ASML Holding N.V.
ASML Holding N.V.
Incorporated: 1984 as ASM Lithography Holding
Employees: 7,070 (2001)
Sales: EUR $1.84 billion (US $1.80 billion) (2001)
Stock Exchanges: Amsterdam N.V. Euronext NASDAQ
Ticker Symbol: ASML (NASDAQ), ASML (Amsterdam)
NAIC: 333295 Semiconductor Machinery Manufacturing
ASML Holding N.V. strives to be the world’s largest manufacturer of semiconductor equipment in an industry that has seen many ups and downs. A global leader in advanced lithography (or imaging) systems, and one of the top five manufacturers of sophisticated technology systems for the semiconductor industry, ASML (originally called ASM Lithography Holding) offers an integrated portfolio of lithography, track and thermal systems, primarily for developing complex integrated circuits. Competing head-to-head with Canon Inc. and Nikon Corporation for domination in the semiconductor lithography equipment arena, ASML has placed fifth two years running on VLSI Research’s top-ten list of semiconductor equipment manufacturers. Nikon finished third place in 2001, while Canon ranked sixth.
ASML grabbed market share not by thinking big, but rather by thinking small. The company is built on the concept of creating smaller and faster microchips for use in nearly all electronic goods. The stepper is the crucial and costly piece of equipment used in creating microchips by photographically imprinting circuit patterns on large silicon wafers that are later cut into dozens or hundreds of chips. Analysts maintain that ASML’s steppers are of higher quality than competitors’ products because they use a modular architecture rather than the more costly and problematic build-disassemble-ship-reassemble production process of other semiconductor manufacturers.
The Foundation of ASML
Established in The Netherlands in 1984, ASML was originally a shared venture between Dutch companies Royal Philips Electronics and Advanced Semiconductor Materials (now ASM International). The original target customer base was European and American companies. ASM International had already begun selling its wafer stepper when the joint venture was declared.
Initially focused on front-end thermal-chemical tools, ASM International was founded in 1968. The company began by manufacturing semiconductor process equipment, grew exponentially in both front- and back-end product lines, and opened a back-end operation in Hong Kong in 1975, where it still has an engineering and manufacturing site. An initial public offering (IPO) was made in 1981, and stock continues to trade on NASDAQ and the Euronext Stock Exchange in Amsterdam.
Financial pressures created by a mid-1980s chip industry downturn led ASM to sell its 50 percent ownership of ASML to Philips in 1988, the same year ASML entered the Asian market. This opened the door to competition between the two companies. Since, ASML has consistently ranked significantly higher than ASM International in VLSI Research studies of semiconductor equipment manufacturers.
Royal Philips Electronics has a long, illustrious history. The groundwork was built in The Netherlands in 1891 for what would become one of the world’s largest electronics companies. Philips originally made its name developing carbon-filament lamps at the dawn of the 20th century, then created a research laboratory in 1914 to study physical and chemical occurrences to further encourage product advancements. The company introduced the medical X-ray tube, electric shavers, and the television camera tube. Philips is now a global leader in digital technologies for televisions and displays, wireless communication, speech recognition, video compression, storage and optical products, and the underlying semiconductor technology making future technological breakthroughs possible. Its partnership with ASM International in 1984 to create ASML helped push Philips into the semiconductor industry.
Divesting to Invest in the Future
Philips divested ASML in 1993 as part of a general plan for Philips to focus more on its core electronic activities. By then, ASML was primed to grow and expand on its own. It became a publicly traded company in February 1995 in a US$170 million transaction. Two years later, high demand for new stock pushed Philips to complete a US$266 million secondary offering of ASML shares. This brought the company down to its declared target of 25 percent ownership. In June 2000, Philips further reduced its interest in ASML to 6.7 percent.
The number of ASML employees had grown from 84 in 1984 to 4,377 in 2000. After the successful 2001 merger with Silicon Valley Group (SVG), company size nearly doubled. Global headquarters remained in Veldhoven, The Netherlands, while manufacturing sites and research and development facilities were located in Connecticut and California in the United States, and the Netherlands. Training facilities and development centers existed in Japan, Korea, The Netherlands, Taiwan, and the United States. The company had over 50 sales and service organizations throughout 16 countries.
Overview of ASML Technology
Semiconductors—the integrated-circuit chips that control everything from cellular phones and computers to aircraft navigational systems and elevators—are increasingly appearing in every conceivable electronic consumer goods, from appliances to greeting cards. This escalating need for integrated-circuit chips does not, however, guarantee smooth economic waters for the semiconductor industry. Partly because semiconductor manufacture is extremely capital-intensive—stepper machines cost as much as US$8 million each—the industry regularly faces temporary softening and shakeouts.
ASML has four distinct product divisions and one subsidiary: their Lithography division is based in Veldhoven, The Netherlands, and Wilton, Connecticut; the Track division works out of San Jose, California; the Thermal division is based in Scotts Valley, California; Special Applications Division is also located in Veldhoven; and MaskTools, the subsidiary, is in Santa Clara, California.
