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First sale puts Nearfield Instruments on the path to maturity

Alexander Pil
Leestijd: 10 minuten

Nearfield Instruments ended 2020 on a high note. The Rotterdam-based TNO spinoff shipped its first metrology system to an undisclosed customer. Its scanning probe microscope – the Quadra – is capable of sensing challenging 3D semiconductor structures, at a sufficiently high speed to be used in chip mass production. How did a small startup manage to carve out a place for itself in that highly competitive market?

It took Nearfield Instruments (NFI) ten years of development, tinkering and engineering, but in December, the Rotterdam-based company finally announced that it had sold its first machine. Founder and CTO Hamed Sadeghian isn’t allowed to disclose who purchased the high-end metrology system, but chances are that it’s Samsung. Together with investment fund Innovation Industries, the Korean chip giant put ten million euros into NFI in 2017. In the second round of investment, in 2019, Samsung bought another stake. “It’s a big player in the semiconductor industry,” is all Sadeghian is prepared to divulge.

NFI’s Quadra metrology machine is intended for chip companies like Samsung. Such systems are often optical in nature, but for the most advanced chips, that has become inadequate. The chip structures are completely three-dimensional, the details too small and the channels too narrow and deep. There’s an urgent need for a solution because a few misplaced atoms can already have major consequences for the chip’s operation.

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