Lithography machines play an important role in the production of chips. They are used to etch patterns on wafers that show where transistors will be placed on chips. One of the biggest breakthroughs has been EUV (extreme ultraviolet lithography). This creates extremely thin markings which are very important when you’re dealing with chips like the upcoming 5nm Apple A14 Bionic which will be packed with 15 billion transistors inside.
Can China become a player in the chipmaking industry?
The Suzhou Institute of Nano-tech and Nano-Bionics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Sinano), and the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology, announced yesterday that they have made important discoveries related to ultra-high precision laser lithography. However, these discoveries are just theoretical at the moment and plenty of money is going to be needed to turn this into reality. The laser lithography machine will create precision patterns to help produce semiconductors, photonic chips, and micro electro mechanical systems. The research paper was printed by Nano Letters, a scientific journal published by the American Chemical Society.
Veteran industry analyst Xiang Ligang, based in Beijing, told Global Times that “… it will take years for China to close the gap with the advanced Western suppliers, in particular ASML. Xiang says that the latter has monopolized key technologies for its machines and points out that attracting capital for such a project is difficult because the returns are low and such an investment can tie up investors’ money for a long period of time. The analyst says, “Chinese research institutes need to work with companies to translate theories into products. But in terms of profits, making a chip-production machine could cost billions of yuan and it will take years to recover the investment. Most Chinese companies don’t see it as a good deal.”
While the Chinese might not be focused on a project like this now, coming up with the money could eventually turn SMIC into a contender and that could only be good news for Huawei and the country.