Although you may not have heard of ASML, you've certainly heard of its customers. The company provides lithography equipment to major semiconductor manufacturers around the world, including Intel. That means ASML plays a crucial role in driving down process sizes and pushing Moore's Law forward. Extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) is widely understood to be one of the next steps on that road. The company has been developing extreme ultraviolet lithography tools for some time now, but production-ready versions of that hardware have proven elusive. For just one example, an AMD presentation (PDF) projected that EUV "could be ready for high volume manufacturing of semiconductor chips in 2012 or 2013" all the way back in 2007. Today, GlobalFoundries has only committed to "EUV compatibility at key levels" for its upcoming 7-nm process, and TSMC expects to begin deploying EUV technology in 2020 at its purported 5-nm node.
If those companies were holding their breath thanks to ASML, they might be able to exhale a bit now. According to ASML itself and reporting from EE Times, the company has achieved a major milestone on the way to delivering production-ready EUV tools to its customers. Thanks to what the company calls "an upgraded EUV source" install in one of its own Twinscan NXE:3400B step-and-scan tools, ASML says that tool can now achieve its internal performance target of 125 wafers per hour of throughput. EE Times says that this source delivers 250 W of EUV photons, a figure the site says "is directly related to productivity." For perspective, EE Times says that EUV sources were limited to just 25 W in 2012.
Now that ASML has demonstrated a functioning version of this EUV source, the company says it will begin focusing on "achieving the availability that is required for high-volume manufacturing as well as further improving productivity." ASML says its EUV equipment order backlog grew to €2.8 billion in its second-quarter financial results, a development it says is indicative that "preparation for high-volume manufacturing is well underway in both logic and DRAM." EE Times reports that the majority of those orders are for Intel's fabs, but the blue team hasn't publicly commented on when it plans to insert EUV tools into its production process. Whenever major semiconductor companies do begin using EUV to make production chips, however, we can be sure we'll hear about it.