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Naura will develop China’s first advanced chip lithography tools

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

At the moment US export restrictions mean China can’t buy advanced chip lithography machines from companies such as ASML, so they’re making their own.

 

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China has a grand plan to become completely self-sufficient for chip production. And it’s definitely no secret. But, this will require the domestic companies to build their own wafer fab tools. While there are rather successful tool manufacturers in China for etching and deposition such as Advanced Micro-Fabrication Equipment China (AMEC) and Naura Technology, there is only one notable manufacturer of lithography tools, Shanghai Micro Electronics Equipment Group (SMEE). That’s arguably not enough which is why now it looks like Naura is now going to enter this market as well, according to the South China Morning Post.

 

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Naura Technology is already a successful manufacturer of etching and chemical vapor deposition tools. Now it has started its initial research into developing lithography systems, the report says. The dedicated program was initiated back in December 2023, and as of March the company has assembled a small group of engineers to explore lithography systems. This is an area that extends beyond its conventional focus on etching and film deposition, SCMP reports, citing sources familiar with the matter.

These R&D efforts are being carried out with utmost secrecy to prevent additional sanctions from the US, which perceives them as attempts to bypass existing export controls. A representative from Naura told SCMP on Monday that the reported information was not accurate, but did not provide further details.

 

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Although there is no guarantee that Naura’s lithography research initiatives will become successful they reflect the determination of China’s chip industry to overcome sanctions imposed by the US that aim to restrict China’s progress in chip manufacturing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and HPC, citing national security concerns.

According to Bloomberg, the US government is considering adding several Chinese semiconductor companies associated with Huawei Technologies to its Entity List, after Huawei and SMIC managed to build a smartphone processor on SMIC’s second generation 7nm-class process technology. Among the potential targets is SiCarrier, a government-supported chip tool manufacturer collaborating with Huawei, which received a patent related to quadruple patterning.

 

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Dan Hutcheson, vice-chairman of US-based IC research company TechInsights, said China’s SAQP research is likely to involve companies like Naura and SMEE. SMEE is China’s most successful manufacturer of lithography tools, and it has developed a 28nm-capable scanner. Hutcheson says that SiCarrier’s technology substitutes steps in optical lithography with etching and deposition steps, which reduces reliance on advanced lithography tools produced by Holland’s ASML who are the world leaders in this category. This gives Chinese companies an opportunity to produce chips on advanced nodes without using the latest machines from American, European, or Japanese companies and thus bypass all sanctions and attempts to slow them down.

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