Big chipmakers line up for 450mm wafers

Intel, Samsung Electronics and TSMC have agreed to start working on a move to use 450mm wafers, with the transition scheduled to start in 2012.

The companies claimed that moving from today’s 300mm wafers to platters that measure 450mm in diameter will allow them to improve efficiency, as happened with the shift from 200mm to 300mm lines.

A spokesman for Intel claimed that a 300mm wafer can yield 240 per cent as many chips as a 200mm wafer, with a net reduction of about 40 per cent for both energy and water, per chip. “By the same token, gas and chemical consumption, and emissions, are also reduced,” he said. “We have found that, in spite of greater complexity, it takes roughly the same number of technicians and engineers to run a 300mm production line, so the labour content per chip is cut by approximately half.”

“There is a long history of innovation and problem solving in our industry that has delivered wafer transitions resulting in lower costs per area of silicon processed and overall industry growth.” said Bob Bruck, vice president and general manager of technology manufacturing engineering in Intel’s technology and manufacturing group. “We, along with Samsung and TSMC, agree that the transition to 450mm wafers will follow the same pattern of delivering increased value to our customers.”

Intel, Samsung and TSMC indicate that the semiconductor industry can improve its return on investment and substantially reduce 450mm research and development costs by applying aligned standards, rationalising changes from 300mm infrastructure and automation, and working toward a common timeline. The companies also agree that a cooperative approach will help minimise risk and transition costs.

“The transition to 450mm wafers will benefit the entire ecosystem of the IC industry, and Intel, Samsung, TSMC will work together with suppliers and other semiconductor manufacturers to actively develop 450mm capability,” said Cheong-Woo Byun, senior vice president of the memory manufacturing operation centre at Samsung.

In the past, migration to the next larger wafer size traditionally began every 10 years after the last transition. For example, the industry began the transition to 300mm wafers in 2001, a decade after the initial 200mm fabs were introduced in 1991.

Keeping in line with the historical pace of growth, Intel, Samsung and TSMC agree that 2012 is an appropriate target to begin the 450mm transition. Given the complexity of integrating all of the components for a transition of this size, the companies said that consistent evaluation of the target timeline will be critical.

“Increasing cost due to the complexity of advanced technology is a concern for the future,” said Mark Liu, TSMC’s senior vice president of advanced technology business. “Intel, Samsung, and TSMC believe the transition to 450mm wafers is a potential solution to maintain a reasonable cost structure for the industry.”

The makers of manufacturing equipment, none of which are represented in the group formed this week, have signalled caution over the move 450mm. A spokeswoman for AMSL, the largest maker of lithography equipment, said: “Resolution and overlay are the prime cost drivers for lithography, not wafer size. But ASML will respond to market needs. If the industry decides to introduce 450mm, ASML will be supporting its customers. However due to economics of the introduction for both IC companies and equipment suppliers, ASML does not expect an introduction to take place in the near future.”

The three chipmakers said they will continue to work with International Sematech (ISMI), as it plays a critical role in coordinating industry efforts on 450mm wafer supply, standards setting and developing equipment test bed capabilities.

Image: Inside one of Intel's existing 300mm fabs

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