise beam delivery, laser beam steering tip/tilt systems were developed, combining nanoradian resolution with rapid, millisecond scale response and settling.
A new patented technology allows ceramic shims to be programmed to change dimensions in the nanometer range – a set-and-forget technology that can be used to make minute adjustments to the alignment of optical systems or large mechanical assemblies, correcting for errors that appear after time or with changing temperatures. 

The Customer in Focus: Much More than Technology, Components, and Systems

In all of these applications, the ability to precisely control the motion and position of objects with nanometer and even sub-nanometer resolution and high dynamics, or to hold a position precisely over the long term, without power requirements, plays a decisive role.

PI offers decades of know-how and a wide range of technologies – including piezo transducers, developed and manufactured in our PI Ceramic subsidiary, sensors, piezo actuators and motors and air bearing motion systems with 3-phase linear motors drives to controllers, software, and firmware – as well as components and systems. Together with our subsidiary ACS Motion Control, a market and technology leader in industrial high performance, EtherCat-based controller technology, we also enable the control of highly complex multi-axis systems for the next generation of demanding applications in semiconductor manufacturing all the way up to EUV-L.


Advanced Design, Copy Exactly, and Global Services

Advanced design alone is not enough. It is our long experience as a supplier to leading system integrators in semiconductor manufacturing that enables us to understand and meet the high demands of this industry. With customer-specific service level agreements (SLA) and a global service team, we can react promptly to disruptions occurring on short notice. To this end, we have set up service hubs with highly qualified staff near the world's most important semiconductor production locations, where we keep spare parts for all critical components and assemblies. Based on extensive long-term tests of our components under a wide variety of climatic conditions and a Copy Exactly strategy, we offer our customers a high level of security against failure from the outset, i.e. high uptime. Also, PI has created clean rooms that even meet the exceptional cleanliness requirements that are required in the manufacture of components for EUV lithography.


On The Way to The Next Big Thing

The success factors of the semiconductor industry, in particular continuous miniaturization of structures, will ensure innovations for a long time to come. And PI has exciting answers ready for the increasing demands on precision in motion control and high-performance positioning. And the semiconductor industry is changing at a faster pace than at any time since the invention of the integrated circuit. While Moore’s Law continues its relentless advance to drive ever-smaller feature sizes and higher performance and efficiencies, it is no longer just about smaller transistors on larger wafers. Now micro-optical components are being fabricated alongside microelectronics, and entirely new computing and communications paradigms are emerging which leverage the mysteries of the quantum world. As the applications change, so do chips, and the revolution proceeds. PI is right there, partnering with the leaders of change.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of RoboticsTomorrow
PI USA (Physik Instrumente)

PI USA (Physik Instrumente)

PI is a privately held company that designs and manufactures world-class precision motion and automation systems including air bearings, hexapods and piezo drives at locations in North America, Europe, and Asia. The company was founded 5 decades ago and today employs more than 1300 people worldwide. PI's customers are leaders in high-tech industries and research institutes in fields such as photonics, life-sciences, semiconductors and aerospace.

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