Semiconductor equipment maker ASML Holding this week delivered what it says is the first 157-nanometer lithography machine to the Interuniversities MicroElectronic Center (IMEC), a European independent research center. The move is an important milestone for the chip equipment industry. Currently, lithography tools use light with a wavelength of 193 nanometers to "draw" transistors and circuits onto chips. Although the wavelength is small, it is actually far larger than most of the features on cutting-edge chips. The shorter wavelengths used in the 157-nanometer machine will allow semiconductor manufacturers to print circuits on chips with average features measuring 45 nanometers and less. These chips will begin to come onto the market in 2007.
The price of the new lithography machine starts at $10 million. ASML, based in the Netherlands, competes in this market against Nikon and Canon.