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450mm debate remains in the hot seat

Posted: 21 Jul 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:450mm? semiconductor? trade show? chipmakers?

The 450mm debate rages on as Intel Corp., Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd (TSMC) push for 450mm fabs by 2012 or so. At the Semicon West Trade Show last week, SEMI and many fab-tool vendors telegraphed their position on 450mm, reiterating that the economics do not add up for the next-generation wafer size.

Representing a large share of the fab-tool community, SEMI also released its long-awaited white paper on 450mm technology. The trade group said it could cost ''well over $25 billion" in R&D to fund 450mm technology.

"The semiconductor industry cannot afford to make such an investment based on future 'expectations' without an objective analysis of cost and benefit,'' said the trade group.

Based on its simulations, SEMI's Equipment Productivity Working Group concluded that ''450mm wafer scale-up represents a low-return, high-risk investment opportunity for the entire semiconductor ecosystem; 450mm should, therefore, be an extremely low priority area for industry investment.''

Stanley Myers, president and CEO, SEMI, said 450mm technology is somewhat like the industry's ill-fated efforts in 157nm lithography. The IC industry spent billions of dollars in 157nm development, but Intel dropped its program and the rest of the industry followed suit.

Presence of blind alley
"In other words, the IC industry led the equipment community down a ''blind alley,'' Myers said. "Like 157nm lithography, the prime backers behind 450mm technology are also leading the industry down a blind alley, he added.

Leading fab-tool makers agree, saying it is too expensive. "Besides, there are still productivity gains to be made with current 300mm fabs," said Tom St. Dennis, senior VP and general manager, Silicon Systems Group, Applied Materials Inc.

"We are not investing in it today,'' St. Dennis said, adding that, "Applied still does not ''see the benefit.''

At the other side of the fence, chipmaking consortium International Sematech recently provided an update on its next-generation 300mm and 450mm programs, saying that they are on track and making steady progress.

Willingness to pay
Some tool vendors said that they would devise 450mm tools if a chipmaker will be willing to pay for the R&D. But at the SEMI press event, fab-tool vendors spoke out against 450mm.

John Ellis, VP, global standards and technology, SEMI, said Sematech's figures simply don't add up. But he added that at the event we aren't here to beat up on International Sematech Manufacturing Initiative.

Because Intel, Samsung and TSMC are pushing for 450mm, fab-tool vendors are not rushing to develop 450mm tools. Vendors will continue to advance their 300mm tools. "We don't see any reason to change our priorities,'' said Skip Miller, director of strategic marketing, ASML Holding NV.

Views on 450mm
"Going to 450mm provides no real benefit for the industry," said Masayuki Tomoyasu, senior VP and chief engineer, Tokyo Electron Ltd.

''Cost and risk are too intensive for 450mm," said Walter Class, a consultant, who represents Axcelis Technologies Inc., at the event.

''Scaling of plasma tools is nontrivial when shifting to 450mm," said Dave Hemker, VP of new product development, Lam Research Corp., referring to chemical vapor deposition, etch and related technologies.

Hemker said he is more worried about developing 300mm tools for the 32nm node and beyond. 450mm is only geared for limited customers such as TSMC, Intel and Samsung. "Vendors like Lam can't afford to build tools for a subset of customers," he added.

"So, when does it make sense to build 450mm fabs? Probably it will be in the distant future. But there is no reason to have a 450mm fab for the near future," said Iddo Hadar, chief technology officer, foundation engineering group, Applied Materials Inc.

"We're not saying never; it only doesn't make sense now," he stressed.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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