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ASML hits new high as CEO hails EUV 'inflection point'

19 Jul 2017

Lithography firm reveals orders for eight new EUV steppers, with 2017 sales expected to climb to a record high.

ASML, the world's dominant supplier of lithography equipment for semiconductor wafer manufacturing, says that demand for its new extreme ultraviolet (EUV) tools for high-volume production has reached an “inflection point”.

The Netherlands-headquartered company revealed orders for eight more EUV steppers in its second-quarter financial results for 2017, and said that tests at its Veldhoven test facility with an upgraded laser-driven source had achieved the long-standing throughput target of 125 wafers per hour.

News of that, firmed-up expectations of a 25 per cent year-on-year rise in annual sales, and strong earnings sent the company’s stock price soaring 5 per cent, to sit at a new record high of €128.70 on the Amsterdam stock exchange.

EUV backlog hits €2.8BN
ASML’s CEO Peter Wennink said that the firm’s backlog of EUV equipment had jumped to €2.8 billion as a result of the rising demand, with six of the eight new tools ordered by a single customer.

It means that more than half of the company’s total sales backlog now relates to EUV equipment for the first time, with the 27 EUV systems on order commanding an average selling price slightly in excess of €100 million.

In the second quarter, EUV represented only two of the total 42 systems sold by ASML – but such is the complexity of the new technology that it accounted for 16 per cent of the €1.38 billion systems revenue posted by the firm.

“Our EUV backlog, which grew to €2.8 billion euros in the second quarter, indicated that preparation for high-volume manufacturing is well underway in both logic and DRAM,” Wennink said. “We’re at a very good point with the EUV technology.”

That latter point refers to recent work at ASML’s Veldhoven test facility, where an upgraded and fully integrated laser-driven plasma source has hit the key specification of 125 wafers per hour production – the target for volume manufacturing - as well as the 250 Watt output level desired for further throughput increases.

“I think we’re there,” Wennink said, adding that the remaining challenge is to hit the 90 per cent system availability metric that customers have deemed necessary for economic chip production with the EUV tools.

The latest inflow of orders also means that ASML is now “fully booked” for EUV tool assembly and shipment through the end of 2018, which is when chip makers are expected to begin ramping their EUV processes to full volume.

“The [EUV] orders that we are negotiating now will be for shipment in 2019, which will be in time for the ramp of 7 nm [node] products,” Wennink said.

ASML also completed its purchase of a billion-euro, 25 per cent stake in key optics partner Carl Zeiss SMT during the latest quarter, a tie-up seen as critical for funding the level of research spending that will be needed to develop a future generation of high numerical aperture (high-NA) EUV optics.

China litho build-out
Looking at broader trends in lithography equipment, the ASML CEO noted a boom in demand for tools to make DRAM memory chips this year - with data center requirements now representing a key driver.

Meanwhile the construction of a large number of brand new chip fabrication facilities in China is expected to result in some €3 billion spending on lithography equipment there. “We’re all set to take advantage,” Wennink said, noting that ASML already employs around 600 people across several sites in China, where it has been active for nearly three decades.

With total second-quarter revenues (i.e. including service income) rising by 20 per cent year-on-year to €2.1 billion and bookings on the up, ASML’s executives are now confident that full-year sales for 2017 will be fully 25 per cent higher than last year’s record-breaking figure of €6.8 billion.

Combined with rapidly growing demand for its holistic and electron-beam lithography products on top of the various other tailwinds, Wennink and colleagues believe that the company's sales will grow to around €11 billion by 2020, with “significant further revenue growth potential into the next decade.”

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