Consortium Mania Sweeps 450mm Landscape

Industry groups sprout up around the globe to tackle next phase of Moore’s Law.


By Mark LaPedus
In the mid-1990s, the semiconductor industry embarked on a costly and problematic migration from 200mm to 300mm wafer fabs.

At the time, the 300mm development efforts were in the hands of two groups—Sematech and a Japanese-led entity. The equipment industry was on the outside looking in. And as a result, the migration from 200mm to 300mm fabs was out of sync and a nightmarish experience.

The industry hopes to avoid past mistakes in the transition toward 450mm fabs, which is becoming a reality and generating steam. Intel and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) have announced 450mm fabs. And unlike the 300mm transition, the industry is taking a new approach toward 450mm—it is going the consortium route with broad industry support from both chipmakers and tool vendors.

In fact, consortium mania is sweeping the 450mm landscape. Over the last 20 months, the industry has launched nearly a dozen consortium-like entities in 450mm. The wave started in 2011, when the industry formed the Global 450 Consortium (G450C), a U.S.-based group that consists of GlobalFoundries, Intel, IBM, Samsung and TSMC. Recently, the G450C set up a separate fab facility consortium within the organization.

Japan and Israel also have established 450mm consortiums. In addition, Europe has launched five separate 450mm projects or consortiums, with two others on the drawing board. In May, for example, the European Commission approved a project to set up a full-blown, 450mm pilot line at Imec.

Generally, the consortium model is designed to help share the immense costs, risks and challenges associated with 450mm technology, said Bas van Nooten, director of European cooperative programs at ASM International (ASMI) and a representative of the EEMI450, the umbrella group that is spearheading Europe’s 450mm efforts.

The idea behind Europe’s 450mm efforts is to establish focused consortiums with multinational support, van Nooten said. “There will be cooperation between the companies in Europe and the G450C,’’ he said. “But at the end of the day, there will be competition between the tool manufacturers.”

The hard part is to get the various players in the industry to work together and synchronize on the roadmap. “Synchronization and collaboration are very important to avoid the same type of issues we ran into in the late 1990s with the transition to 300mm,” said Kirk Hasserjian, corporate vice president for the Silicon Systems Group at Applied Materials.

Why 450mm?
Many toolmakers already have begun shipping their initial 450mm systems to the G450C and other entities. Meanwhile, Imec hopes to bring up its 450mm pilot line by 2016. And the chipmakers themselves want 450mm pilot lines by 2016, with high-volume manufacturing slated at the 10nm or 7nm nodes by 2018. However, some believe these targets are far too ambitious based on current projections. “We expect the 450mm transition to begin in high volume between 2018 and 2020, which puts the insertion point at the 7nm or 5nm node,” said Weston Twigg, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities.

Indeed, the transition from 300mm to 450mm is expected to be a long and expensive process. In total, the cost to develop new 450mm equipment platforms alone is projected to be more than $8 billion through 2020, according to VLSI Research.

Still, the argument according to Intel and others is that the industry needs to make a wafer transition every 10 to 15 years to stay on Moore’s Law. Moving to 450mm wafers will supposedly give chipmakers a 2.25x boost in wafer area and a 30% cost reduction. “The 450mm wafer transition is necessary for the industry, in our view, but it will be challenging for equipment companies,” said Pacific Crest’s Twigg. “We believe Intel views 450mm as a necessity to lower its manufacturing costs. At 450mm, we believe Intel expects to build two to three fewer fabs than it would need for equivalent 300mm capacity.”

From all indications, Intel wants to be the first vendor to move into 450mm production to gain a competitive edge. Others may wait until the bugs are ironed out with the tools and processes. “Do I want to be the first one on 450mm? No. Do I want to be the last? No. I would like to be behind the first,” said Ajit Manocha, chief executive of GlobalFoundries.

But the timeline could be a moot point unless the industry solves an age-old problem, namely who will fund the development of 450mm tools? In one isolated case, Intel, Samsung and TSMC recently invested a huge sum in ASML Holding in an effort to accelerate ASML’s efforts in 450mm and extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography.