The company’s Lithography division designs, develops, and manufactures equipment used to transfer circuit patterns onto wafers. The focus of the division has been to continually shrink the size of the integrated chip through smaller line widths, reducing resolution or feature size. This focus has greatly enhanced performance by allowing electricity to move more quickly across the chip. A smaller feature size also boosts the number of chips that can be imprinted on the wafer. ASML’s Lithography division products include the TWINS CAN and Micrascan advanced lithography systems.
The Track division presents wafer track systems that complete the repetitive procedures of the wafer before and after lithographic exposure. These systems coat, develop, and bake light-sensitive material (or photoresist) on the wafer’s surface. ASML has created an integrated-photoresist system, offering both service and support. Combined solutions such as this are increasingly important for each new generation of integrated chips. Product lines include the ProCell 90-SE and 88-Series photoresist processing systems.
ASML’s Thermal Division builds large-batch and single-wafer thermal processing furnaces, as well as atmospheric pressure chemical-vapor deposition systems. This division creates proven thermal technology and expands new technologies to meet the growing need for highly productive, cost-effective, integrated-thermal systems. Thermal products include the APNext Vertical Cluster system, Xcelerate single-wafer furnace-RTP system, vertical processors, and thermal reactors.
The Special Applications division of ASML works on solutions for application markets by incorporating products and services from all company divisions for customers with unique requirements. It also offers a variety of system upgrade programs for clients using older technology. This division was formed in March 1998 to pursue lithography market opportunities for custom imaging solutions outside the area of the company’s mainstream markets. Special Applications products include the PAS 5500, PAS 5000, and Micralign lithography systems.
ASML MaskTools is a wholly owned subsidiary of ASML. Its focus has been to advance improvements to the photomask, essential for printing integrated-circuit patterns when the line width of the integrated circuit is shorter than the wavelength of light used to print the circuit. ASML MaskTools has worked to expand the limits of lithography by creating design simulation software that acts as a conduit between semiconductor design and development.
Semiconductor Industry Ups and Downs in the 1990s
The semiconductor industry has historically seen demand booms and busts. During the rapid growth of the personal computer market in the early- to mid-1990s, chip manufacturers invested heavily in plant facilities, which led to oversupply in many key chip markets. The industry was then hit hard by a slowdown in demand for personal computers.
The industry saw a decline after 1995. Global chip sales were at US$50 billion in 1990; by 1995 that figure had grown to US$144 billion, but dropped to US$132 billion in 1996. That same year, ASML introduced its step-and-scan system, which outpaced competitors by making 100 wafers per hour as opposed to the standard 60.
ASML is committed to providing customers with leadingedge technology that is production-ready at the earliest possible date. ASML technology is supported by process solutions, enabling customers to sustain a competitive edge in the marketplace.
A minor surge in 1997 brought sales up to US$137 billion, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association. A slowdown occurred in 1998, but the industry rebounded and growth continued through 1999. The year-end results were a sign of both the recovery and ASML’s strong standing in leading-edge products. The industry experienced another successful year in 2000, as revenues soared to nearly US$204 billion, a 37 percent increase over 1999 sales of US$149 billion. In the first half of 2000, orders were placed for 217 systems, compared to 133 orders in the first half of 1999.
Further Inroads in the Late 1990s
In February 1999, ASML joined with Applied Materials to develop the SCALPEL electron-beam projection lithography (EPL) technology. According to Bill Brinkman, Bell Labs’ physical sciences research vice-president, this would be “a tremendous breakthrough for semiconductor manufacturers building the next generations of powerful chips.” Partnering with rival company Applied Materials gave an important boost to ASML’s future advanced technology plans and spoke to ASML’s practice of competing, yet cooperating when necessary to assist its customer base.
The following month, the U.S. Department of Energy and ASML came to an agreement that allowed ASML to participate in the Extreme Ultraviolet LLC program, developing extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) lithography technology. Under agreement conditions, ASML promised to construct a plant in the United States, equivalent to its facility in Veldhoven, using primarily American-made parts. ASML was concurrently involved in a European plan to develop EUV lithography, called the Euclides program. Two years later, as key ASML customers declared a preference for the EUV solution, ASML withdrew from the SCALPEL EPL venture.
In June 1999, ASML acquired MaskTools, a business unit of MicroUnity Systems Engineering Inc. of Sunnyvale, California. Declaring the need “to bring more than hardware to the customer,” ASML Vice-Ppresident of U.S. Technology Development Doug Marsh said the capabilities of MaskTool’s MaskRigger to ASML equipment was one of the values the company was looking to add to its product line.
ASML CEO often years Willem D. Maris, retired in January 2000 and was replaced by former Philips executive Doug Dunn. Maris had built ASML into the number two supplier in the world, for a time surpassing Canon and second only to Nikon. Severe softening of the industry in 2001 would scramble the top ten rankings of chip manufacturers, but ASML would remain steady during tumultuous times at number five. Dunn had been with Philips since 1993, as the head of Philips Semiconductors, and became the CEO of their Consumer Electronics division.
