Japanese to become a significant player in chip-making in the future

Chipmakers spent two decades investing in a revolutionary fresh method to push the boundaries of physics and cram more transistors into silicon chips. Now that technology is on the cusp of going mainstream, thanks to a secret Japanese business that has developed the ability to manipulate light from squid fishing to cinema projection apps.

Ushio Inc. announced a key milestone in July, perfecting the powerful, ultra-precise lights needed to test chip designs based on extreme ultraviolet lithography or EUV, the process by which the next generation of semiconductors will be produced. The Japanese business has thus become a significant player in chipmaking in the future.

“Most of the infrastructure is now prepared,” said Koji Naito, chief executive in an interview. “Testing machinery was one of the items that held back EUV. With that piece in location, manufacturing effectiveness and returns can increase.”

Ushio’s developments reinforce its position among a coterie of unknown Japanese firms that are indispensable for producing consumer electronics worldwide. The firm based in Tokyo has created a light source for machinery used to experiment what is known as buttons: plastic squares mildly larger than a CD case that serves as a stencil for chip models. These templates must be totally ideal, as even a small flaw in one of them can make any chip unusable in a big batch.

That’s where Ushio is coming in. Its technology utilizes lasers to vaporize liquid tin into plasma and generate light that is nearer to X-rays in wavelength than the human eye range. That light enables chipmakers to detect prospective product defects. This method takes a room-sized device that feels like a death ray for sci-fi and involves operation by a group of individuals. The EUV company will begin to contribute to profit from the next fiscal year after 15 years of growth, Naito said, without providing further information.