Lithography machine, known as the flower of the modern optical industry, is very difficult to manufacture, and only a few companies in the world can manufacture it. Its price is as high as 70 million US dollars. The lithography machine used to produce chips is China’s biggest shortcoming in semiconductor equipment manufacturing, and the high-end lithography machines required by domestic fabs are completely dependent on imports.
Investment Opportunities in the Semiconductor Industry
Semiconductor is a typical technology-intensive industry. Currently, there is a big gap with developed countries such as the United States and Japan. The domestic semiconductor industry in the early stage of development has inherent market advantages and huge room for future growth.
Of course, the semiconductor industry has a large investment in early research and development, and corporate profits are slightly insufficient. Investors need to be patient enough. If the product research and development is successful over time, due to the high industry barriers, the corporate moat is wider, and the industry profits are very considerable.
5G will usher in large-scale commercial use in 2020. Compared with 4G mobile phones, 5G smartphones will have a substantial increase in the value of chips such as RF front-ends. Driven by the shipment of 5G smartphones, the capacity utilization rate of semiconductor manufacturing, packaging and testing is expected to increase significantly.
In addition, the second phase of the National Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund (Big Fund) established to promote the development of the integrated circuit industry has been established with a capital scale of over 204.1 billion yuan, focusing on the field of semiconductor upstream equipment and materials.
To sum up: the semiconductor industry has entered a period of rapid development, and the sector has ushered in a wave of investment, superimposed on the realization of 5G applications in the next few years, and the layout of the semiconductor industry is at the right time.
Domestic lithography machine, walking on a tortuous but progressive road
Although ASML is great, it belongs to someone else after all. For China, only by mastering the core technology can it not be constrained by the outside world.
China’s research on lithography machines started not too late. Probably in the 1970s, the early models were mainly contact lithography machines. The so-called contact lithography machine, that is, the mask is attached to the wafer. The 1445 Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences developed a contact lithography machine in 1977, about 20 years later than the United States.
Soldiers enter the lithography machine, Chinese chips bravely break through the siege
In 1985, the 45th Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Department developed the first step-by-step projection lithography machine, and the United States developed this kind of lithography machine in 1978, using a 436nm G-line light source at that time.
In the 1990s, the technology of domestic lithography machines was not far from that of foreign countries, roughly equivalent to the level of foreign countries in the mid-1980s.
However, you must know that for a lithography machine, every step forward in the process (that is, the wavelength of the light source), the difficulty of manufacturing and the required capital increase exponentially, and the more difficult it is to go forward.
Since 2000, my country has started a project to study 193nm ArF lithography machine. As mentioned earlier, ASML was already working on EUV lithography machines at that time.
In 2002, the lithography machine was included in the national 863 major scientific and technological research plan, and the Ministry of Science and Technology and Shanghai jointly promoted the establishment of Shanghai Microelectronics Equipment Co., Ltd. to undertake.
Shanghai Microelectronics basically also represents the highest level of domestic lithography machines. After more than ten years of development, its self-developed 600 series lithography machine can achieve mass production of 90nm process chips, using 193nm ArF light source.
Obviously, from the point of view of process technology, the gap between domestic lithography machines and ASML is very large. However, other countries in the world have basically not mass-produced lithography machines of 157nm and below. From this perspective, domestic lithography machines and international standards other than ASML are not far behind.
At present, Shanghai Microelectronics is still researching a lithography machine for 65nm process chips. It is hard to say when it will be made.
In short, the current level of process that can be achieved by domestic lithography machines is still stuck at 90nm, which is significantly different from ASML. High-end lithography machines still have to be imported.
There are no shortcuts in the semiconductor industry
The situation in the world is changing, and reality constantly urges us to make breakthroughs in the field of semiconductor technology as soon as possible.
However, in this industry, there are actually no shortcuts or corners to overtake. There is only one process node to break through and accumulate technology. If you want to catch up with the international leading level, you can only devote more energy and more resources.
Lithography machine, of course, is crucial, but it does not mean that China’s semiconductor industry can leap forward by spending money to buy an EUV lithography machine.
At the same time, the rapid pace of evolution in this industry does not give researchers much incentive to achieve results. They must work hard for ten years or even decades.
And this is the reason why ASML can rise, and it is the only way we want to catch up.