Applied Materials has been showing off its new etching system which it claims can create vertically stacked, three-dimensional transistors. The Centura Avatar process is supposed to fix problems facing manufacturers who are interested in 3D NAND.
According to Extremetech, one of the biggest problems is that few of them have the gear to build the kit.
3D chip stacking is expected to be the next big thing to hit NAND manufacturing in the next ten years. This is because it solves the problem of scale planar manufacturing effectively below 20nm.
The technology appears simple - you take conventional 2D NAND and fold it over and stand it on edge.
But Applied Materials said to do this in real life is like trying to dig a mile deep and three mile long trench with walls exactly three meters apart, through interleaved rock strata.
At the moment etching systems deal with aspect ratios of 3:1 – 4:1 but 3D etching requires an aspect ratio of 20:1 or more.
Applied Materials' Centura Avatar can apparently make smooth vertical sidewalls without bending or warping.
This allows a smooth transition between alternate stack layers. It can also stop at the right point without punching through into the next layer or underlying substrate, ruining the cells.
It can also etch both mask and dielectric simultaneously which will keep equipment costs lower.
Applied Materials said that it can be used to extend the lifespan of older process geometries by allowing manufacturers to build 3D NAND on 40-50nm processes.
However, it will be ages before 3D chips will be available for manufacturers to buy. At the moment it is too expensive.
But it does give Applied Materials a foot in the door when the technology's day arrives.