Insights overview

Redefining ‘Possible’: NTS and ASML’s partnership on the YieldStar MMSA

- December 12, 2023

In the world of advanced technology, intensive partnerships are the cornerstones of innovation. They demand unwavering commitment, resilience, and a shared vision. For over the past ten years, NTS and ASML have exemplified this with their partnership on the YieldStar MMSA. Not only has it endured but also redefined what’s possible. This year’s celebration, marking the delivery of the 1000th MMSA module, has given us a good reason to sit down with ASML, a couple of our team members from NTS, and look back at this remarkable journey.

The YieldStar project

The world runs on semiconductors. And the YieldStar system, developed by ASML, is an advanced metrology tool used in semiconductor manufacturing. Its primary function is to precisely measure critical dimensions (CD) and overlay, crucial parameters for ensuring semiconductor device quality and performance.

What makes the YieldStar special and challenging is its ability to perform these measurements at a nanometer-scale level, in real-time, and within the context of complex three-dimensional semiconductor structures. It uses cutting-edge optics, sensors, and scatterometry techniques to achieve this high precision. The YieldStar is crucial for process control, helping semiconductor manufacturers maintain product quality, reduce defects, and improve yields in the rapidly evolving semiconductor industry, where the demands for smaller, more powerful chips continue to grow. At the heart of this technology is the Main Module Sub Assembly or MMSA in short – an intricate part of the Yieldstar that NTS has been producing for ASML for the past decade.

The very first challenge

NTS has played a significant role in every wafer measured by a Yieldstar system over the past 10 years. But when they started working with ASML on this project, they didn’t know about the challenges ahead. One of the first challenges was understanding the complexities of the YieldStar module. When Dick Jansen, Team lead for cleanrooms at NTS, first saw it, he had doubts. “It was a very small and complicated system,” he remembers. “When I visited ASML and saw the design, I realized this was unlike anything we had worked on. On my way back, all I could think was, ‘How will we make it at NTS?'”

But, as Hubert Ketelaar, System Delivery manager at ASML, also notes, it was NTS’s remarkable “can-do” attitude that got the partnership started. “With NTS, I appreciate their positive mindset and their ability to organize and make things happen,” he says. “I like that they are not bureaucratic. They say ‘yes, it’s difficult, but let’s figure it out together.’

“With NTS, I appreciate their positive mindset and their ability to organize and make things happen,”

Hubert Ketelaar
System Delivery manager at ASML
Mechatronic module with mechanical engineering at NTS

Overcoming doubts and crafting success

The system comprises over 4000 simple and complex components, which is a formidable task for any team. While ASML provided the theoretical knowledge, the practical know-how came from NTS. The team started from the ground up, setting up a production facility for this endeavor.

“With Mark Meenhuis, another colleague in the core team, we began to establish the cleanrooms, the assembly area, and everything else needed to manufacture the MMSA. There was a lot of innovative thinking that went into it,” Dick said. He emphasizes that the commitment to success was unwavering. “We knew the team would do everything possible to deliver a perfect product to ASML,” he says. “We were always dedicated to achieving the required results. This held true for everyone, both in the factory and in the office.” After the first year, seven systems were successfully produced, and by the second year we produced a total of 18 systems.

Meeting increased demand with agility

The journey with ASML also took a significant turn after the delivery of the 500th MMSA when a substantial increase in market demand required a rapid expansion of capabilities. This involved creating additional cleanroom space and recruiting a talented workforce. As the team grew to more than 30 members, the workspace expanded from 350 square meters to an impressive 1600 square meters. All of this resulted in an impressive ramp-up of 500 MMSA units in just three years, demonstrating NTS’s remarkable agility and responsiveness during challenging times

A winning partnership in action

A significant reason for the success of this project was the close working relationship between NTS  and ASML. There was trust in the process and for every modification needed, there was early involvement of the whole team. NTS went above and beyond, to ensure the success of their customer – improving, modifying and problem solving where needed.

As a partner, NTS was not just focussed on overcoming challenges, but also about continuous improvement and evolving together. Patrick van Bezouw, Commercial Manager at NTS, provides an example, “Our Development and Engineering (D&E) expertise centered on value engineering. We worked on certain modifications to enhance the design and reduce costs, achieving a significant cost reduction for ASML.”

Delivering excellence

Quality and on-time delivery are at the core of every customer partnership at NTS. As a first-tier supplier, they knew that maintaining exacting standards was non-negotiable. In the words of the customer, Hubert from ASML, “For me, a benchmark of delivering high quality and on-time performance is that I never had to arrange a meeting with the quality team at NTS because there was never a reason to.” Even during the phase of supply chain challenges in recent years, NTS stood tall. Bastian Kattenpoel Oude Heerink, Account Manager for ASML at NTS, remarks, “I must also commend the lots of credits go to the purchasing team for their remarkable performance during very challenging times. We never experienced a production stoppage.”

A Legacy of success

As this project gently comes to an end, there remains a clear appreciation for the product in the market. NTS will continue to be connected with this system in the nearby future. Yet, as we look back, we recognize the valuable lessons learned from a decade of YieldStar MMSA under NTS’s care. Bastian at NTS reflects, “When we consider the product’s entire lifespan, it improved our skills to a higher level. It also refined NTS’s supply chain management skills to perfection.”

“There were many design changes and engineering adjustments over the last 10 years.”

Hubert Ketelaar
System Delivery manager at ASML

Hubert Ketelaar confirms, “There were many design changes and engineering adjustments over the last 10 years. We are pleased by NTS, and our conversation continues to remain open.”

For Dick, who has been part of this effort from its beginning, there have been numerous memorable moments. Substantial challenges, significant milestones, and a steep learning curve were all part of the journey. “I truly enjoyed working with our dedicated and motivated team. We realized how early involvement and close collaboration with the customer benefited both parties.” With increased capacity and enhanced capabilities, he is eager to apply this knowledge to assist other customers in the semiconductor and analytical market.

A decade to remember

The NTS-ASML collaboration on the Yieldstar MMSA shines as a prime example of what can be achieved through the blend of dedication, innovation, and trust. This remarkable journey has not only pushed the boundaries of technology but has also strengthened the bonds of collaboration. As we celebrate a decade of success, we eagerly anticipate a promising future filled with possibilities, where NTS and ASML continue to shape the landscape of semiconductor manufacturing.

Accelerating the future
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