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Hermes acquisition to aid ASML's EUV ramp

20 Jun 2016

Lithography giant set to pay €2.75BN for Taiwanese electron-beam metrology and inspection specialist.

In a move that it says will aid a planned ramp of laser-powered extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography systems, ASML is to acquire the Taiwanese firm Hermes Microvision (HMI) for around €2.75 billion.

Part-owned by semiconductor manufacturing equipment firm Hermes-Epitek, HMI specializes in electron-beam tools for high-performance metrology and inspection applications in chip production. It posted sales of €182 million in 2015.

ASML believes that despite the complexity and slower speed of electron-beam techniques compared with optical inspection, the high-precision approach is needed to address challenges faced by chip makers as they move to adopt three-dimensional integration and sub-10 nm feature resolutions.

Already approved by both companies’ boards of directors, the price of the deal represents a 31 per cent premium on HMI’s recent valuation on the Taiwanese stock exchange. Although HMI’s shareholders will need to approve the acquisition, key executives and Hermes-Epitek - who together own 48 per cent of HMI - have already agreed to the sale.

Various international regulatory authorities will also need to approve the deal, which ASML believes will close in the final quarter of 2016.

Innovation needed
HMI’s CEO Jack Jau said in an ASML statement: “We intend to continue to invest and grow HMI’s business at our two existing locations in Taiwan, where we already employ around 350 people. The transition to sub-10 nm logic nodes and the ramp of advanced memory devices require innovation.”

ASML’s CEO Peter Wennink added that the two companies had already been working together for around two years in a bid to increase production yields for the most advanced device production nodes – during which time EUV lithography has slowly moved to the point where it finally seems ready to play a significant role in silicon chip fabs.

“[We] found that we could significantly improve this constructive co-operation and better serve our customer by teaming up as one company,” Wennink said.

Process model optimization
ASML says that the adoption of the latest fabrication processes demands similarly advanced process control, including very dense, high-voltage contrast metrology.

“HMI has multiple years of electron-beam application experience and leadership in semiconductor factories, focused on high-resolution and voltage contrast imaging,” noted the firm, adding that this should help boost ASML’s portfolio of lithography exposure, computational lithography and metrology systems.

HMI’s electron-beam metrology is expected to deliver accurate patterning information, which ASML can then use to optimize its design and process models, upon which the computational lithography business is based.

“In return those models can be used to guide the optical and e-beam metrology in a cost-effective manner to characterize the most relevant features on the chip device,” said the firm. “Ultimately, this information combined with ASML modeling will provide the ability to adjust ASML’s scanner settings for optimal operation in the customers’ factories.”

ASML and HMI added that they will accelerate the introduction of reticle defect detection to support the forthcoming EUV ramp, an additional market opportunity expected to be worth around €200 million in 2020.

Analyst: ‘sign of confidence’ in EUV
The deal represents the latest high-value merger in the semiconductor industry, where consolidation among equipment makers has been rife over the past year.

One of those mergers involves KLA-Tencor, which had previously dropped plans to develop an EUV mask inspection tool. Some kind of inspection technology is needed to make EUV lithography viable, and ASML’s acquisition of HMI should now provide that capability.

In its own annual report for fiscal year 2015, HMI reported: “Besides [our] current wafer inspection products, we also have a mask inspection system especially designed for EUV." Called “eXplore”, it is said to provide the highest resolution and defect inspection rate for the new process technology.

According to a Bloomberg report, analysts at Morgan Stanley said in response to the deal: “We believe this is a strong sign of confidence in the future of EUV and we still expect good news on the order side in the next several months.”

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