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200mm fab lives on, end nowhere in sight

Posted: 15 Oct 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:200mm? fab? 300mm? wafer?

With shrinking device geometries, semiconductor companies are upgrading to larger wafer sizes to reap cost benefits resulting from larger number of dice per wafer. Worldwide, many fabs moved to 300mm wafers more than a decade ago, and Europeans are now talking about the 450mm transition as "opportunities for Europe." The case notwithstanding, there is still plenty of life remaining in 200mm fabs, according to IC Insights, noting that not all semiconductor devices can take advantage of the cost savings 300mm wafers can provide.

Fabs running 200mm wafers will continue to be profitable for many more years to produce several types of ICs including speciality memories, image sensors, display drivers, MCUs and analogue products, in addition to MEMS-based "non-IC" products such as accelerometers. These devices can be manufactured in fully depreciated 200mm fabs that were previously used to make ICs that are now produced on 300mm wafers. (Read the rest of the story: 300mm wafer processing dominates, 200mm capacity stays relevant.)

Last month, Austria-based analogue semiconductor manufacturer AMS AG announced its plans to expand its internal foundry and manufacturing operations, and is looking eastwards to purchase a mature 200mm wafer fab.

The company said it is partial to a 200mm fab that has perhaps run its course as a supplier of digital ICs now mainly produced on 300mm fabs. AMS would then install its own analogue manufacturing processes, which support its specialisation in high-precision analogue, high voltage power IC and sensor production, according to CEO Kirk Laney.

For some companies, the impetus behind using the existing infrastructure of 200mm fabs is the easier "process transfer" from other fabs and R&D centres. However, the introduction of MEMS-based accelerometer for motion tracking in high-volume consumer applications such as game consoles and smartphones proved to be the biggest game-changer, as Applied Materials' Mike Rosa noted.

Infineon's approach: Highly-automated 200mm fabs

There's really nothing special about 200mm wafer fabs any longer. The topic of 200mm wafers no longer generates much excitement, except for occasional news about a chip company mothballing an old fab, typically prompting other vendors to buy the depreciated fab, tools, and equipment.

200mm Dresden fab

A recent visit to Infineon's 200mm fabs in Dresden is surprising on two levels: Infineon's commitment to its older fabs and the level of "factory automation" it has pulled off there.

Of course, when placed within an industrywide perspective, 200mm fabs are everywhere.

However, when I dared to suggest that such fabs as a dying breed, I got set straight quickly by Len Jelinek, senior director and chief analyst at IHS Electronics and Media. "Virtually everybody except Intel operates 200mm fabs," he told me. "Even Samsung, Hynix, and Micron run 200mm fabs. The list would also include TSMC, Globalfoundries, Samsung, Intel (up until this year), Texas Instruments... They all operate 200mm fabs."

Even though "Infineon has optimised their internal manufacturing on 200mm wafers, so have about 150 other companies."

That may be so. But Infineon's Dresden fab, viewed from the factory automation perspective, appears to stand head and shoulders above other companies' 200mm fabs. Infineon claims its fabs in Dresden offer "the highest level of automation among the 200mm fabs worldwide."

200mm, 300mm fabs

Here are Infineon's 200mm and 300mm fabs, surrounded by woods, in Dresden. Source: Infineon

How so?

200mm fab

200mm wafer deployed in the Dresden fab. Source: Infineon

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