In July 2000, the chip business made an important move to larger wafers. A watershed event for the industry, makers stepped up from the standard 8-inch wafer to a much more cost-efficient 12-inch wafer (which the industry calls 300-millimeter wafers). ASML offered its own 300-millimeter product, TWINSCAN, a harbinger of a new chapter in the expansion of the company, incorporating new concepts and features. This seismic change allowed chipmakers to put twice as many chips on a single wafer, saving up to 30 percent in total costs. ASML, now the world’s second largest maker of scanners and steppers, reported higher than expected first-half profits and expected gains in the second half of the year.
ASML broke into the Japanese semiconductor market in December 2000, marking a considerable coup for the company whose chief competitors had always been Japan’s Nikon and Canon. But tough times were just ahead, and all of the rival semiconductor creators were going to feel the sting.
2001: Worst Slump in Industry History
The year 2000 started out strong for ASML and its competitors. ASML shipped a record 368 systems. But historically, slowdowns follow every boom in the chip industry. Market analysts had been predicting strong chip sales through 2001 and into 2002, but high-tech profits plunged in 2001, bringing with it the worst deceleration in semiconductor industry history.
In March 2001, ASML announced that it expected its financial results to be impacted by continued softening in the demand for lithography tools. While the company had previously predicted that it would ship a number of systems equal to production, it had become evident that 2001 sales would not equal those of 2000. A hiring freeze was put in place.
At the same time, ASML moved to acquire Silicon Valley Group (SVG), the only U.S. player in the lithography arena, and a company with an attractive business history with Intel. The road to acquisition was littered with potholes—most notably an argument by members of the House Armed Services Committee, who charged that the deal’s implication for U.S. national security necessitated further study because SVG’s technology was used in spy satellites. Powerful lobbying by U.S. lawmakers and the semiconductor industry persuaded the Bush administration to take a softer line, and in May 2001, the US$1.6 billion transaction was complete. But there were strings attached to the deal. ASML and SVG were given six months to sell SVG’s Tinsley division, makers of optical equipment for military and aerospace applications. Tinsley was sold by year’s end to SSG Precision Optronics. The acquisition put ASML in a position to claim the top spot of lithographic equipment manufacturers. Rival Nikon shipped 270 lithography systems in 1999, while ASML/SVG combined sold 245 units.
- Royal Philips Electronics and Advanced Semiconductor Materials (later named ASM International) launch ASML as a joint venture.
- Company ends joint venture relationship with ASM International.
- Company ends joint venture relationship with Royal Philips Electronics.
- ASML is listed at Euronext Stock Exchange in Amsterdam and NASDAQ.
- ASML introduces its step-and-scan system.
- Company develops extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) lithography technology and acquires MaskTools.
- Company acquires Silicon Valley Group (SVG).
After a stellar year came a profit warning in July 2001, as ASML reported a loss of US$422.4 million. Hit hard by the industry downturn, ASML actually had slightly better than expected results, according to industry analysts. In response to the slowdown, ASML closed factories, discontinued product lines, and cut its workforce by 13 percent. A month later, ASML was hit hard with the cancellation of a US$100 million order by Intel, which pulled out after ASML failed to deliver equipment due to technical issues. ASML would announce net sales of EUR $1.84 billion for the year ending December 31, 2001, compared to net sales of EUR $3.1 billion for the previous year.
Despite the steep fall in revenue, results exceeded expectations of analysts and raised some hopes that the chip industry was beginning to emerge from its worst slowdown. Profits industrywide were much lower than the previous year, but they represented a rise compared to the preceding three months. ASML remained pessimistic that the semiconductor market would bounce back before the end of the year. Unlike some of its competitors, it dismissed hopes of a recovery in late 2001, instead cautiously predicted a turnaround in the second half of 2002.
As a result of the continuing downturn in the semiconductor industry, ASML announced in October 2001 that it would further cut its global workforce by nearly 1,400 positions in an effort to speed up the assimilation of Silicon Valley Group. The move brought total job losses to 2,000—23 percent of ASML’s workforce.
2002 Patent Infringement Lawsuit
Adding further frustration was a lawsuit brought on by Nikon in January 2002. The suit sought to halt all ASML sales in the United States. Specifically, Nikon asked the U.S. International Trade Commission to prevent sales of ASML’s leading-edge lithography tools, claiming that ASML was infringing on seven of its patents. ASML responded publicly the following month, asserting that all seven Nikon patents were invalid; the official response was to be filed in Federal District Court in San Jose, California, in March.
The Future of ASML
If past performance is any indication, ASML will likely work through any tough times ahead. The semiconductor industry has a governing law, predicted by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore, that the power of microprocessors doubles every 18 months. Historically, this has largely held true. By virtue of this regular increase in the need for ever-efficient semiconductors, the industry has bounced back from intermittent slumps and ultimately thrived.
ASML Lithography; ASML Special Applications; ASML Thermal; ASML Track.
Applied Materials; Canon Inc.; Nikon Corporation; KLA-Tencor.
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