Happy 24th Anniversary, Endura!

Think about what you do on an average day – send emails, publish photos or status updates on social media, create spreadsheets or Word documents, make mobile phone calls, use appliances, make financial transactions and stream movies; each of these activities involves microchips. One of the things the vast majority of these microchips have in common, as well as virtually every copper chip made in the last 24 years, is that they were processed through a manufacturing system first introduced by Applied Materials this week back in 1990.

Called the Endura® system, it is recognized as the most successful metallization tool in the history of the semiconductor industry. Since its introduction, through continuous infusions of new innovations and process technologies, it has enabled customers to advance Moore’s Law from the .75 micron (750 nanometer) node to today’s sub-20 nanometer nodes, and can continue beyond to sub-10 nanometer designs.

To appreciate what made the Endura a truly landmark system, and how the value it provides has been sustained over decades, I’d like to reference the recent VLSIresearch feature and highlight some key points.

There were many “firsts” that the Endura introduced, which had a significant impact in advancing the semiconductor manufacturing industry. It introduced the staged vacuum architecture creating the industry’s first ultra-high vacuum production system. This enabled the high film quality that chipmakers required to break through the 1 micron technology node barrier and to fabricate reliable devices with multiple layers of aluminum interconnects. The Endura system also set a high bar on system reliability and offered the revolutionary capability to mix and match process technologies (Cleaning, PVD, CVD and ALD) and chambers to create integrated multi-step process sequences without breaking vacuum. Based on these innovations, the Endura system has played an instrumental role in enabling major industry milestones and inflections, including:

  • Scaling aluminum interconnects to sub-1 micron designs
  • Revolutionary transition to copper dual damascene interconnect
  • Groundbreaking materials and architectural change in transistors: metal gate and 3D FinFET

As the industry moves beyond the 20 nanometer node, there are complex device performance and yield challenges that must be solved with new materials and new techniques, requiring significant advances in precision materials engineering (PME). With continued scaling and the advent of 3D architectures, requirements for conformal films with atomic-level precision become more challenging. Interface engineering is becoming more critical as features become smaller and films become thinner and thinner. New innovations on the Endura system enable precision materials engineering solutions to address these tough challenges on over 100 applications.

The below list conveys the versatility of the Endura and the range of breakthroughs it pioneered:

1990 – First parallel-path staged vacuum architecture
1990 – First high productivity ultra-high vacuum processing environment
1990 – First magnetically-coupled vacuum robots
1993 – 100th Endura shipped
1994 – 250th Endura shipped
1996 – Ionized plasma PVD technology
1996 – Integrated CVD/PVD system
2002 – Industry’s first integrated ALD/PVD system
2003 – 3000th Endura shipped
2010 – 4500th Endura shipped
2010 – RF PVD technology
2012 – Reflow PVD technology

The Endura sytem remains the industry’s seminal integrated precision materials engineering system for interconnect, transistor, memory and packaging metallization applications. Its place in the history of the semiconductor equipment industry is undisputed and its success will endure.

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