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Highly anticipated: ASML specializes in manufacturing photolithography machines used to etch computer chips out of silicon wafers. The Dutch corporation is, indeed, the most highly valued European tech venture and is currently the sole supplier of extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) machines in the world.
ASML announced the shipment of its first High NA EUV system to Intel this week, sharing a photo of the machinery on social media. The company is fulfilling an order made in 2018, providing the Santa Clara chipmaker with a pilot scanner manufactured after a decade of "groundbreaking science and systems engineering."
High NA EUV scanners are poised to revolutionize chip manufacturing in the next few years, offering a higher EUV numerical aperture (from 0.33 to 0.55) and driving the relentless technological progress achieved by the most advanced chip foundries globally. The new scanners are expected to play a crucial role in manufacturing nodes beyond 3nm, with the aforementioned chip foundries planning to adopt the machines in 2025-2026.
ASML's pilot Twinscan EXE:5000 is a massive piece of machinery, requiring 13 truck-sized containers and 250 crates for transportation. Once assembled, the scanner will be three stories tall. Intel had to expand one of its plants near Hillsboro, Oregon, just to accommodate this "beast." Each High NA EUV tool is expected to cost between $300 million and $400 million.
Thanks to its early order and the recently shipped pilot scanner, Intel will soon be able to experiment with the next-gen EUV manufacturing technology conceived by ASML before anyone else. The company will likely enjoy a competitive edge over rival foundries (Samsung Foundry, TSMC), which will have to wait years for the final version of the scanner.
However, High NA EUV adoption will not come as easily as raising the ceiling of a chip manufacturing plant. Both the pilot Twinscan EXE:5000 and the commercial-grade Twinscan EXE:5200 scanners – for which Intel placed an order in 2022 – will require significant changes in how chips are designed and produced, involving new methods, materials, masks, and inspection tools.
In 2022, ASML stated that it would be able to assemble 20 High NA EUV machines per year by 2027-2028. The company has already amassed a backlog with tens of orders for the scanners, indicating that chip foundries are eager to receive and assemble the new tools at their facilities.