What is Atomic Layer Disposition Equipment?

The atomic layer deposition (ALD) is an advanced manufacturing technique that enables the deposition of thin films of nanomaterials in the assembly of semiconductor devices. The versatile technique offers excellent thickness control and uniformity of thin films with a conformal coating for high-aspect-ratio structures. ALD is considered as a key deposition method that facilitates a controlled assertion of complex and miniaturized components into small electronic components such as displays, digital memory devices, and data storage devices. This technology enables the production of nano-scale thin material layers for microprocessors and allows building of three-dimensional (3D) structures one atomic layer at a time.

ALD equipment are widely used in the nanomaterial synthesis process and fabrication of semiconductor devices including LEDs (chroma adjustment and film-preventing Ag sulfide), electronic devices (isolation film and barrier metal), a film of gas barriers, and vapor barrier film & film-forming on complex substrates. These thin films or components associated with the ALD technology are extensively applied in the production of various consumer electric devices such as laptops and smartphones.

Moreover, the ALD equipment has a wide range of applications in other industrial sectors such as IT, solar energy, and medical & healthcare. Using these ALD equipment improve the efficiency of solar panels, LED lights, and lithium batteries for electric cars as well. With the rising technological advancement, many research and development facilities have started to use ALD techniques for several other applications. For instance, the ALD technique has been under research observation to use for environmentally friendly packaging materials, optical, and silver jewelry applications. As per some latest research reports, the application of ALD thin films in the manufacturing of medical devices as coating agents to prevent corrosion proved to be showing promising results in the research experiment.

History and Development of ALD Technology

The history of the fundamental development of ALD technology is closely associated with two major discoveries, namely atomic layer epitaxy (ALE, Finland) and molecular layering (ML, Soviet Union). The proposal to change the name from ALE to “atomic layer deposition” was firstly initiated by a professor at the University of Helsinki, Markku Leskela at the ALE-1 Conference, Espoo, Finland in 1990. However, the general acceptance of the new term took more than a decade after the American Vacuum Society started conducting a series of international conferences on ALD. An independent international organization named the Virtual Project on the History of ALD (VPHA) was formed in 2013 to look after the discourse on the early development history of ALD.

A series of experiments conducted in the 1960s in the erstwhile Soviet Union by Professors Valentin B. Aleskovsky (1912–2006) and Stanislav I. Koltsov (1931–2003) had laid the foundation for fundamental research on ALD technology. One of the key developments was that they successfully experimented with the extension of metal chloride and porous silica to other substrate materials and planar thin films, which Aleskovskii and Koltsov together proposed to name the technique as “Molecular Layering” in 1965. However, the development of thin-film electroluminescent displays (TFEL) was made possible in 1974 after a Finnish physicist; Dr. Tuomo Suntola devised an advanced thin-film technology, which he named atomic layer epitaxy (ALE). Suntola received the patent of the ALE technology for the development of thin films and several experiments using inert gas reactors had been widely developed for the ALE process, which led to the mass production of thin-film in the 1970s till 1990s. The TFEL display manufacturing had gone through a major transformation in the 1990s as the ALE technology was successfully applied for various industrial applications. In the early 2000s, the research experiment and business applications for ALD were expanding significantly as the ALD technology was started adopted in the semiconductor industry.

Suntola’s innovation has brought a tragic transformation in the production of electronic devices as the ALD technology can produce extremely thin films for microprocessors of smartphones and computer memory devices with effective functions. As an acknowledgment of his major contribution to the development of the ALD technology for semiconductor applications, Suntola was honored with several international awards. He received the European SEMI award in 2004 and the Millennium Technology Prize in 2018.

ALD Technology and its Major Types

ALD is considered to be the most advanced technology of the traditional chemical vapor deposition (CVD) technique. However, ALD is different from CVD technology due to the self-limiting characteristics of the ALD technique for precursor adsorption, alternative, and sequential introduction of the precursors and reactants. Unlike CVD and other similar deposition methods, the ALD precursors are not pumped simultaneously but are pulsed sequentially. In general, the ALD process is widely applied in depositing metal oxide films using two precursors including the metal source and the oxygen source (oxidant).

