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Laser applications in the semiconductor industry are broad since various laser technologies have started integrating into major semiconductor processes including laser cutting, drilling, welding/bonding, marking, patterning, measurement, deposition.
The laser equipment market will grow at a 15% compound annual growth rate from 2016-2022 (CAGR 2016-2022) to reach more than 4B$ by 2022 mainly driven by dicing, via drilling as well as patterning process steps fueled by PCB flex, IC substrates and semiconductor devices processing applications, according to Yole Développement report “Laser Technologies for Semiconductor Manufacturing”.
In addition, the laser equipment market is quite diversified with more than 30 companies worldwide intensively active in laser semiconductor technologies and offering different type of laser machine.
We had the opportunity to speak with Dirk Müller, Director of Strategic Marketing at Coherent. We discussed Coherent’s position and vision of the industry as well as global industry trends.

 yole increased competition in the laser equipment semiconductor industry(Source: Laser Technologies for Semiconductor Manufacturing, Yole Développement, Oct. 2017)

Yole Développement: Can you introduce Coherent’s product line in laser equipment and source market, its history and current activity?
Dirk Müller: Coherent offers a very broad laser and tool portfolio.  Our products span from gas lasers such as CO2, CO, Excimer and Ion to solid state lasers with pulse durations from CW to nanosecond-, picosecond- and femtosecond-pulsed.  In addition we offer a large range of fiber lasers, and direct diode lasers.  In some markets we integrate our lasers in our own laser machining tools and sell customers full turn-key solutions, ready for high volume manufacturing.
Coherent divides our addressable market into four segments:
1) Micro-electronics, laser processes for FEOL such as inspection, annealing, dicing to BEOL, such as µ-via drilling, PCB cutting, package cutting, Laser Direct Imaging
2) Scientific, lasers used by universities and government labs to do state-of-the-art research as well as microscopy for bio-medical applications
3) Medical, lasers used for medical treatments such as hair removal, LASIK or other diagnostics on the human body.
4) Materials Processing, lasers and tools that mark, drill, cut and weld materials for a large variety of industries such as automotive manufacturing, consumer goods manufacturing, …
YD: Which market(s) mainly drive(s) Coherent’s revenue today?
DM: Total revenue of the company is $1.2B. Micro-electronics is our largest market segment.  Aside from processes in electronics manufacturing our lasers support key enabling technologies for display manufacturing such as LCD and OLED displays.
YD: What other segments does Coherent target following the acquisition of Rofin?
DM: Coherent gained a lot of technical expertise and market access in fiber lasers, converting tools as well as high-end laser components such as diodes and beam combiners.
YD: Coherent provides laser systems as well as laser source for the semiconductor market. Could you tell us what type of process steps and applications do you support with:
DM: Within the micro-electronics market we mostly offer laser sources or “optical rails”.  An optical rail is a laser source that has been mated to a beam delivery systems and control software.  This package is ready to be placed into tools that manage the material handling.  The optical rail contains all parts that are necessary for the laser process.  Aside from hardware we also offer process development that provides custom solutions for each application case.
YD: Do you address the same market segment with your laser product equipment and laser source product portfolio?
DM: In some markets it makes more sense to offer a laser source and partner with a local integrator who then offers a turn-key tool to the end customer.  In other markets Coherent has deep technical expertise and we can offer our customers our own turn-key solutions.
YD: What key process steps in the semiconductor area does Coherent target?
DM: Coherent is already the largest provider of laser sources for optical inspection tools used for process control in semiconductor fabs.  All major inspection tool vendors use our sources.  Coherent is poised to support the growing market of laser-based BEOL processes such as:
- µ-via drilling with CO2, CO and nanosecond-UV lasers
- Laser Direct Imaging with picosecond-UV lasers
- Wafer dicing and scribing with nanosecond-UV, picosecond-UV and femtosecond-green lasers
- Sophisticated wafer and package marking with nanosecond and picosecond lasers
- Flex-PCB cutting and drilling with nanosecond-UV and picosecond-green lasers
- SiP and Finger Print Sensor cutting with nanosecond-UV and picosecond-green lasers
- Optical debonding with IR, green and UV nanosecond lasers
- RDL structuring with high power Excimer lasers
- And more…
YD: Which application or process steps in the field of semiconductor require the use of laser?
DM: The truth is that many processes can still be done with mechanical tools, but as features sizes shrink and processes become more sensitive to “gentle” machining laser processes are in more and more demand.  Some of those processes are:  low-k scribing, µ-via drilling for holes below 100µm diameter, package cutting when the perimeter is complicated and the package consists of many different materials.  Redistribution layer structuring benefits from using either DPSS (LDI) or Excimer lasers (direct laser ablation).
