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Migration to 450-mm: To be or not to be?

Posted: 21 Jul 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:450-mm? wafer? fab tool?

At recent Semicon West events, most fab tool vendors dismissed the need to migrate to the next-generation, 450-mm wafer size, saying the technology is too costly.

During this year's event, there were no major 450-mm announcements!at least on the surface. To be sure, though, there were some vibes in the air that the technology is picking up steam. Many of vibes are mere rumors. Some is pure speculation. Others are educated guesses.

Besides a nebulous feeling in the air, there is suddenly a possible breakthrough in 450-mm. There is a new ''cost sharing'' program between the industry and fab tool makers!a move that could accelerate 450-mm in the market. And on top of that, SEMI has recently unveiled some new 450-mm standards.

The ''momentum'' is building in the 450-mm supply chain, said Scott Kramer, vice president of manufacturing at chip-making consortium International Sematech, which is leading the charge in 450-mm.

''There is sincere interest in 450-mm'' in the industry as a whole, said Bob MacKnight, president and chief executive of Crossing Automation Inc., a fab tool automation vendor.

''There are no orders for 450-mm tools right now,'' said Brian Trafas, chief marketing officer at KLA-Tencor Corp., but ''my sense is that there will be a big announcement in the next one or two quarters.''

Trafas was unsure what exact announcement is pending. Some suspect that a company!namely Intel Corp.!could be ready to announce a 450-mm prototype fab. Others think that the announcement calls for another bombshell: The 450-mm roadmap could get pushed out.

For some time, 450-mm technology has been stalled due to cost and resistance by the fab tool makers to develop the necessary systems. Now, most believe that the three 450-mm proponents!Intel, Samsung and TSMC!will push the tool makers towards the next-generation wafer size. Tool makers may have no choice: Intel, Samsung and TSMC represent a major percentage of the capital equipment buyers in the market.

The three companies have talked about 450-mm prototype fabs by 2012. Some see 450-mm production in 2015. Others see 2018. Some believe 450-mm fabs will never happen, saying the R&D costs are too expensive.

No one is still quite sure who will pay for the tools or the R&D, that is, until now. With little or no fanfare, International Sematech is pushing a new ''cost sharing program'' with fab tool vendors to accelerate the development of the next-generation wafer size.

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