The rise of nanoimprint lithography in semiconductor manufacturing

Semiconductor devices mainly require the use of photolithography technologies. However, the emergence of new devices with higher performance along with demands for complex patterning and biocompatibility has triggered the need for a new, lower cost, patterning process.

Various lithography technologies are competing to deliver these improvements. The most promising is NanoImprint Lithography (NIL), which has developed as a potential cost-effective solution to create nanoscale patterns over large surfaces.

NIL is based on mechanical replication and is not limited by optical diffraction. It can potentially achieve resolution below 5nm and has very good critical defect (CD) control at very low cost.

Thus, due to its excellent properties, NIL could satisfy a wide range of semiconductor applications. It appears to be a feasible cost-reduction path for optical photonic elements and biotechnology devices or biochips, as well as storage memory applications, competing with holographic lithography, injection molding and high-end extreme ultra-violet (EUV) lithographic steppers.

Although the NIL equipment business is still a niche market for semiconductor applications, it is expected to expand more than 20% Compound Annual Growth Rate, reaching annual revenues of around ~$145M by 2024 for production.
Yole Développement estimated, in its report Nano-Imprint Technology Trends for Semiconductor Applications 2019 the overall semiconductor NIL equipment market including R&D and production to be worth around $60M-$80M in 2018.

Demand for NIL is driven today by the optical photonic elements requiring stringent and complex patterns in augmented reality, 3D sensing and datacom/telecom.

In addition, NIL is fueled by biochips that rely on biocompatible materials at the micro- or nano-scale.

The NIL process has also gained significant interest for storage memory applications to replace steppers for applications requiring resolution below 20 nm, as front-end high-end steppers are too costly at this resolution. Thus, NIL is a very attractive cost-effective choice at large volume for the next generation of 3D NAND memory.

From the manufacturing perspective, the NIL equipment market for optical photonic elements is driven by augmented reality, 3D sensing and datacom applications. It is much more diversified, with a few equipment suppliers, such as EVG, SUSS MicroTec and Obducat, compared to the market in biochips and storage memory, where EVG and Canon respectively claim 100% market share.

There is one clear leader among the NIL suppliers at each feature size scale. In the nanometer range, EVG is dominant, especially in Diffractive Optical Elements (DOE). SUSS MicroTec has taken strong market share in the microscale range.

Most, but not all, of the companies have developed expertise in both optical photonic elements and biochips. Canon is the only system vendor who has developed expertise in the storage memory space.


Amandine Pizzagalli is a Technology & Market Analyst, Equipment & Materials – Semiconductor Manufacturing, at Yole Développement (Yole). Amandine is part of the development of the Semiconductor & Software division of Yole with the production of reports and custom consulting projects. She is in charge of comprehensive analyses focused on semiconductor equipment, materials and manufacturing processes.
Previously, Amandine worked as Process engineer on CVD and ALD processes for semiconductor applications at Air Liquide. Amandine was based in Japan during one year to manage these projects.
She has spoken in numerous international conferences and has authored or co-authored more than 10 papers.
Amandine holds an international MBA from IAE Lyon, School of Management (France) and an electronic engineering master degree from the engineering school, CPE Lyon (France) with an added degree, focusing on semiconductor manufacturing technology, from KTH Royal institute of technology (Sweden).

Related report:

Nano-Imprint Technology Trends for Semiconductor Applications 2019
© Upper Austrian Research – PROFACTOR, Hartwig Zörgl

Nano-Imprint Technology Trends for Semiconductor Applications 2019
Nano-Imprint Lithography is revived by photonics and biochips as well as front-end memory applications.