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Soaring prices hinder Canon's litho dreams

Posted: 23 Sep 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:lithography  immersion tool  extreme ultraviolet  tool price 

Failed attempt
In contrast, Canon skipped right past the introduction of "pre-production" tools, moving directly to production scanners with the rollout of the so-called FPA-7000AS7, a 193nm immersion machine. The tool features an ultra low aberration, catadioptric 193nm lens, with a numerical aperture of 1.35. It also rolled out the FPA-7000AS5, a "dry" 193nm scanning stepper.

It has struggled to ship those tools. In 2008, Canon had only 11.1 per cent share in lithography sales, including older i-line and 248nm tools, according to Gartner. ASML had 65.4 per cent share last year, while Nikon had 23.3 per cent, according to the research firm.

Gartner projected that 2009 will be a difficult year for the overall stepper market, which has enjoyed a market position of "outperform" for a number of years. Gartner projects that stepper sales will contract 54 per cent in 2009. Total unit sales across all technologies and vendors are projected to amount to roughly 118 units, less than a quarter of total unit sales in 2007.

Not only did it miss the market window, but Canon reportedly had alignment issues with its 193nm machines, source said. To date, Canon has "shipped five immersion evaluation tools and all but one has been returned. The customer still has not paid for that tool so it could be returned also," according to one source. "They have no new orders for any immersion tools on their backlog or in their plan for fiscal year 2009. They are forecasting 10 new tool shipments for this year. One of them is an immersion tool, but that is actually the revenue recognition on the one evaluation tool that is still in the field, which could get returned."

As a result of the problems, the company is mulling plans to throw in the towel at the high-end. "They told at least one large company in Japan that they will not be developing any new tools, but they will support their existing products," according to the source.

Canon declined to comment on the technical glitches. "Canon refrains from commenting on specific cases that involve individual clients," according to the spokesman for Canon, who also dismissed rumours that the company is giving up at the high-end of lithography. "Canon will continue to actively move forward with the development of next-generation semiconductor manufacturing equipment, and will also continue EUVA activities as it has done in the past," the Canon spokesman said.

By EUVA, the spokesman was referring to a consortium in Japan that is developing EUV tools. Nikon, which is part of the group, is developing a full-blown EUV tool. Canon, also part of the consortium, had been developing a sub-system of a prototype tool.

At recent events, Canon has also been showing a full-blown, pre-production EUV tool. The company claimed it has not decided to enter the EUV fray, but rather it is test marketing the system.

Most believe Canon will never field a production EUV tool. And at one time, the company was also working on a maskless tool, which is reportedly no longer in the cards.

In fact, it has gone from bad to worse at Canon. In June, Canon said it plans to cut about 700 jobs from its lithography stepper division, according to various reports. "Canon has moved 30 per cent of their people from the stepper group into other divisions within Canon," according to a source. "They also cut back service worldwide to the point that customers are complaining."

And the losses are mounting. Sales for the stepper segment totalled 392.2 billion yen (Rs.20,082.60 crore) in 2008, approximately the same level as the previous year. Operating profit for the segment fell to negative 45.5 billion yen (Rs.2,329.83 crore) due to the downturn and other factors.

For the second quarter of 2009, Canon reported sales of 61.7 billion yen (Rs.3,159.35 crore) for the stepper unit, a decrease of 37.2 per cent, and 131.6 billion yen (Rs.6,738.58 crore) for the first six months of the year, a decrease of 32.5 per cent. Operating profit dropped to negative 6.4 billion yen (Rs.327.71 crore) for the quarter and minus 17.8 billion yen (Rs.911.45 crore) for the first half due to the downturn.

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