Extraordinary Machines for Advanced Chips – Inside ASML’s Cleanroom

ASML Cleanroom

This article was last updated on February 13, 2024

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Inside the ASML Cleanroom: Precision in Practice

At ASML, entering the factory floor is not unlike preparing for a spacewalk—you don a special protective suit complete with headgear, overalls, socks, face mask, shoes, gloves, and then you walk through a gusty wind shower before entry is granted. Inside this stringent setting known as the “cleanroom”, companies like NOS toil alongside other employees around the clock, crafting meticulous chip machines in conditions where even a speck of dust breaches protocol. The quality of air is ten thousand times cleaner than an operating room – a characteristic crucial in maintaining an uncontaminated workspace.

Expertise and Precautions in the Cleanroom

Not everyone can foray into this part of the ASML factory campus. The safety procedures extend to no-makeup rules and pre-entry smoking prohibition. Only trained personnel, even including board members, can access the cleanroom unaccompanied. This workspace offers a unique atmosphere perfecting the manufacturing process of the colossal machines in a corridor system. Despite the protective gear and slightly raised temperatures, workers find immense satisfaction working within these halls, often likening the intricate process of perfecting the machines to tinkering with cars.

The ASML Highlight: High NA EUV Machine

ASML’s prized prototype, the High NA version of the EUV (Extreme Ultraviolet), has been a decade-long project and is now offering glimpses into its potential. The High NA EUV machine is a chip maker’s aspiration and has already been procured by Intel for an early jump over rivals such as South Korea’s Samsung and Taiwan’s TSMC. The companies have often found themselves to be pawns in the geopolitical conflict primarily between the US and China, and thus the machine stands more for a technological triumph for ASML.

A Showcase of Innovation and Technological Leap

The ASML High NA EUV machine, with a price tag between 350 and 400 million euros, is an exceptional representation of human engineering capabilities and considered one of the most complex systems ever created. “This machine will ensure that all the computing capacity needed for artificial intelligence, all the storage capacity, and all the data will be available,” said ASML CEO Peter Wennink. In essence, this machine will be the backbone for the data-driven futures we envision.

Ultra-Thin Lines with Enlarged Machines

A thin line lies at the heart of computer chips—the transistor. The thinner these are, the faster the device they’re fitted into works. By shrinking these lines, more transistors can fit into a square inch, thereby increasing computing power. In this reductive scheme, the size of the machines ASML uses for line-printing ironically has to expand—primarily owing to the mirrors specifically developed to guide EUV light through the machine. Involving such large machinery that requires seven Boeing 747 aircraft to ship, ASML stands unprecedented in the field. As of now, though, the chips in our devices don’t come from this machine. Its debut for mass production is planned for 2026, bringing ASML’s vision of ultra-precise, power-packed, minimized chips one step closer to reality.

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