Last week Toshiba and SK hynix announced an agreement to jointly develop NIL or Nano Imprint Lithography. The research was made possible after companies signed a memorandum of understanding in December last year. Development efforts should begin in April and practical adoption is expected to start in 2017. The collaboration is expected to reduce risk and accelerate commercialization of this NIL technology.
Nanoimprint lithography is a method of fabricating nanometer scale patterns with low cost, high throughput and high resolution. It creates patterns by mechanical deformation of imprint resist and subsequent processes. The imprint resist is typically a polymer cured by heat or UV light during the imprinting. Adhesion between the resist and the template is controlled to allow proper release. NIL is expected to compete with the Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, an alternative technology whose use has been delayed by numerous technical challenges. EUV cannot use transmissive optics like glass lenses, so a completely new reflective imaging technology has had to be developed to support its use. The advantage of EUV is that the light wavelength is only 13nm, which is an order of magnitude smaller than the 136nm light currently used to produce leading-edge chips, allowing it to print significantly smaller features.
Nanoimprint lithography mechanically stamps a pattern into the photoresist in a similar way to the sealing wax stamp. The stamp is produced using e-beam patterning, a very slow and costly process with excellent resolution. The very same stamp can now be used to produce numerous wafers, offsetting the expense. NIL has also been proposed for hard disk drives, to define their servo marks. It is another way that HDD makers hope to squeeze more bits onto each platter of an HDD. So far HDD manufacturers have been reluctant to us the phenomenal advantages of NIL due to high R&D expense. Now other industries will be contributing to the expense, the technology may become more attractive to these companies.
This is an intriguing technology, to both semiconductor and HDD makers. For us in the data recovery industry it should also be interesting to watch NIL technology develop over the next few years.