Chip Makers to Collaborate on 450mm Transition

Intel, Samsung, and TSMC--big players in the fabrication of semiconductors--have announced that they will be collaborating in order to target an industry-wide transition to 450mm wafers starting in the year 2012. Most semiconductors today are manufactured on 300mm wafers--a transition that started in 2001--which was 10 years after the transition to 200mm wafers. Targeting 2012 as the next transition period keeps "in line with the historical pace of growth." The reasons for this planned transition were spelled out in a joint press release from the three companies:

"Historically, manufacturing with larger wafers helps increase the ability to produce semiconductors at a lower cost. The total silicon surface area of a 450mm wafer and the number of printed die (individual computer chips, for example) is more than twice that of a 300mm wafer. The bigger wafers help lower the production cost per chip. Additionally, through more efficient use of energy, water and other resources, bigger wafers can help diminish overall use of resources per chip. For example, the conversion from 200mm wafers to 300mm wafers helped reduce aggregate emissions per chip of air pollution, global warming gasses and water, and further reduction is expected with a transition to 450mm wafers."

Putting the weight of industry leaders behind this initiative increases the probability that the rest of the semiconductor fabrication industry will follow suit. Moving to a 450mm-sized wafer is the next logical step in semiconductor fabrication--and therefore would happen whether there was industry collaboration or not. However, by encouraging such collaboration, "the semiconductor industry can improve its return on investment and substantially reduce 450mm research and development costs by applying aligned standards, rationalizing changes from 300mm infrastructure and automation, and working toward a common timeline. The companies also agree that a cooperative approach will help minimize risk and transition costs."

Further proving that this will likely be an industry-wide initiative, Intel, Samsung, and TSMC are all members of the SEMATECH consortium, which includes 50 percent of the worldwide semiconductor market. Other members include AMD, IBM, and Texas Instruments. The joint press release states that the three companies will continue to work with the SEMATECH consortium, which will be "coordinating industry efforts on 450mm wafer supply, standards setting and developing equipment test bed capabilities."