Dr Morris Chang

Foundry giant pushes wafer technology

TSMC's Morris Chang confirms plan to launch 450mm production at 20nm node.

The viability of the move to 450mm wafers has been a subject for debate for some time. There were questions as to whether demand would justify a further increase in wafer size – the current maximum is 300mm – and also technological obstacles. The capital investment required to manufacture chips at nodes beyond 28nm has also eaten deeply into chipmakers’ resources.

However, TSMC chairman and CEO Morris Chang has confirmed that his company will look to adopt the greater size on a conference call with financial analysts.

"I want to say a few words about the 450mm wafer manufacturing. Our first 450mm pilot line is planned at our Fab12 Phase VI, starting with 20nm technology. The timing of pilot line will be around 2013, 2014. Our first 450mm production line is planned in around 2015, 2016," Chang said.

Intel announced in December that it is building a new fab in Hillsboro, Oregon that will be “450nm-compatible”, although company fellow Mark Bohr added the caveat that it will equally be able to run 300mm wafers at the facility. Intel cited tool-availability as one reason why it is hedging its bets.

The move to 300mm wafers was largely spurred by both TSMC and Intel making broad commitments to the size. Technology suppliers consider an ability to supply the two companies’ combined capacity as a pre-requisite for their own investments in any major new manufacturing shift.

TSMC’s bullish announcement will now put pressure on GlobalFoundries, the Abu Dhabi-backed manufacturing group, which has emerged as its first large-scale foundry rival with an aggressive capital expenditure plan, albeit one currently geared primarily towards expanding output using existing wafer technologies. GlobalFoundries is also a partner in the Common Platform foundry network with Samsung and IBM.

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