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The Lost Opportunity for 450mm

The Lost Opportunity for 450mm
by Scotten Jones on 04-15-2022 at 6:00 am

450mm Wafer SemiWiki
I spent several days this week at the SEMI International Strategy Symposium (ISS). One of the talks was “Can the Semiconductor Industry Reach $1T by 2030” given by Bob Johnson of Gartner. His conclusion was, that $1 trillion dollars is an aggressive forecast for 2030 but certainly we should reach $1 trillion dollars in the next 10 to 12 years. He also noted that the industry would need to nearly double to achieve this forecast (a 73% increase in wafer output). He further forecast ~25 new memory fabs at 100K wafers per month (wpm) and 100 new logic or other fabs at 50K wpm (300mm). It immediately struck me, where are we going to build all these fabs, where will the people come from to run them, and where would we get the resources required. Wafer fabs are incredibly energy and water intensive and produce large quantities of greenhouse gases.

At the same conference there was a lot of discussion of environmental impact. Across the entire semiconductor ecosystem there is growing awareness and actions to reduce our environmental impact – reuse, reduce, recycle.

What does this have to do with 450mm wafers you ask.

A 450mm wafer has 2.25 times the area of a 300mm wafer. If you build 450mm wafer fabs with the same wpm output as 300mm fabs you need approximately 2.25 times fewer fabs (even less due lower edge die losses), 25 memory fabs becomes 11 memory fabs and 100 logic or other fabs becomes 44 fabs. These are much more manageable numbers of fabs to build.

If you look at people required to run a fab, the number of people required is largely based on the number of wafers, by running fewer-bigger wafers the number of people required is reduced.

When 450mm was being actively worked on, the goals where the same tool footprint for the same wafer throughput (likely not achievable), the same chemical and gas, and utility usage per wafer, a 2.25x reduction in usage per unit area. There was a recognition that beam tools such as exposure, implant, and some metrology tools where the wafer surface was scanned would have lower throughput but even accounting for this my simulations projected a net cost reduction per die for 450mm of 20 to 25%.

Unfortunately, the efforts to develop 450mm have ended and the only 450mm wafer fab has been decommissioned. The 450mm effort was different than past wafer size conversions, at 150mm Intel was the company that led the transition and paid for a lot of the work and at 200mm it was IBM. At 300mm a lot of the cost was pushed onto the equipment companies, and they were left with a long time to recover their investments. At 450mm once again the costs were being pushed onto the equipment companies and they were very reluctant to accept this situation. In 2014 Intel (one of the main drivers of 450mm) had low utilization rates and an empty fab 42 shell and they pulled their resources off 450mm, TSMC backed off, equipment companies put their development efforts on hold and 450mm died.

At this point it is likely too late to revive 450mm, ASML have their hands just trying to produce enough EUV systems and getting high-NA into production. High-NA EUV systems for 300mm are already enormous – difficult to transport systems, making much bigger 450mm versions would be an unprecedented engineering challenge. I do think there is important lesson for the semiconductor industry here. The semiconductor companies have a long history of short-sighted squeezing of their suppliers on price often to their own long term detriment. Starting wafers are an excellent example, prices have been driven down so low that it isn’t economical for the wafer manufacturers to invest in new capacity and now the industry is facing shortages. It is only shortage driven price increases that are now finally making new investment economical.

Over the next decade, as we potentially double our industry while trying to reduce our environmental footprint our task would be much easier with 450mm wafer, but unfortunately our inability to work together and unwillingness to take a long term view has left us without this enhancement in our tool kit.

Also Read:

Intel and the EUV Shortage

Can Intel Catch TSMC in 2025?

The EUV Divide and Intel Foundry Services

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