SAN JOSE, Calif. – Despite a sudden surge in fab tool activity for the next-generation wafer size, 450-mm fabs will emerge rather later than sooner, and the production target appears to have slipped.
This comes to no surprise to analysts, as the recent recession appears to have delayed 450-mm fab and tool investments. As reported, Intel, Samsung and TSMC have talked about having 450-mm prototype fabs by 2012. Intel Corp. is readying D1X, a 450-mm ''capable’’ fab. The new development fab in Oregon is slated for R&D startup in 2013.
Before the recent recession hit the industry, 450-mm production was slated for 2015 or 2016 at the earliest, said Trevor Yancey, an analyst with IC Insights Inc., at the firm's recent forecast event.
The recession caused fab tool vendors to de-accelerate their investments and programs in 450-mm. As a result, 450-mm production has been delayed at least to 2017 or 2018, Yancey said.
''While 450-mm would significantly lower the cost per unit and increase the output of a fab, the equipment suppliers are not making the investments needed to move to larger diameter wafers,’’ said Gus Richard, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, in a recent report.
''The equipment suppliers did not realize an acceptable ROI on their R&D investment in 300-mm tools and they are hesitant to fund development of 450-mm wafer capable tools,’’ he said. ‘’While we believe that 450-mm will eventually move to production, this is unlikely to occur in the next five years.’’
Still, fab tool vendors are quietly ramping up their 450-mm efforts. ''There’s a lot of activity going on in the back channel around 450-mm to indicate that some big news will break next year,'' VLSI Research CEO G. Dan Hutcheson, noted in a recent report.
''The equipment suppliers have stopped resisting it and most have some level of effort underway,’’ he wrote. ‘’Moreover, those that don’t are no longer being painted as defiant realists. The thinking has moved from ‘Over my dead body’ or ‘I’ll retire before 450’ to either ‘We’ll have to do it if our competitors move’ or ‘You’re falling behind if you’re not doing it.’ This is a big change.''
Progress is also be reported by wafer makers. German wafer specialist Wacker and others say they have developed a new technique called "Planetary Pad Grinding," which combines grinding and lapping methods to produce extremely flat "jumbo wafers."