Will advanced technology enable the U.S. to increase its share of the rapidly growing flat-panel display (FPD) market? The answer may be in advances in flat-panel processing equipment such as the new Continuum etch system developed at Lam Research Corp., the semiconductor equipment manufacturer. Continuum marks Lam's entry in the FPD etch market where it hopes to leverage the advanced technology that supports its semiconductor leadership position. For Lam, the prize is garnering a share of the U.S. FPD etch market, which could grow to $220 million by the year 2000. (The total market for flat-panel displays was $11.4 billion in 1995 and is projected to exceed $22 billion by the year 2001, says Stanford Resources Inc.) Karl Heiman, director of product marketing at Lam, says the Continuum etch system is a process-equipment response to FPD end-user demands for display innovation. "The market wants larger displays with increased resolution, wider viewing angle, higher frame rates, greater brightness, full gray-scale, and lower power consumption." In terms of FPD manufacturing, Heiman says the demands translate to a need for improved process control, while maintaining high throughput, low particle contamination, and a superior cost of ownership. A key enabler in the Continuum system is Lam's development of a high-density plasma source, the Transformer Coupled Plasma (TCP), which has garnered the leading share of high-density semiconductor etch applications and offers inherent advantages. TCP technology provides independent control over ion energy and density, while producing a uniform plasma over large substrate surface areas, says Heiman. The ease with which it is scaled to larger substrates will enable Continuum to etch several generations of FPDs, ranging from 320-by-340-mm substrates to 600-by-720-mm, he adds. To further enhance etch results, Lam developed a proprietary large-area electrostatic chuck for Continuum. Heiman says the chuck, the first commercially available for large-area glass substrates, provides active substrate temperature control while improving etch rate uniformity and reducing particle generation. Featuring a horizontal seven-sided transport cluster tool platform, Continuum accommodates up to four process chambers and can be easily configured to meet a wide variety of research-and-development, pilot-production, and volume-manufacturing requirements. Throughput is dependent on the specific process applications and system configuration, though initial targets are to exceed 50 substrates per hour for typical amorphous-silicon, silicon-nitride, and indium-tin-oxide etch processes in a three-chamber configuration. The U.S. Display Consortium awarded Lam the contract in 1994 to leverage TCP technology for FPD etch applications. Assisting Lam in the two-year research-and-development program were partners dpiX (a spinoff of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the University of Wisconsin.