IEEE Transactions on Magnetics

E-beam writing: A next-generation lithography approach for thin-film head critical features

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Magnetic recording areal densities using magnetoresistive (MR) head technology are increasing at annual rates in excess of 60% per year and in some applications as great as 100% per year. Today, the critical features of the thin-film head can be patterned with the same optical lithography techniques used by the semiconductor industry. However, with the assumption that areal density increases in magnetic recording are maintained, within the next five years, head lithography requirements will exceed semiconductor roadmap projections. This paper describes the use of e-beam lithography as an alternative to optical lithography for the fabrication of critical features in the thin-film head. In particular, the unique geometry of the head structure, the low density of critical head features on the wafer, and the relatively low wafer volume requirements for thin-film heads allow e-beam lithography to become a viable manufacturing alternative for thin-film head fabrication. More important, e-beam lithography is ideally suited for producing thin-film head structures at a development level prior to the optimization of manufacturable optical processing.