SAN FRANCISCO—The first production semiconductor fabs to use 450-mm wafers are projected to commence operation in 2017, according to Christian Dieseldorff, a senior analyst with the fab tool vendor trade group SEMI's industry research and statistics group.
In a presentation at the Semicon West tradeshow here Monday (July 9), Dieseldorff predicted that three 450-mm fabs would commence operation in 2017. By that time, the total number of IC production fabs will have declined to 441, down from 464 this year, according to Dieseldorf.
Number of fabs beginning operation or in production in 2007 and estimates for 2017.
Several industry development projects are now focused on developing tools for 450-mm wafers, which leading edge chip makers want to transition to in order to increase the number of die per wafer, and thus profitability. Among these projects is the Global 450 Consortium, a $4.8 billion collaboration housed at the Albany NanoTech complex in New York and backed by semiconductor industry heavyweights Intel Corp., IBM Corp., Globalfoundries Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC).
Although the leading chip makers seem bent on moving to 450-mm wafers as quickly as possible, uncertainty remains about when development work will be completed and how many other chip vendors will follow their lead to larger wafers.
At the same event where Dieseldorff spoke Monday, Bob Johnson, research vice president for semiconductor manufacturing at Gartner Inc., said widespread adoption of 450-mm wafers would not occur until 2018 at the earliest, but more likely in 2019 or 2020.
Johnson predicted that the first alpha 450-mm development tools would be available late this year or early next year, with the first production tools not expected until 2016 or 2017. Johnson said there are a lot of predictions within the semiconductor industry about how difficult or easy the transition to 450-mm wafers will be, but that until people begin using 450-mm tools to process wafers, it is not possible to accurately predict how the larger wafers will react to the rigors of semiconductor manufacturing or how smoothly the transition will occur.
"You just don't know these things until you try them," Johnson said.
Johnson said that if the transition to 300-mm wafers in the early 2000s is any guide, chip makers would first construct large 450-mm fab shells but equip them sparsely while they "debugged" the process.