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Foundry panel: 450mm can wait

Posted: 17 Jul 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:450mm? R&D? foundry? wafer?

With chip companies and their suppliers fighting for their lives amidst a brutal industry downturn, the migration to 450mm wafersand the enormous R&D costs it will take to get therecan wait, according to executives from several foundries speaking at Semicon West.

Intel Corp., Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd are pushing for a move to 450mm wafers and want 450mm prototype fabs by 2012. Many in the chip industry believe this timeframe is unrealistic. Some people believe that 450mm will never happen due to the investment that would be required.

Thomas Sonderman, VP of manufacturing systems and technology at Globalfoundries Inc., said he found it interesting that some companies are pushing for a move to 450mm while the industry is mired in a painful downturn.

"In my view, that's just an admission that they've run out of options for making their fabs more effective," Sonderman said.

Sonderman's comments echoed those he made in a statement issued earlier. Globalfoundries was created by the spinout of Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s manufacturing operations and to date has only one customer: AMD. His anti-450mm comments might easily be construed as a simple dig against competitors.

Except that Sonderman is hardly alone in the semiconductor industry, particularly among capital equipment executives. In the early part of the decade, chip equipment makers complained that they were forced to bear the brunt of R&D costs for the migration to the 300mm wafer size in the late 1990s, only to be left holding the bag in 2001-2002 when a major downturn hit and chipmakers stopped buying tools.

Others on the panel, including executives from Singapore's Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Ltd and China's Semiconductor Manufacturing International Co. (SMIC), appeared to agree with Sonderman.

Another panelist, Daniel Armbrust, VP of 300mm semiconductor operations at IBM's Systems and Technology Group, said afterward that, given the high level of investment that will be required to ready 450mm equipment, it makes more sense to continue pushing 300mm for the time being, especially given the downturn.

"There will be a time when 450mm makes sense," Armbrust said.

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