Some of the biggest names in the semiconductor industry are looking to a startup in Corvallis to help break a technological impasse that's slowing the advent of new chip technology.The features on computer chips have become so small that creating them has become a laborious and inconsistent process, impeding the rollout of new chip technologies. Last year, for example, Intel announced it is slowing the pace at which it introduces new generation of manufacturing technology.
Intel and many other chipmakers and semiconductor equipment manufacturers are awaiting the arrival of a long-awaited production tool called extreme ultraviolet (EUV) that will improve the lithography used to imprint features onto a chip. Lithography is a key step in semiconductor manufacturing, putting tiny patterns onto a chip with ultraviolet light.
Corvallis-based Inpria is pioneering new materials engineered specifically for EUV, which the 20-person company says will improve results. Inpria, which spun out of Oregon State University in 2007, announced Tuesday it has raised a second $10 million investment to further its work.
A firm called Air Liquide Venture Capital led Tuesday's round, backed by the investment arms of chipmaking giants Intel and Samsung, each of whom had previously backed Inpria. Materials company Tokyo Ohka Kogyo also contributed.
Conventional lithography requires several steps to put a pattern into a chip, slowing the production process and adding expense. EUV tools promise tinier patterns in fewer steps.
"Intel needs EUV. The semiconductor industry needs EUV to continue to scale cost effectively," said Andrew Grenville, Inpria's chief executive. And after years of delay, he said EUV is showing practical results inside today's factories.
"The pieces are coming together," Grenville said. "They are coming together in a way that's gaining momentum, in a way that brings it to a very real place."
Inpria's materials show more promise with EUV than conventional materials do, according to Grenville. He said Inpria remains on track to begin pilot production of its technology next year and the company hopes to have its technology ready for the 7-nanometer generation of semiconductor equipment -- due to begin production in three or four years.
"We are making progress," Grenville said. "It's a big industry to be making progress in."