LONDON – Whether Europe should try to contribute to 450-mm wafer technology research and deployment was revealed as a source of tension amongst Europe's leading chip makers at the Industry Strategy Symposium held in Grenoble, France, this week.
A panel made up of representatives from NXP, X-Fab, Lfoundry, STMicroelectronics and Globalfoundries revealed concern over Europe's role in the chip market and the advisability of supporting research on the transition to 450-mm diameter wafers.
Many of the panelists seemed to suggest that spending European tax-payers' money on 450-mm wafer research was not in their interest and risked diminishing support for mixed-signal, RF, MEMS and other CMOS derivatives below critical levels.
Elsewhere at the conference general approval had been shown for the European Commission's new-found interest in advanced manufacturing. This has partly been driven by campaigning by SEMI Europe in 2008 through 2010 and the European Commission has recently commissioned a study on the desirability of 450-mm pilot line in Europe.
Hans-Jurgen Straub, CEO of mixed-signal foundry X-Fab (Erfurt, Germany), set the tone for the panel when he said Europe could not live by services and that somebody has to manufacture something here. "We should do everything we can to keep it [semiconductor manufacturing] in Europe. We all have the same opinion, but then what do we do?"
I agree with your sentiment Kris. Europe has worried for over a decade than semiconductor manufacturing will leave and only be done in the U.S. and in Asia. Crolles was largely paid for by the French government to keep high tech industry in France. The odds are becoming higher that it will leave Europe if European governments do not provide funding.
Intel has been seeking 450mm wafers for about a decade since its manufacturing is restricted by 300mm wafers. TSMC is also starting to come to the same conclusion as Intel. My own guess is we will see 450mm wafers in the next 5 to 8 years. 300mm wafers frankly would not be competitive compared to 450mm wafers at 40nm technology. The fabs can take a break from Moores Law somewhere below 20nm and gain efficiency and yield advantages with 450mm wafers. This will give lithography development some breathing room. Intel, TSMC, and Samsung will lead the way. It is in their interest to force this shift. Some additional fabs may eventually make the transition as well depending on funding sources.
The move to 450mm wafers is very expensive. For the captial cost to pay off, you have to run a lot of wafers. Only very large companies with deep pockets can do this. That is why the article states that this might cause the industry to collapse to only a few companies. As long as the smaller (12 inch is small?) wafer sizes can still compete on price, there is no worry of a collapse.
Interesting debate...I agree that if there are 3-4 players left after transition to 450-mm wavers Europe is in trouble...Intel will fab processors, Samsung memories, and TSMC/GlobalF the rest...Europe's fabs will all become boutique foundries unless they all pitch-in together and extra billions from European taxpayers somehow...Kris
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