A Solution to the 450mm Equipment Problem

Another Semicon West event has come and gone. This was a good year. Although there are signs that things have slowed a bit, the general outlook for the semiconductor equipment industry was positive.

In addition to the need for more semiconductor manufacturing capacity due to continued growth in tablet PCs, cellphones, and a host of other electronic applications, the increased complexity of advanced processes has created a positive outlook for equipment vendors. More complexity has translated into more layers, more process steps, and more new equipment. There continues to be significant interest in through silicon via (TSV), extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV), used equipment productivity, and micro electromechanical systems (MEMS). And finally, this year the discussion around 450mm wafers took a new turn. It was not “if” it would happen but when and how.

The 450mm wafer is still one of the most contentious topics in the semiconductor industry. Who's going to pay the research and development costs? Equipment vendors are asking for guarantees that there will be buyers at a specific time and technology node. We certainly operate in an exceptional, and sometimes odd, market. Equipment vendors maintain a unique relationship with their customers. Sometimes it works in great harmony such as the renovation of the Renesas Naka facility following the March earthquake and tsunami. But when it comes to 450mm wafers, I’m baffled.

I'm not aware of any other industry where suppliers can get their customers to invest in the development of a new product and also require a guarantee that after they develop the product it will be purchased at a designated time. Every manufacturer, whether it's Apple with a new phone or Boeing with a new jet, takes a risk with regard to timing, price and functionality.

It is promising to hear {complink 384|Applied Materials Inc.} commit $100 million to the 450mm effort. Many say that amount is far from the investment necessary, but it's a major step forward, especially when only a few years ago, the view of many semiconductor equipment CEOs was: “not in this decade.” A couple of key executives even said they expect to be long retired by the time 450mm wafers begin rolling out of fabs.

R&D investment is one of the major challenges facing the development and implementation of 450mm wafers. I have a solution. Advanced Technology Investment Co. (ATIC) and {complink 12822|GlobalFoundries Inc.} are planning a 300mm wafer facility in Abu Dhabi; we all know ATIC has the funding to make that kind of commitment. What if they spent those dollars on a research facility in Abu Dhabi that focused on 450mm production and manufacturing excellence? If they funded the research, how hard would it be to attract ASML, Applied Materials, and {complink 5638|Tokyo Electron Ltd.} to participate?

ATIC could use the research facility as a training ground for future engineering talent. Equipment vendors would have a funding source for development efforts. And GlobalFoundries could use the facility as its first 450mm pilot line. Sounds like a win-win for ATIC, the equipment vendors, and semiconductor manufacturers.

5 comments on “A Solution to the 450mm Equipment Problem

  1. Daniel
    July 20, 2011

    Joanne, integrating more and more complex functionalities can make the device small and compactable at one end. But this integration and complexity can create much problem in later stage for repair and replacement, which incurred more expenses to the users. Now a day’s it’s very difficult to get repair the tablet or smart phones. Most of the company service peoples are insisting for change the entire mother board, even for minute problems, which is again expensive.

  2. Nemos
    July 20, 2011

    Nice and comprehensive analysis also the article is very promising. About your solution relative to the 450mm research founding, I think it is workable.   

    a few years ago, the view of many semiconductor equipment CEOs was: “not in this decade.” at least they must try .

  3. Nemos
    July 20, 2011

    Jacob indeed, service today is doing swaps instead of servicing the devices because  it is cheaper  to replace the faulty unit than to repair it. Furthermore, this seems to be the easier way, but I am troubled about it because using this practice daily you are losing technical knowledge, and our job looks like a common job without the needing of technical skills and well educated persons in the service field.

  4. Taimoor Zubar
    July 20, 2011

    It does seem a viable solution, but I am afraid it might lead to certain issues. The foremost I can think of is: since this is a collaboration between multiple entities, who gets the ownership of patents? I know this can be resolve out of mutual agreements, but there is a possibility that issues like this will arise and will have to be sorted out.

    July 20, 2011

    I suppose ATIC could lead the charge in Abu Dhabi on 450mm but I expect they may want to bite off something they can chew and 450mm may be too big.  It would be a massive investment and the risks are high.  I understand the rationale behind collaboration on 450mm (to spread the risk) but I believe some individual company or close group of companies will eventually lead the charge only once the commercial justification is there beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Right now the justification is not too clear.

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