yole coherent laser
(Source : Coherent)
YD: What issue do you perceive related to the use of laser equipment in the field of semiconductor?
DM: In the FEOL lasers have already been used for many years in inspection tools and silicon dicing tools.  The FEOL has a higher tolerance for tool cost as the tools add a lot of value in improving yield and customers expect to use their tools for more than 20 years in some cases.
The BEOL still has a much lower tolerance for tool cost and it seems that there is an expectation that tools can be amortized in 2-3 years.  So even when a tool has high throughput and long life expectancy, customers will often still decide to buy a less sophisticated tool that does not last as long or has higher maintenance cost based on a shorter investment horizon.  This phenomena is likely related to the economics of OSATS.  They have very low margins and a large product portfolio to support, which makes for a poor investment environment.  Laser-based tools are often more expensive than their incumbent mechanical tools they displace.  Even though laser-based tools may promise higher yield, higher uptime and lower cost of ownership in the long run, the OSAT’s economic horizon is often too short to consider at the long term economics.
YD: What is the trend between laser vs alternative solution for the following process steps?
DM: o Drilling
µ-via drilling for HDI is slowly but clearly moving from mechanical drilling toward CO2 and picosecond-green, for substrates nanosecond-UV is used right now and select substrate drilling applications may also move toward picosecond lasers in order to drill ever smaller and precise holes
o Dicing
The vast majority of dicing is done with nanosecond-UV today.  As low-k materials become more prevalent, dicing tool manufacturers are looking to incorporate more and more femtosecond-green lasers.  Those lasers offer less thermal damage and more precise cutting.  They can remove material with very minimal collateral heating.
o Patterning
Laser Direct Imaging will push toward lower line-spacing.  Soon LDI tools from industry leaders such as Orbotech and Screen will compete against photolithography for structuring redistribution layers down to 2µm line-spacing.  Some packaging houses will want to use more suitable polymers and get away from the restriction of using photosensitive materials.  Those manufacturers are opting to use Excimer direct ablation tools from SUSS.  In all cases the tools are very expensive, so the switch will happen slowly.
o Inspection & metrology
The inspection and metrology market for packaging does not use very high end or sophisticated laser sources.  Often laser diodes are sufficient.  Most of the innovation is in the optical beam delivery, the light detection and the algorithms for analyzing the data.
YD: What type of laser technology does Coherent support (CO2, SSL, Excimer,…)?
DM: Coherent virtually offers every laser platform/architecture out there:  from CW to femtosecond, from far infrared to deep UV, from low power to many kW.  We pretty much have the full landscape covered.
YD: According to you, which laser type is the most promising in the semiconductor market?
DM: Excimer lasers are experiencing a renaissance.  People found them to be an enabling technology for flat panel display manufacturing and through the high demand for these lasers, their cost, maintenance and user friendliness has improved vastly over the last decade.  I think the new cost structure allows Excimer lasers to contribute for many more years to come.
Another tremendous growth area are ultrafast lasers, which encompasses femtosecond and picosecond pulse durations.  Those lasers have dropped by a factor of 10 in terms of cost per Watt in the last 10 years.  They have become industrially reliable and we are seeing projects in micro-electronics where hundreds of lasers are deployed over a short period of time for specific applications. 
YD: What is the main market segment which is driving Coherent’s revenue?
DM: Coherent is active in many diverse markets, but micro-electronics is the largest market for us.  Within micro-electronics we see great potential for advanced packaging applications such as substrate drilling, SiP cutting and silicon dicing.
YD: Would you position yourself mainly as a supplier of laser equipment or a laser source provider?
DM: In the advanced packaging space we are much more of a laser source manufacturer than a turn-key tool provider, but we see a growing demand for laser system from our customers and see this activity growing in the next years.
YD: Are there any market segments or process steps where you offer more laser equipment than laser source to your customers? Why?
DM: Through the Rofin acquisition, we have a great footprint in the electronics marking market.  This is for marking packages, leadframes, ICs and so on.  Here we offer a very cost effective, powerful and highly reliable “optical rail”, which is like a full tool except for the material handling.  The software we offer for these marking systems has been refined over many years and is very well respected as the benchmark for marking systems.

