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Analyst: Stay away from 450mm

Posted: 20 Apr 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:450mm transition? chip equipment? 450mm wafer tool?

Semiconductor equipment vendors should boycott development of tools for the transition to 450mm wafers, The Information Network analyst warned, saying chip gear vendors were the losers in the transition to 300mm wafers and would likely not benefit from the next move to larger wafers.

There has been an ongoing debate about when, if ever, the industry would transition to 450mm wafers, which would enable chipmakers to produce 2.25x more die per wafer. Big companies with deep pocketsIntel Corp., Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Samsunghave been pushing for 450mm prototype fabs by 2012. Some believe 450mm fabs will not appear for at least a decade, if ever, because of the R&D costs involved.

It has estimated that the cost of building and equipping a 450mm fab could be more than $10 billion.

Chip equipment companies complained after the 300mm transition that they got stuck with the cost of developing the new tools and that they were left holding the bag after the dot com bubble burst and the chip industry sunk into the 2001 downturn with few orders.

Some chip equipment executivesnotably Novellus Systems Inc. chairman and CEO Richard Hillhave spoken out against the transition to 450mm. But sources within the chip industry have said equipment vendors are ultimately going to make the tools that customers want to buy and that even some of the loudest critics of 450mm have in closed door meetings indicated they would be prepared to supply the tools.

Similar trends
In 2002, 38.2 percent of equipment purchased by semiconductor companies was for 300mm production, and 1.4 percent of all silicon wafers processed were 300mm, according to Robert Castellano, president of high-tech market research firm The Information Network. In 2008, 92.1 percent of equipment purchased was for 300mm production and 37.4 percent of wafers processed were 300mm, he said.

During that time period, semiconductor revenues increased from about $10 billion per month at the start of 2002 to more than $20 billion in December 2008, Castellano said. Meanwhile, chip equipment bookings started off 2002 at $645 million per month, reached a peak of $1.8 billion in June 2006, and ended 2008 at about $800 million per month.

"Quite a disconnect," Castellano said in a statement. "Semiconductor sales took off while equipment sales have remained essentially flat. No wonder semiconductor manufacturers and Sematech are pushing for 450mm wafers."

According to Castellano's analysis of historical revenues in the chip and chip equipment industries, prior to 2001, both experienced cyclical peaks and valleys every two years or so. But after 2001, the dynamics changed, with the chip industry growing rapidly while equipment revenue stayed relatively flat, save for some peaks and valleys reminiscent of the 1990s, Castellano said.

"Clearly the semiconductor equipment manufacturers were the losers in the 200- to 300mm transition, and there is no rational explanation that I can think of that will change the picture in the 300- to 450mm transition," Castellano said. "Only the largest equipment companies with the deepest pockets, who can even afford 450mm tool development in the first place, will survive."

- Dylan McGrath
EE Times

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