Differences in priorities between chipmakers and equipment suppliers threaten to derail efforts to increase wafer size to 450mm
Equipment suppliers are wary of putting much investment into 450mm wafers because of their experiences with the 200mm-to-300mm transition that finally took place at the start of the last decade, several years behind schedule and following several expensive false starts.
The question is who pays to develop the larger equipment. Rick Wallace, president of wafer-inspection specialist KLA-Tencor, said at the recent Semicon West show: “The development costs have got to be shared and a lot of folks feel that they weren’t last time.”
Bob Johnson, research vice president at market analyst firm Gartner, said that because the number of chipmakers who can justify the volumes needed to sustain a 450mm fab is small, “it creates a fundamental conflict of interest between equipment and semiconductor manufacturers and that has to be resolved before we go forward”.
Paolo Gargini, director of technology strategy at Intel and chairman of the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), argued that the move to 300mm has already reduced the number of companies able to operate leading-edge fabs economically: “You shouldn’t worry about it. The top ten companies already own 85 per cent of the industry. It means 85 per cent of the industry could go to 450mm.”
Tom Sonderman, vice president of manufacturing technology at Globalfoundries, said talks are currently proceeding between major chipmakers in an attempt to agree a timeline for the move to 450mm and the location of a joint pilot line to avoid the false starts that afflicted the 300mm migration.
Steve Newberry, president and CEO of equipment supplier Lam Research, said: “I think the way that the industry is trying to go about 450mm is significantly different and better.”
A potential stumbling block for 450mm is the state of development for extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography.
Sonderman said: “Until you get the lithography community to get behind the transition and start making patterning tools so we can build the process flows you have to question when things will happen. Right now they are focused on EUV.”
See E&T's story on EUV source developers