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Semico: Shift to 450mm is inevitable

Posted: 27 May 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:450mm wafer? 300mm process? NAND? DRAM?

The probability that the semiconductor industry will shift to 450mm silicon wafers in manufacturing has increased significantly, however, the chance of achieving volume production by the original target date of 2012 is remote, according to a new report by analysts at Semico Research Corp.

Large chip vendors such as Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. are clamoring for a migration 450mm wafers, which would enable them to build more chips per die and increase profits. Now, even some equipment suppliersmany of which have resisted the move to 450mmare starting to come around, according to Semico.

"The [semiconductor] industry will not stagnate at the existing 300mm process technology," said Jim Feldhan, president of Semico, in a recent report. Feldhan predicted that consumer demands for more memory would push NAND and DRAM to increasing product densities, increasing unit volumes. Logic products will continue to move up the performance curve, while offering more features in a SoC or multicore product, he said.

"The ability to produce chips in a more economical manufacturing environment is good for the overall industry future," Feldhan wrote.

While large, top-tier chip makers are pushing for 450mm, many in the equipment community and elsewhere have argued against it. Some argue that aside from the top five or six semiconductor firms, no one will build a 450mm facility. Others say it will never happen at all because the cost of developing the necessary equipment is too high and it is unclear who would foot the bill. Many in the equipment community remain bitter about the transition to 300mm, when tool vendors bankrolled most of the development costs only to be left struggling to sell 300mm tools after the dot com bubble crashed.

Earlier this month, Jack Sun, chief technology officer at TSMC, told an audience at the International Electronics Forum in Germany that he expected volume production on 450mm wafers to be underway by the middle of this decade. But Sun did not offer specifics about who would carry the costs of development, estimated by some to be in the neighborhood of $20 million.

Semico's report argues that meeting growing IC demand will inevitably require the industry to take revolutionary action which is likely to be expensive and disruptive. the costly transition to a new wafer sizewhich the industry has gone through several timesis the more palatable pain compared with the unknowns involved in employing a brand new technology, such as carbon nanotubes, to satisfy this need, according to Semico.

Based on chip unit volume growth, there will one day be a point when building one 450mm fab is more cost-effective than building two 300mm fabs, according to Semico. Citing past wafer transitions, Semico concluded that all chipmakers eventually benefit from a move to a larger wafer size.

- Dylan McGrath
EE Times

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