YD: What is the added value of your equipment? What are the competitive advantages of your products for semiconductor?
DM: We pride ourselves that we can offer customers a highly reliable, industrial product at a very competitive cost.  Our primary expertise is optics and lasers.  We believe in many cases we can help our customers by taking care of all optics related issues with their manufacturing process.  Because we offer so many different laser architectures, we feel that customers engaging with us are not pigeon-holed into a specific laser.  We don’t care what type of laser ends up serving the customer’s application best.  We just care that the customer ends up with the ideal laser, beam delivery and process parameters.  Our customers know that working with us gives them the maximum number of options.
We feel especially comfortable with harmonic wavelengths such as UV and deep UV.  Coherent has spent a lot of time perfecting harmonic generation and we know how to make reliable deep UV lasers.  UV in general is very difficult as shorter wavelengths react with all kinds of organic contaminations that are present everywhere.
YD: Which semiconductor application or process step do you see as a high interest for further laser equipment needs and investment?
DM: We think that SiP package cutting and trenching will take off and will demand a lot of laser-based tools in the coming years.  Our high power ns-UV lasers with up to 55W is very well positioned for this market.  In addition we see that some packages like finger-print sensors are best singulated by using picosecond green lasers.  In addition, low-k scribing using femtosecond green will grow significantly in the next few years.
We also believe the redistribution layer structuring by direct Excimer laser ablation will gain more traction as leading IMDs are adopting this technology.
YD: What is your analysis of the laser equipment competitive landscape? Same question for laser source competitive landscape?
DM: On the laser source side our market share has been growing steadily.  We are well positioned to address new and growing applications through our broad laser technology portfolio.  We have been able to design our sources for low cost and high performance so that even low cost competitors are less of a threat to us. 
The FEOL inspection market is dominated by only a handful of companies.  They are very international and offer extremely sophisticated tools.  Here a company like Coherent can offer state-of-the-art laser sources, but we have no ambition to offer inspection tools.
What is the status of Coherent in semiconductor and what changes do you expect in the future?  How will Coherent compete?
In the semiconductor or BEOL space, we don’t see ourselves as a tool provider.  Here we want to continue to serve the industry with cost-effective and reliable laser sources. 
In the BEOL tools are often very specialized and require geographically close proximity to the end customer.  In the BEOL space we found working in partnership-like relationships with local integrators works well.  Offering them a full optical module allows the integrator to focus their efforts in the material handling. 
YD: What do you see as the major evolutions of the laser business for the coming years?
DM: I see three technology trends on the laser front:
1) Higher power at lower cost
2) Shorter pulses down to 100s of femtoseconds
3) Shorter wavelengths down to below 300nm.
YD: In order to reduce cost, the industry is currently working on developing a panel infrastructure based for FO WLP for instance. Will Coherent leverage their equipment already available for PCB to packaging to support panel based infrastructure?
DM: In an ideal case, the panel is processed in the same time as a wafer is.  But the panel as much larger area, so the only way to achieve this is by offering higher average power lasers that allows for line beam processing.  High power can also enable lasers to expose a larger area per pulse or operate at a higher pulse repetition rate.  The higher repetition rate translates into higher throughput.
YD: What are the next steps of Coherent growth in the Advanced Packaging area?
DM: We continue to see ourselves as a source supplier, but will continue to respond to our customers’ requests to offer optical engines/rails, which will allow integrators with less laser processing prowess.
yole Dirk Muller CoherentDr. Dirk Müller is Director of Strategic Marketing at Coherent Inc., a world-wide leader in industrial lasers used for scientific, materials processing and micromachining applications.
In this role Dr. Müller explores new business opportunities in micro-electronics and aligns laser technologies to serve emerging needs.

Before his current appointment at Coherent, Dirk Müller was Product Line Manager for picosecond lasers at Coherent and prior to being PLM he was Director of Sales and Marketing at LUMERA LASER. At LUMERA LASER he played a key role in growing the company fivefold by widening the product portfolio and increasing the customer base.

Early in his professional career Dr. Dirk Müller worked as a Senior Research Scientist for Corning Inc. During his time at Corning Inc. Dr. Müller was working on the characterization of photonic-bandgap fibers and participated in demonstrating the lowest single-mode transmission loss in a photonic bandgap fiber as well as the highest waveguide birefringence ever measured in an optical fiber at that time.

During his professional career Dr. Müller has published in numerous journals, such as Science, Nature, Physical Review Letters, Optics Letters, as well as trade journals such as Laser Focus World, Photonics Spectra and Laser Technik.



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