There are numerous precedents of how trailing-edge manufacturing has received a cost benefit from moving up to a large wafer size but usually this is done after equipment has been developed to service the leading-edge digital chip manufacture.
Even while it was pulling back from developing leading-edge digital processes in 3Q09 Texas Instruments announced it was opening RFAB, the industry's first 300-mm wafer fab for analog ICs in Richardson, Texas. By November 2010 TI was ramping up production at RFAB and rival Maxim Integrated Products Inc. has recently qualified and shipped production analog product built on 300-mm wafers. Maxim and TI separately claimed that 300-mm manufacturing would give them a competitive advantage over their rivals.
Infineon Technologies AG is soon to begin volume production of power devices on thinned 300-mm wafers in Dresden, which could provide a similar competitive advantage.
STMicroelectronics, which closed a number of 6-inch wafer fabs during the last decade, has focused a lot of analog manufacturing on 200-mm wafer fabs in Singapore. While those moves may have helped with cost structures in the past ST may now be at a disadvantage and need to move manufacturing on to 300-mm wafers at least.
"Could you use 450-mm to replace older wafer fabs and get significant cost reductions?" asked Penn. Some people argue that because many operations in chip manufacturing are step-and-repeat operations, the area benefits are not so large. And it requires highly engineered wafer tables that can accelerate and decelerate; all things that would push up the cost of equipment and which can usually only be amortized with a move to higher-value chip production.
Penn responded: "450-mm is going to happen. It will split the industry between the haves and the have nots. So the question is what do you do about it? If you are fabless, or fablite-going-fabless, you don't care," said Penn. But it is a key enabling technology, it does matter."
Penn agreed that if a number of older wafer fabs were replaced with a single 450-mm More-than-Moore wafer fab it would be likely that the fab would have to cope with a diverse mix of processes and products. "I don't see it as a problem. A variety of processes can be run. It depends how you set it up."
Related links and articles:
IMEC plans 450-mm wafer fab module for 2015
TI, Maxim ramp 300-mm analog chip manufacture
Europe awards contract to assess 450-mm wafer impact