A Solution to the 450mm Equipment Problem?

Another SEMICON West has come and gone. This was a good year. Although there are signs that things have slowed a bit, the general outlook was positive.

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By Joanne Itow
Another SEMICON West has come and gone. This was a good year. Although there are signs that things have slowed a bit, the general outlook was positive. In addition to the need for more semiconductor capacity due to continued growth in tablets, cell phones 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 TSV, EUV, used equipment productivity and 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. Who’s going to pay for 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. Is there 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 AMAT 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 short years ago, the comments from CEO’s were “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. ATIC and GLOBALFOUNDRIES 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, productivity and manufacturing excellence? If they funded the research, how hard would it be to attract ASML, AMAT, and TEL 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 their first 450mm pilot line. Sounds like a win-win for ATIC, the equipment vendors and semiconductor manufacturers.