The US wants ASML to stop servicing its advanced chipmaking tools in China: Report

ASML EUV machine
(Image credit: ASML)

While Chinese chipmakers, such as SMIC, cannot procure advanced deep ultraviolet (DUV) lithography systems from ASML due to restrictions from the U.S. and Dutch governments, they can still use their existing DUV tools to produce rather advanced chips. This is not exactly appreciated by the U.S. government, so next week, it will try to urge the Dutch government to prohibit ASML from servicing already-installed tools at facilities in China, according to Reuters

Alan Estevez, a top U.S. official for export policy, will meet with Dutch officials and ASML representatives to discuss the matter next week. The report says the discussion may also include the possibility of expanding the list of Chinese chip factories that are barred from receiving Dutch equipment. If the U.S. and the Netherlands agree to limit the servicing of ASML's machines in China, this could hurt or even disrupt China's abilities to produce advanced chips using lithography equipment that its chipmakers already have. 

If ASML is restricted from servicing its installed tools at certain China fabs, this could impact its financial results (ASML's service revenue totaled $6.07 billion last year), and it could also face lawsuits from clients. 

Last year, SMIC and Huawei produced a sophisticated processor — the HiSilicon Kirin 9000S — for smartphones using SMIC's Second Generation 7nm-class fabrication process. This technology relies on multi-patterning using advanced DUV tools that SMIC procured years ago. It turned out that the companies planned to use the same production node to make processors for AI and other sensitive applications, which raised the concerns of the U.S. government. 

ASML's litho machines need regular service from qualified professionals, and any restrictions will make it harder (or perhaps impossible) for SMIC to produce advanced chips using its second-gen 7nm-class technology.

In 2022, the United States introduced export regulations requiring U.S. companies and individuals to get export licenses to sell equipment, technologies, and services used in making non-planar transistor logic chips on 14nm/16nm nodes and smaller, 3D NAND with 128 layers or more, and DRAM memory chips with a half-pitch of 18nm or less. The rules also restrict U.S. citizens and green card holders from supporting the development or production of ICs at certain China-located semiconductor fabrication facilities without a license.  

In 2023, the U.S. urged Japan, the Netherlands, and Taiwan to follow its export control rules and restrict sales of advanced fab tools for 14nm logic, 18nm DRAM, and 128-layer 3D NAND. However, specialists from these countries can still service tools already installed at advanced fabs in China, enabling companies like SMIC to produce sophisticated chips.

Anton Shilov
Freelance News Writer

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • digitalgriffin
    Do you know how the Blue LED was invented? Millions of dollars were wasted by hundreds of scientist trying to invent a Blue LED. One small Japanese engineer with a bachelors said he could solve the two big problems with creating Blue LEDs.

    He realized CVD (Chemical Vapor Depoisition) for growing an ultra pure Shapphire Crystal was vital. So he went to Florida at another facility where engineers with PhD's were working with the CVD. But because he was a lowly bachelor degree engineer, they relegated him to maintenance of the machines. They overloooked him and didn't include him in ANY of the research.

    But that worked to his advantage. Working on the machines directly taught them how they worked and how to improve them to make them even MORE effective in making ultra pure Sapphire.

    I would say more. But there is a lesson here. While the same cannot be applied to creating the machines as Litography, or even chip design as a whole, there is benefit to holding all the secrets to yourself when it comes to sensitive stuff.

    AF8d72mA41M:1655View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AF8d72mA41M&t=1655s&pp=ygUZaG93IHRoZSBibHVlIGxlZCB3YXMgbWFkZQ%3D%3D
    Reply
  • Co BIY
    digitalgriffin said:
    Do you know how the Blue LED was invented? Millions of dollars were wasted by hundreds of scientist trying to invent a Blue LED. One small Japanese engineer with a bachelors said he could solve the two big problems with creating Blue LEDs.

    That Vertasium vid is great! (as are many of his others).
    Increasingly, my concern is that the governments (US and others) are taking greater and greater steps to stymie CCP access to AI enabling tech in a way that suggests they really fear the intended use of that tech.

    The ease with which they gain cooperation, despite the financial damage, seems to indicate that they have information that can back that concern up. But they are not releasing this information to the public.

    Feels like the COVID situation where the CCP did incredible damage to the entire world but the governments of the free world decided to cover up for them either because of fear of the public's natural reaction and consequences or because of entangled self-interests (Elite capture is obviously a very real phenomenon).
    Reply
  • HaninTH
    I would hope these restrictions aren't a prayer to completely stop China from ever having these technologies at all, that would be foolhardy. The rich industrialist pushing them just want to ensure they keep their revenue flowing in at the same rate, unaffected by ANY competition.

    Sure, people can learn and reverse engineer a lot, but it takes time and a whole lot of wasted resources a long the way and then they still may not be able to make the tooling necessary for parts of the equipment simply because that was not part of the scope of knowledge ASML or whomever would pass along to their clients using the end device. Why would I tell you how to make a particular part of the equipment when it isn't central to the main use of said equipment?
    Reply
  • DavidLejdar
    And how are the Dutch supposed to make a living? I mean, it's not like there'd be much oil to drill in the Netherlands, or much space for everyone to have a mansion worth a billion, and so on, you know?
    Reply
  • nookoool
    wouldn't smic have bought or will buy 10-15 year worth of replacment and consume parts? Likely, there are local guys doing the servicing or been trained to service these machines already.
    Reply
  • GLT1963
    DavidLejdar said:
    And how are the Dutch supposed to make a living? I mean, it's not like there'd be much oil to drill in the Netherlands, or much space for everyone to have a mansion worth a billion, and so on, you know?
    i doubt they're all employed by asml, are they? the rest of the world is downsizing
    Reply
  • Vanderlindemedia
    Give me a good reason why constant intervention of the US ?

    China may be behind but eventually china will outpace the west in regards of tech.
    Reply
  • digitalgriffin
    Vanderlindemedia said:
    Give me a good reason why constant intervention of the US ?

    China may be behind but eventually china will outpace the west in regards of tech.
    I could. But then politics aren't allowed here. Be careful where you go with that question.
    Reply
  • Pei-chen
    The level of fear some country have toward another country shows how some country believe they cannot complete in the long term and have to hold on to their advantage as long as possible
    Reply
  • xterx1234
    Vanderlindemedia said:
    Give me a good reason why constant intervention of the US ?

    China may be behind but eventually china will outpace the west in regards of tech.
    It is always about competition and protectionism and it will always be. Avoiding politics as much as possible, I remember that when Huawei beats Apple into phone shipments, the ban not only on Huawei but to literally every chinese tech company. The US does not care if their own companies oppose, maybe they learn that the Chinese will overpower the Americans using their "own" tech or maybe all of "their" techs. It is always about protectionism and trying to get above the competition. The question is how much pettiness and sanctions can the American Government do to hold its advantage. For me, it is always about competition. Nothing else.



    PS. I tried to be non political as possible, if there is something a little bit political please correct me.
    Reply