“I don’t think the investment in ASML will be the norm. You can’t see that scaling to every equipment manufacturer throughout the food chain,” said Malcolm Penn, chairman and chief executive of Future Horizons. The market research firm is also part of Enable450, a new consortium-like entity within the EEMI450. Enable450 serves as the coordinating layer for Europe’s 450mm efforts.
Penn urges the industry to consider a new R&D and business model. “The model needs to be completely changed,” he said. “I can see a situation where equipment vendors will want (a chipmaker) to guarantee them a fab line, or $100 million in orders, or something like that. There has got to be down payments, cancellation penalties and real financial constraints and commitments all the way down the supply chain.”

Consortiums galore
To solve part of the problem, the industry has moved towards the consortium model in 450mm. In this model, vendors share some of the costs and risks. And in some cases, some governments are footing as much as 60% of the R&D bill within a given consortium.

The consortium model also is supposed to get the industry to cooperate. So far, the G450C has made progress. Located at CNSE’s Albany NanoTech Complex, the G450C has completed a cleanroom and installed the first 450mm demonstration tools in the facility.

Last year, the G450C formed a separate group within the organization, dubbed the Facility 450mm Consortium (F450C). The F450C includes fab construction firms, chemical and distribution suppliers, valve makers, treatment companies, and even a safety shower provider. The group includes Air Liquide, Ceres, CS Clean, CH2MHill, Edwards, Haws, Mega Fluid Systems, M+W, Ovivo and Swagelok.

The group hopes to develop 450mm fab facility standards. It also hopes to develop various technologies, such as gas interface boxes, cooling water manifolds, recycling systems, and others.

Generally, it takes two years to build today’s 300mm fabs from start to finish. Building a 450mm fab is expected to be an even bigger challenge. “When we design and build tomorrow’s 450mm facility, it must be optimized for cost, yield and the environment,” said Joe Cestari, president of Total Facility Solutions (TFS), a turnkey facilities service provider and a subsidiary of M+W Americas, a fab construction firm.

“The problem is that we have no idea what a toolset or process really looks like for 450mm. Yet, the tolerance for poor yields and out of budget costs is near zero for 450mm,” Cestari said.

So, the fab facilities supply chain must get on the same page and collaborate. “The luxury of everybody being able to operate in their own world and optimize their own pricing and profit strategies isn’t going to work for 450mm,” he said. “So we need to get everyone involved—even the valve suppliers. The discrete costs for valves might be small, especially if you talk about one valve and one fitting. But when you talk about thousands of valves and hundreds of thousands of fittings in a facility, it’s no longer a small number.”

There are other challenges. “If you look at our supply chain, there is still a lot of redundancy. And there is still a lack of standardization,” he added.

Europe wants more say
Like the fab facility vendors, Europe also wants more say in 450mm. Europe began its 450mm efforts in 2009, when the European Equipment and Materials Industry started the EEMI450. In 2011, EEMI450 launched two new projects or consortiums. One group, the NGC450, is developing wafer-handling systems.

Another effort, the SOI450 consortium, is working on 450mm silicon-on-insulator (SOI) substrates. Led by Soitec, the group has also developed early prototype tools, such as a bonding system from EV Group and a metrology machine from Altatech.

Last year, EEMI450 launched the EEM450PR consortium, a group that is gearing up for the first phase of a “pilot line readiness” project at Imec. Led by ASML, the group consists of 33 companies, including Intel as well as European and U.S. fab tool vendors. “In this project, we are looking at developing pilot line tools,” van Nooten said.

Then, in May, Europe formed the E450EDL, a separate 43-member group that is developing a full-blown, 450mm pilot line at Imec. The pilot line is expected to be up and running by 2016. Led by ASML, the E450EDL group consists of European toolmakers, as well as Intel, Applied Materials, KLA-Tencor, Lam, and others. The group will work on at least five technologies: process modules; wafer stages for lithography; front-end equipment; metrology; and wafer handling.

“There are several stages of development (within the E450EDL),” van Nooten said. “We will have prototype and alpha tools. Then, we will go to production tools.”

And not to be outdone, Europe has two more projects in the works. The so-called SEA4KET project will work on tools and will cooperate with the G450C. And there is a new and separate proposal for the continuation of the 450mm lithography work in Europe.

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