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Fab firms' focus on 450mm could disrupt supply chain

Posted: 04 Feb 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:leading-edge fab capacity? 300mm fabs? 400mm fabs? IC supply chain?

Needless to say, IC design costs are soaring out of control. "With each successive node the cost of a design goes up," said Piper Jaffray's Richard. "The cost of a 45nm SOC chip design is estimated to be roughly $80 million and a 32nm SOC is $130 million. We estimate that the addressable market of these chips needs to be roughly $400 million and $650 million to make a reasonable return assuming a 50 percent gross margin."

The cost to move from 300mm to 450mm fabs is also expected to be enormous. Every 15 years or so, the industry has moved to a new wafer size, ostensibly to stay on Moore's Law. The transition to a new wafer size has already been bumpy, especially in 300mm, when fab companies announced and then delayed a plethora of plants several years ago. The fab tool makers developed the first-round tools for these plants, but were left holding the bag!and suffered massive losses!when the fabs were delayed.

For some time, four chip makers!Intel, Samsung, TSMC, and, to some degree, Toshiba!have been pushing the industry toward the 450mm era. IDMs wanted 450mm pilot lines as early as 2012.

In the beginning, most fab tool vendors refused to invest in 450mm for several reasons. The return-on-investment remains unclear and no one is sure who will pay for the R&D. And fab tool vendors do not want to repeat the same mistakes in the early days of the 300mm era.

Then, suddenly, Intel recently announced the D1X fab in Oregon, a plant that is capable of producing 300mm wafers and is ''450mm capable.'' The startup time for D1X is 2013.

Last week, TSMC officially disclosed plans that it will build a 450mm fab, according to an analyst. The first 450mm line is planned for Fab 12 Phase VI; it will be for their 20nm production ramp, according to VLSI Research. TSMC's 450mm pilot line is expected to start around 2013 to 2014, with production due in 2015 to 2016, according to the firm.

450mm confusion
"That means that you can expect Samsung and Globalfoundries to put 450mm into their plans immediately. I would bet Samsung will be first or it may well come as a Common Platform alliance deal," said G. Dan Hutcheson, CEO of VLSI Research, in a report.

Now, after dragging their feet for some time, the fab tool community has suddenly warmed up to 450mm, possibly due to the anticipated announcement from Intel and TSMC. Simply put, the fab tool vendors must get on board in the 450mm era!or else. Intel, TSMC, Samsung and Toshiba represent a huge percentage of today's capital spending budget and fab tool vendors can't afford to miss out on the order window.

"If you are an equipment supplier, it means you can no longer ignore 450mm. It's as simple as that. In other words, we all have to get cracking to hit a 2013 target," Hutcheson said.

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