Seeing fast and steady growth for its technology, ASML plans to grow its staff.
With a San Diego workforce of approximately 1,500, the Dutch company that produces equipment for microchip foundries plans to grow its staff 10-15% in the coming year, adding approximately 140 employees in 2022.
Annual revenue growth for the business as a whole is expected to be 11% through 2030, company leaders said in a recent investor day presentation.
Employees at its Rancho Bernardo site engineer and build laser light sources able to generate precise wavelengths of ultraviolet light for the chip-making process. The campus previously belonged to an independent company named Cymer, which ASML acquired in 2013.
The business is fine tuning its established technology, called deep ultraviolet or DUV. It is also supporting customers during the current microchip shortage by ramping production as much as possible and providing spares and consumables. Rancho Bernardo houses the company’s production line for DUV equipment.
ASML is also pushing boundaries with its extreme ultraviolet laser light source, which creates light in a place on the electromagnetic spectrum near X-rays. So-called EUV technology is significant because it can create microchips of even finer dimensions than DUV. ASML develops EUV light sources in Rancho Bernardo and does certain manufacturing there.
The conductive path on a microchip can be 5 nanometers wide. By contrast, a human red blood cell measures about 7,800 nanometers across.
The EUV light is created in a complex process that includes droplets of molten tin and sophisticated optics.
From Lab to Foundry
ASML showed that EUV could be productive enough to be commercially viable in May 2017, said Alex Schafgans, director of EUV source performance at ASML in San Diego. Taking the technology from the controlled conditions of the lab to the real-world conditions of the factory took a while longer, with success in January 2019.
Going from the lab to the factory is “like training for a 5K and showing up for a marathon,” said Schafgans.
High volume manufacturing using EUV technology “is still in its infancy” and no one outside ASML knows how to make EUV technology of this efficiency, said Schafgans, who received his Ph.D. in physics from UC San Diego.
The business shipped its 100th EUV laser light source in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Samsung was the first company to produce a consumer product using the EUV process. The chip in Apple’s iPhone 12 has an EUV layer, as does the M1 chip in certain other Apple products.
Engineers are now working to increase the productivity and availability of the new EUV systems. Chip fabs run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “They never stop unless something physically breaks,” said Josh Thornes, marketing director for Cymer. (After buying Cymer, ASML kept the name for its mature technology, the DUV machines.)
Chipmakers prize high availability. For the EUV technology, ASML reports that performance continues to climb, with average availability on the installed base of NXE:3400X machines reaching 85% during a 13-week moving average. The top 10% achieved 90% availability.
Despite a demanding manufacturing schedule, “customers are very understanding of the learning curve that we’re on together,” said Schafgans.
The DUV technology boasts availability greater than 99.7%.
A $17.2 Billion Year
ASML had 2020 revenue of $17.2 billion (14 billion Euros) in 2020, gross margin of 52% and earnings per share of $3.97 (3.23 Euros).
Research and development expenses in 2020 amounted to $684 million (556 million Euros).
The San Diego site employs experts from every STEM discipline with the exception of biology, said Thornes, who received his master of science in physics from San Diego State University.
When evaluating potential recruits, Thornes said, ASML prizes an ability to learn fast and tackle tough projects. That matters more than the area of specialty in one’s work getting a STEM degree. “I tell people we can offer an infinite amount of really complex problems,” he added.
ASML is not a household name, Thornes said, yet major technology companies do their day-to-day work on technology created by ASML.
The EUV project has attracted notice.
In September, Schafgans and two other ASML engineers, Dan Brown and Yezheng Tao, were presented with Berthold Leibinger Stiftung’s 2021 Innovation Prize for unprecedented advancement and research in EUV light source power scaling using CO2 laser architecture.
(Previous winners include Nobel laureate Stefan Hell and Cymer founder Rick Sandstrom together with Cymer CTO Bill Partlo.)
On a recent afternoon at its North County plant, ASML provided a look at what it calls its Experience Center, which it completed during the pandemic. Schafgans and Thornes helped create several exhibits that give non-engineers a better ideas of the scientific concepts behind ASML’s technology (and business).
The 10 interactive exhibits illustrate ways in which ASML creates, controls and integrates light to pattern tiny electronic circuits on microchips.
Two exhibits show a simple system of optics to display how light passes through prisms or reflects off mirrors to help visitors gain an appreciation of what remains invisible within its products. ASML must narrow the spectrum of light to a very specific wavelength and bandwidth, much smaller than the eye can see, to select the Deep Ultraviolet and Extreme Ultraviolet wavelength.
Another exhibit, inspired by the work of artist John Edmark, uses the phase and frequency of a strobe light with a spinning object to illustrate a complex process ASML must tightly control within its light sources. ASML must synchronize two dynamically different forces — a CO2 laser and tin droplets in time, space and frequency — to create EUV light consistently every time.
A “geology of a chip” display shows how the dimensions of circuits get progressively finer as one goes down through the layers of a microchip.
CEO: Peter Wennink
HEADQUARTERS: Veldhoven, the Netherlands
BUSINESS: Provider of hardware, software and services that let chipmakers mass-produce patterns on silicon through lithography
REVENUE: $17.2 billion in 2020
STOCK: ASML on Nasdaq
EMPLOYEES: Approximately 1,500 in San Diego
NOTABLE: The company’s predecessor in San Diego, Cymer, was built by UC San Diego alumni
CONTACT: (858) 385-7300