LONDON – Many people have assumed that when the processing of integrated circuits on 450-mm diameter wafers comes, it will do so first for the most advanced digital manufacturing processes. The conventional wisdom runs that it will be Intel, or perhaps Samsung and TSMC, that will put down billions of dollars to gain the economies of scale that come with larger wafers. And they will do it to run their newest digital processes and most valuable chip designs.
That is the way it was for the initial transition to 300-mm wafers, and other transitions before it, with older fabs running smaller wafers naturally becoming the home for older legacy production.
But does it have to be that way? It would seem that in the course of preparing a report on the potential impact of 450-mm wafers on the chip industry for the European Commission, Future Horizons has at least considered the possibility of 450-mm wafer manufacturing being introduced away from the leading edge.
One year ago Future Horizons and Decision SA were awarded a one-year joint contract to assess the impact of 450-mm wafer processing on Europe and the benefits of a 450-mm semiconductor prototyping line being located in Europe. And that report is going through a final review prior to presentation to the European Commission, Future Horizons analysts said.
While the introduction of 450-mm wafers clearly has implications for equipment companies such as lithography stepper maker ASML Holding NV (Veldhoven, The Netherlands) and other European equipment suppliers, the European Commission is also eager to retain component manufacturing in Europe. The move to 450-mm manufacturing could have implications for companies such as STMicroelectronics, Infineon and NXP.
"450-mm wafer fabs: is there an economic argument away from leading edge? Yes!" said Malcolm Penn, founder and chief analyst with Future Horizons, during a market forecast presentation held here. When asked what he meant by non-leading edge, he said: "At 65-nm or something like that, not leading edge, something non-immersion lithography."
However, one of the key considerations for 450-mm wafers would be what individual designs could command enough volume to justify manufacture on 450-mm diameter wafers where tens of thousands of chips would be produced per wafer. This would exclude many applications, unless all wafers runs were to be multi-project wafer runs, and could leave only a few types of analog, digital and RF ICs able to benefit.
Agreed. I don't see the cost justification at anything other than the leading nodes. You can't get the leverage you need. I wonder if instead of investing in larger wafers if more fabs will instead start investing in 3D-IC technology to get density scaling using the 3rd dimension. It would probably be lower cost.
@KB3001: I agree with your arument on More-than-Moore as the lead to 450mm. The industry is still grappling with handling of ultra-thin wafers in the assembly flow of W-to-W stacking. This problem gets exponentially amplified with 450mm wafers.
What I would like to see is a study by the proponents of 450mm on whether or not the 'have's can survive the transition to 450mm when many 'have-not's choose to stay with 300mm for multiple reasons, economics being the major one!
This seems to be a case of where the "research" fits the hypothesis given to it by it's sponsors. I don't see the financial merit in the concept and at best an attempt at hand waving to get the conclusion to remotely fit. I went thru this type of thinking at a once proud and formidable semiconductor manufacturer and it ended in their ruin. There are three strategic ingredients to a wafer size change:
1) Capital leverage
2) Manufacturing scaling leverage
3) Performance leverage
It's utter lunacy to say any of those three are invalid and a "new" economic model has dawned.
Would those who make just low margin products like analog or RF ID chips be able to afford a new Fab for 450 mm ?
Even if they had the resources would it not be a better use of their money to upgrade Fabs for high margin products like processors ?
The "analyst" quoted here needs to make a reality check.
Agreed. It seems ludicrous to think that you could build a multi-billion dollar to make analog parts, and compete with depreciated and well characterized 200mm fabs. TI's RFAB was built almost entirely with 2nd hand equipment, so it not a good bit of evidence for 450mm more than Moore. Maxim is not running their own 300mm fab, either - so they're agnostic at best.
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