In the fast-paced world of semiconductor manufacturing, companies are constantly striving to innovate and stay at the forefront of technology, with the recent example of canon and ASML.
One such company, Canon Inc., is making waves with its new nanoimprint technology, which aims to disrupt the semiconductor industry by offering a cost-effective alternative to ASML Holding NV’s lithography machines.
This move by Canon holds the potential to reshape the landscape of chip manufacturing and address the challenges posed by the US-China tech rivalry.
Canon Nanoimprint Technology Vs ASML
Canon’s nanoimprint technology is designed to enable smaller semiconductor manufacturers to produce advanced chips, a domain that has traditionally been dominated by industry giants.
Unlike ASML’s extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography machines, which rely on reflecting light to create chip patterns, Canon’s technology directly stamps circuit patterns onto wafers.
This process achieves similar geometries as the most advanced nodes, albeit at a slower rate. The key advantage is that Canon’s machines consume only 1/10th of the power of their EUV counterparts, making them more energy-efficient.
Image Credits: PSI
Difference between Nanoimprint VS ASML EUV
NIL relies on physical molding for pattern generation, while EUV lithography harnesses light for patterning, resulting in distinct capabilities and applications. EUV lithography is often the preferred method for high-volume, high-precision semiconductor manufacturing.
- Method: Nanoimprint Lithography (NIL) involves the physical contact of a mold to generate patterns, whereas Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography employs EUV light to project patterns onto the substrate without direct physical contact.
- Resolution and Precision: EUV lithography is known for achieving superior resolution and precision, primarily due to the extremely short wavelengths of EUV light. This characteristic allows for the creation of smaller features and intricate patterns.
- Throughput and Speed: EUV lithography stands out for its higher throughput and speed, making it a preferred choice for high-volume semiconductor production, especially for modern semiconductor devices.
In essence, NIL relies on physical molding for pattern generation, while EUV lithography harnesses light for patterning, resulting in distinct capabilities and applications. EUV lithography is often the preferred method for high-volume, high-precision semiconductor manufacturing.
“The price will have one digit less than ASML’s EUVs.”
~Fujio Mitarai, Canon CEO
Challenges for Canon Against ASML:
Lets Delve into the challenges that Canon faces when entering the market for lithography equipment in semiconductor production and explore strategies for overcoming these hurdles.
One of the foremost challenges for Canon is the need to further develop and optimize its nanoimprint technology. Nanoimprint lithography involves creating intricate patterns on semiconductor wafers with high precision. To compete with established players, Canon must address any technical limitations and refine its equipment’s capabilities to ensure consistent and reliable performance. This entails continuous research and development efforts to push the boundaries of their technology.
Competing with Established Players
ASML Holding NV, a Dutch company, has maintained a strong grip on the lithography systems market for years. With a significant market share and a track record of delivering advanced solutions, Canon faces fierce competition.
To establish a foothold, Canon must not only match ASML’s technological prowess but also differentiate itself by offering unique features or benefits to potential customers.
ASML’s market monopoly poses a significant challenge for Canon. Many chip manufacturers have long-standing relationships with ASML and may be hesitant to switch to a new supplier. To break this monopoly, Canon needs to offer compelling advantages and value propositions, such as cost-effectiveness, superior performance, or innovative features, to attract potential customers.
Establishing Industry Trust
The semiconductor industry demands a high level of precision, reliability, and consistency. Canon must earn the trust of potential customers by demonstrating the robustness, accuracy, and reliability of its nanoimprint technology.
This involves extensive testing, quality control measures, and perhaps partnerships with industry leaders to showcase the effectiveness of its equipment.
To gain market acceptance, Canon must persuade major chipmakers and semiconductor manufacturers of the benefits and advantages of its lithography system compared to existing solutions. This may require offering trials, proof-of-concept projects, and collaborative efforts with industry partners to showcase the effectiveness of their technology in real-world applications.
“I don’t expect nanoimprint technology to overtake EUVs, but I’m confident this will create new opportunities and demand. We are already fielding many inquiries from customers.”
~Fujio Mitarai, Canon CEO
Scaling Up Production
Meeting the market demands and scaling up production efficiently will be a significant challenge for Canon. This involves not only manufacturing the equipment but also providing comprehensive support and services to customers. Canon must establish efficient manufacturing processes and the ability to ramp up production capacity in a timely manner to fulfill orders and deliver equipment to its customers worldwide.
Market Gap for ASML Canon
ASML is the sole supplier of EUV lithography machines, which are vital for producing high-performance and energy-efficient chips. However, these machines come with a hefty price tag, costing hundreds of millions of dollars each, making them accessible only to cash-rich corporations.
Furthermore, ASML faces export restrictions on these machines, preventing them from reaching Chinese customers due to US pressure on its allies to limit technology flows to Beijing.
Canon’s new nanoimprint technology presents a potential solution to bridge this gap in the market. It came to market recently, offering semiconductor manufacturers a more affordable and accessible alternative for producing advanced chips.
“I want it to be a total surprise. Our employees will learn about it first, and then the rest of the world will hear about it through a press conference.”
~Fujio Mitarai, Canon CEO
US-China Tech Rivalry
The ongoing tech rivalry between the United States and China has increased the importance of semiconductor manufacturing equipment in the global supply chain.
This rivalry has led to export restrictions on key technologies, including those related to chip production.
Canon’s nanoimprint technology is poised to play a crucial role in this scenario, providing smaller manufacturers with a competitive edge while circumventing export limitations.
Challenges and Uncertainties
While Canon’s nanoimprint technology has the potential to disrupt the semiconductor industry, there are still challenges and uncertainties ahead.
The extent to which Canon can expand its market reach remains uncertain, with concerns about whether it can sell these machines to China due to export restrictions.
Japan’s export policies prohibit technology transfers beyond the 14-nanometer technology, which could limit Canon’s international sales.
Furthermore, Canon faces competition from other companies, notably Nikon Corp., which also lags behind ASML in lithography technology but could potentially develop its own solutions.
Canon’s foray into nanoimprint technology is a bold step toward democratizing the semiconductor manufacturing landscape. While it may not fully replace ASML’s EUV lithography machines, Canon’s technology offers new opportunities and addresses the need for more accessible chip production methods.
As the US-China tech rivalry continues to unfold, Canon’s nanoimprint technology could play a pivotal role in shaping the future of chip manufacturing, making advanced chips available to a broader spectrum of manufacturers and potentially reshaping the global tech supply chain.
Canon’s innovation stands as a testament to the ongoing pursuit of progress and accessibility in the semiconductor industry.