Major Types of ALD Equipment

ALD equipment is broadly segregated into metal ALD, aluminum oxide ALD, plasma enhanced ALD, and catalytic ALD.

  • Metal ALD

The metal ALD processes usually adopt exothermic fluorosilane elimination reactions, which deposits the metal on the surface of the substrate. Similar to thermal ALD, metal ALD technology uses higher temperatures of around 175-325 °C to deposit a wide range of metals on a surface. A wide range of metals except aluminum can be deposited onto a surface by utilizing the same given reactions between a halogen-functionalized metallic molecule (commonly a metal fluoride) and a silicon-based molecule.

  • Aluminum Oxide ALD

Aluminum oxide ALD is the most popular type of equipment due to the wide availability of aluminum and aluminum oxide films for the use of the ALD deposition technique. The synthesis of aluminum oxide (Al2O3) thin film is conducted through an ALD process where trimethylaluminum (TMA) and water in the thermal ALD reactor have been used to create a thin film.

  • Plasma Enhanced ALD

The plasma-enhanced ALD segment is considered to be one of the most suitable materials for nano-scale memory and logic device manufacturing due to its excellent features such as thickness controllability and superior conformity. The adoption of plasma in atomic layer deposition processes primarily provides several advantages such as reducing high temperatures and greater flexibility in converting the gas-phase chemical substances to produce specific films. Plasma enables low-temperature ALD processes and the remote source maintains low plasma damage by eliminating the need for water as a precursor, reducing purge times between ALD cycles - especially for low temperatures

  • Catalytic ALD

ALD technique is widely adopted to control the synthesis of catalytic materials on the atomic scale. The technology is considered to be effective at controlling metal and metal oxide sites and at the same time, improving catalytic activity, selectivity, and longevity.

Overview of Market Performance

The global atomic layer deposition equipment market is divided into types, applications, and regions. On the basis of types, the market is segmented into metal ALD, aluminum oxide ALD, plasma enhanced ALD, catalytic ALD, and others. Based on applications, the atomic layer deposition equipment market is categorized as research & development facilities, semiconductor & electronics, solar devices, medical equipment, and others. In terms of regions, the market has been segmented into North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and Middle East & Africa (MEA).

As per a latest report published by Growth Market Reports (GMR), the global atomic layer deposition equipment market was valued at USD 1,770.5 million in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 3,755.3 million by 2027, expanding at a CAGR of 10.4% during the forecast period. The growth of the market can be attributed to the rapid growth of the semiconductor industry and rising demand for its solution for various consumer electronics applications.

Key Players and Their Competitive Landscape

Some of the key players in the market include Tokyo Electron Limited; ASM International NV; Applied Materials, Inc.; Aixtron SE; Adeka Corporation; and LAM RESEARCH CORPORATION.

These players are widely engaged in several market strategies such as product launches, acquisitions & mergers, partnership, collaboration, and expansion of production units to enhance their market position and presence in the global market.

On July 01, 2019, Applied Materials, Inc. entered into a definitive agreement to acquire all outstanding shares of Kokusai Electric Corporation, one of the leading companies providing high-productivity batch processing systems and services for memory, foundry, and logic customers.

On November 11, 2019, ASM International launched A400 duo vertical furnace system. It addressed 200mm applications with high productivity and low cost of ownership. The system’s DUAL Boat reactors produce high throughput, increasing reactor utilization to a very high percentage while ensuring low capex.
In November 2017, Arradiance, LLC announced the collaboration with InRedox, a leading manufacturer of nanoporous anodic aluminum oxide (AAO) and nanotubular anodic titanium oxide (ATO). The collaboration was made for offering advanced functionalized nanostructured materials.