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Ultratech aims its low-cost steppers at LEDs

The equipment maker says projection alignment lithography could help LED makers improve yields, and has 1600 systems installed in silicon fabs to back its claim.

After winning a multi-tool order with US-headquartered LED manufacturer SemiLEDs, Ultratech says it could sell hundreds of its lithography systems into this industry.

Ultratech s Star 100 systems attracted SemiLEDs with their high-resolution projection stepper lithography technology, and the San Jose, California semiconductor equipment manufacturer believes other LED makers could follow.

“When these companies were formed, they went out and bought many contact and proximity aligners,” said Arthur Zafiropoulo, Ultratech s CEO. “As they improve their technology, yield is becoming a major issue. They need to have some projection alignment systems.”

The company s projection alignment steppers have historically been sold into the silicon semiconductor industry, where their capabilities and value have led to nearly 1600 installations globally.

“These systems are the lowest cost steppers in the world, around $1 million to $1.5 million,” claimed Zafiropoulo. “They are very productive, they have throughputs of 80, 90 wafers per hour.”

With these benefits behind them, plus proof of system reliability, Ultratech is tentatively pushing the Star 100 and its other steppers for use in LED fabs.

“LED is an interesting area - we think the potential market is a few hundred systems,” Zafiropoulo said. “We are not factoring this into our business in a major way until we get more clarity as to what s happening, but we re very encouraged by this product for this market.”

Zafiropoulo says the Star 100 tool can accommodate wafers up to 6-inch diameter. With AlGaInP and GaN LED manufacturers alike using 4-inch substrates at the largest, these steppers look set for a lengthy career in the industry.

LEDs could be the next step in what appears to have been an exceptional turnaround for Ultratech, which has just reported $3.3 million profit for the three months ended September. That represents a significant improvement from the $1.7 million loss it recorded in the same period in 2007, amidst tough financial conditions generally and in particular for semiconductor equipment makers.

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