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.