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 Demystifying ASML’s ten-year pre-measurement market!

Not long ago, on January 20, ASML, the world’s leading lithography machine, officially delivered a wafer measurement device, YieldStar 385. Compared with the lithography machine that sells for more than 100 million US dollars, this new device has not attracted much attention.

But in fact, in the field of measurement equipment, ASML has invested ten years in research and development. And ASML’s latest YieldStar 385 equipment can be used in the most advanced 3nm process production line.

So, what exactly is this kind of measurement equipment favored by the global lithography king?

In the whole process of chip manufacturing, the fab needs to inspect the wafer after each step of etching, lithography, etc., to confirm that the processing parameters meet the design requirements and eliminate surface defects of the wafer, so as to ensure the yield and control the cost. .

This kind of inspection process that runs through the whole process of chip manufacturing is called “front-end measurement”, also known as “process inspection”.

According to statistics from SEMI and the Shengang Securities Research Institute, the value of front-end measurement equipment (process control testing equipment) accounts for 10% of the total fab manufacturing equipment.

ASML spent ten years of research and development, and the stock price of Japanese manufacturers soared 900%! What exactly is pre-measurement?

▲Front-end inspection equipment accounts for about 10% of the total fab manufacturing equipment (2018 data)

Today, Chips focuses on the global market, interprets the technical logic behind the front-end measurement equipment, and the stories behind the leading players.

  Front-end measurement equipment: key equipment closely related to the lithography machine

Opening the financial report of ASML in 2020, it can be seen that in 2020, ASML delivered four sets of front-end measurement systems to customers, namely three sets of eScan1000 multi-beam inspection systems and one set of YieldStar 385 system.

Why does the king of global lithography lay out the front-end measurement equipment market? In other words, how will the front-end measurement equipment affect the lithography process?

In a tweet posted on the official ASML Facebook account on July 18, 2020, we can find out. In the early 2000s, semiconductor manufacturers encountered a bottleneck when using optical systems to detect circuit patterns transferred onto wafers, according to the tweet “The Birth of ASML’s Critical Metrology Machine.”

Specifically, after 2000, when the chip process was advanced to 0.13μm (130nm), to detect defects on the chip with 0.13μm lithography resolution, the fab may need to interrupt the chip manufacturing process. Not only that, with the development of Moore’s Law and the increasing accuracy of lithography, the task of wafer front-line measurement is becoming more and more serious, and more intelligent measurement machines are urgently needed.

ASML spent ten years of research and development, and the stock price of Japanese manufacturers soared 900%! What exactly is pre-measurement?

▲ASML’s official Facebook account tweeted “The Birth of ASML’s Key Measurement Machine”

Based on this, Arie den Boef, a staff member of ASML’s measurement department, started to develop the YieldStar series of measurement equipment about ten years ago. According to ASML official information, YieldStar equipment can transmit inspection data back to lithography equipment in real time, thereby correcting errors in the chip manufacturing process.

ASML spent ten years of research and development, and the stock price of Japanese manufacturers soared 900%! What exactly is pre-measurement?

▲Arie den Boef, a researcher in ASML’s measurement department

At present, front-end measurement equipment mainly uses optical technology and electron beam technology. The former is indirectly measured by analyzing the reflection and diffraction spectrum of light, which is the main detection technology used by fabs; the latter is directly magnified and imaged based on Electronic scanning.

ASML spent ten years of research and development, and the stock price of Japanese manufacturers soared 900%! What exactly is pre-measurement?

▲Comparison of optical measurement and electron beam measurement (Image source: Huachuang Securities)

Foreign manufacturers dominate, Japanese manufacturers gain orders from TSMC/Samsung

According to estimates by SEMI and China National Financial Securities, the global semiconductor testing equipment market size exceeds 80 billion yuan, of which the front-end measurement equipment market size is about 40.6 billion yuan.

Looking at the global front-end measurement equipment market, foreign manufacturers dominate.

Among them, the industry leader KLA alone occupies more than half of the market share, with a market share of about 53%. In addition, American Applied Materials, Japan Hitachi, American Nano, Taiwan Hermes Microvision, Israel Nova and other manufacturers also ranked in the forefront.

ASML spent ten years of research and development, and the stock price of Japanese manufacturers soared 900%! What exactly is pre-measurement?

▲Competitive landscape of semiconductor front-end measurement equipment market (Source: SEMI, China National Financial Securities Research Institute)

In addition to the above-mentioned manufacturers, in the global wafer front-end measurement equipment market, there is also a Japanese manufacturer that has to be mentioned – Lasertec.

Lasertec’s products are used for front-end inspection of today’s most advanced extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV). Currently, Lasertec is the only equipment manufacturer in this field.

Currently, only TSMC and Samsung Electronics in the world can use EUV technology to produce chips. The two companies have confirmed orders for Lasertec’s EUV inspection equipment.

With the commercial use of 5nm process chips produced by EUV technology, Lasertec’s performance has risen.

Shares of Lasertec have surged more than 900% since the start of 2019.

▲ Changes in the stock price of Lasertec in the past five years

revealThree localized players

Looking back at the domestic market, according to the estimates of the market research institution Sinolink Securities, at present, SMIC, YMTC, and Changxin Storage account for about 40-50% of the annual demand for domestic front-end measurement equipment.

On the supply side, Kelei and other foreign manufacturers have a market share of about 70% in the mainland.

In terms of domestic players, Chinese companies started relatively late. At present, Shanghai Ruili, Zhongke Flying Test, and Jingce Electronics have deployed front-end measurement equipment.

Among them, Shanghai Ruili was established in 2005, and its main products include optical film measurement equipment, optical critical dimension measurement equipment, etc. According to the industry and commerce platform, the National Fund holds about 12.1% of Shanghai Ruili.

Shenzhen Zhongke Flying Test was established in 2014. The company was co-founded by the Institute of Microelectronics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the entrepreneurial team. In May 2020, the ellipsometry film thickness measuring instrument produced by China Science and Technology Flying Test has landed in the Silan Microelectronics 12-inch special process semiconductor chip project.

Shanghai Jingce Electronics was established in 2018 and has layouts in front-end measurement equipment and back-end packaging and testing equipment. According to the industry and commerce platform, the National Fund holds about 13.3% of Shanghai Ruili.

According to the calculation of Sinolink Securities, the current localization rate of semiconductor equipment is about 10%. Under the circumstance that the domestic front-end measurement equipment market is dominated by foreign manufacturers, localized players such as Shanghai Ruili need to not only overcome technical barriers, but also undertake various tasks such as building a sales team and cultivating a market ecology.

  Conclusion: Pre-measurement – another proposition for localization

As one of the important equipment throughout the whole process of chip manufacturing, front-end measurement equipment is of great significance for improving chip yield.

It is estimated that for every one percentage point reduction in product yield, foundries will lose between $1 million and $8 million.

Today, with the continuous emphasis on improving the localization of the chip industry, tackling every link in the industry chain has become an industry mission faced by Chinese chip players.

At present, the domestic front-end measurement equipment market is still dominated by foreign manufacturers. It is expected that in the future, Chinese manufacturers will be able to take more market initiative by improving their strengths in products, R&D and other aspects.


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