Dutch Chip Firm Takes Lumps Wednesday

With a market value of around $350 billion, Dutch-headquartered ASML (NASDAQ:ASML) is a little-known tech juggernaut that’s set to keep on growing in line with the insatiable demand for semiconductors.

The 37-year-old company, which has over 31,000 staff, is the only firm in the world capable of making the highly-complex machines that are needed to manufacture the most advanced chips.

These machines, which cost approximately $140 million each, shine exceptionally narrow beams of light onto silicon wafers that have been treated with "photoresist" chemicals. Intricate patterns are created on the wafer where the light comes into contact with the chemicals, which are carefully laid out beforehand.

This process, which leads to the formation of the all-important transistors, is known as lithography. The machines themselves are called extreme ultraviolet lithography machines, or EUV machines.

Not every lithography system that ASML makes has EUV capabilities. EUV is the company’s latest technology which it introduced for high-volume manufacturing a few years ago. DUV (deep ultraviolet) is still the workhorse of the industry.

ASML sells the relatively rare EUV machines to a handful chipmaking giants including TSMC, Samsung and Intel. Each machine reportedly has over 100,000 components and it takes 40 freight containers or four jumbo jets to ship. Last year, ASML sold just 31 of these enormous pieces of equipment, according to its financials. It has sold over 100 in total.

ASML opened Wednesday down $23.73, or 2.9%, to $783.92.