Canon has announced the start of sales of its nanoimprint systems for the production of semiconductors.
Experts characterize this solution of the firm based in Tokyo, implemented in the applied plane, as a step in the framework of attempts to regain market share. The company positions the technology as a simpler and more affordable alternative to modern advanced tools.
The new chip-making machines can produce circuits that are equivalent to a 5-nanometer scale. In this case, the use of extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) is envisaged, which is currently dominated by the Dutch ASML Holding NV.
Canon expects that over time its development will reach 2-nanometer production. The company expects that by the time this goal becomes a fait accompli, nanoimprint systems for the manufacturing of semiconductors will be improved. The relevant information is contained in the Canon statement, which was published on Friday, October 13.
The company from Tokyo, like another Japanese firm Nikon, significantly lost its position in the competition with ASML in the EUV area. Experts say that Canon’s approach to nanoimprint lithography can significantly improve the brand’s position in the mentioned sphere and reduce the gap from the leader.
The media also claim that the equipment of the Japanese company can become a kind of new front in the commercial and industrial confrontation between the United States and China. Currently, as part of the restrictions imposed by Washington and its allies, the supply of EUV machines, which are the only reliable method of producing chips of 5 nanometers or less, to the specified Asian country is prohibited. Canon technology does not provide photolithography. In this case, the desired circuit pattern is applied to a silicon plate. The media admit the possibility that due to its novelty, the technology of the Japanese company will be available to the industrial sector of China since it does not fall into the list of prohibited supplies to Beijing.
In October, journalists reported that Washington had notified an Asian opponent of the intention to update export control rules regarding artificial intelligence chips and equipment for the production of semiconductors. Beijing has tried to create companies for making lithographic machines, but so far has not succeeded significantly in this. Although in September Huawei released a new smartphone with a 7-nanometer chip, the presence of which is either evidence of certain achievements of China in the production of microcircuits, or signals the circumvention of the export control regime.
A Canon representative did not provide any comments in response to a request from journalists about whether the new equipment falls under export restrictions imposed by the Japanese government.
ASML machines use ultraviolet. Canon stated that its equipment does not require a light source with a special wavelength. This peculiarity allows to reduce the level of energy consumption.
Canon’s traditional power in the production of cameras, optical equipment, and printers has led the company to refocus its attention on the semiconductor supply chain at a time when the world is increasingly in need of chips for technologies such as artificial intelligence.
The Dutch government announced its decision to restrict the export of equipment necessary for the production of chips to China in June this year. ASML that time announced its intention to comply with all EU and US restrictions. The company also said that the new export rules will not significantly affect its financial condition.
Liesje Schreinemacher, Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands said that the chips can be used as part of the modernization of the military industry. According to her, this circumstance justifies the need for export restrictions.
Nanoimprint lithography has long been perceived as an inexpensive alternative to optical lithography but has not been widely distributed. This type of printed graphics has been promoted in the past by memory microcircuit manufacturers SK Hynix and Toshiba Kioxia Holdings Corporation. The former Toshiba memory-making unit tested Canon nanoimprint machines until they reached commercial maturity.
Currently, a Tokyo-based company has to prove to potential customers that it has solved problems, including a high level of defects. The shortcomings prevented the favorable implementation of the firm’s previous efforts.
ASML currently continues to be the most valuable technology company in Europe. For five consecutive quarters, this firm has demonstrated revenue growth. Also, during the specified period, an increase in the volume of ASML orders is recorded. The company is the main supplier of EUV for the world’s main manufacturers of microcircuits. The firm expects that by the end of this year, its net sales indicator will grow by 30%.
The price of Canon shares has shown an increase of 26% since the beginning of this year. The improvement in this indicator is the result of a broader rally in Japanese stocks and a growth in demand for chip production equipment amid the hype around artificial intelligence.
Canon, which until now has been focused on the developments used to make less advanced microcircuits, acquired Molecular Imprints in 2014 and spent nine years developing the new technology.
Tokyo-based firm, supplier Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., is currently building its first new plant in 20 years. The factory for the production of lithographic equipment will be located in the city of Utsunomiya, north of the Japanese capital. The company plans to put the plant into operation in 2025.