450mm ‘probably dead’ for now

Article By : Dylan McGrath

Member companies of the Global 450 Consortium have concluded that the timing is not right for an optional Phase 2.

Momentum behind the push to transition the semiconductor industry to 450mm wafers—which seemed substantial just a few short years ago—appears all but dead, at least for now.

“450 is probably dead for another five to 10 years,” said G. Dan Hutcheson, a veteran semiconductor equipment analyst who is chairman and CEO of VLSI Research. “It may come back, depending on whether there can be consensus among semiconductor equipment companies.”

The Global 450 Consortium (G450C)—a joint R&D program that involved Intel, TSMC, Globalfoundries, IBM, Samsung and the SUNY Polytechnic Institute—quietly wound down its work at the end of last year with member companies concluding that the timing was not right for an optional Phase 2.

“All the partners agreed that it’s not the right time to continue to focus on 450,” said Paul Kelly, associate vice president for consortia and initiatives at SUNY Poly, in an interview with EE Times. “But everyone walked away saying that the G450 program itself was a success.”

At the recent Industry Strategy Symposium from semiconductor equipment and materials trade group SEMI, barely a whisper was heard about 450mm wafers.

A few years ago, major chip makers including the G450 members were pushing for 450mm equipment to be available to equip fabs as soon as next year. But, according to Hutcheson, a major hurdle to the movement has been chip equipment makers, still smarting from the transition to 300mm in the early 2000s. He said the push to larger wafers at that time dramatically reduced unit demand, hurting the equipment makers’ businesses.

“The equipment companies generally don’t want [450mm] after what happened with 300mm,” Hutcheson said.

Hutcheson added that the initial push for 450mm came from a belief that chip makers needed an alternative way to increase sales if the industry could no longer keep on pace with Moore’s Law. But, Moore’s Law “clearly has not ended,” Hutcheson said. “What happened is that the shrinks have slowed down the growth of the silicon.”

Between that and the semiconductor industry’s modest growth rate over the past few years, there is no need for a massive expansion of capacity as there has been in the past, Hutcheson added. Without sufficient demand for the larger wafer size, building a 450mm fab would require chip makers to take 300mm fabs offline.

“450 died because it’s one generation too far,” Hutcheson said.

A spokeswoman for Applied Materials, one of the world’s largest semiconductor equipment vendors, said the company placed its 450mm program on hold due to declining interest in 450 over the past several years.

“We are instead focused on enabling the use of new materials and device architectures to help our customers drive innovation,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “We will continue to monitor the advancement of 450mm and how best to support our customers.”

Kelly of SUNY Poly stressed that the G450C program was designed strictly to determine if a transition to 450mm wafers was technically viable. In that respect, he said, the consortium thoroughly succeeded. “All of the members were satisfied that they could move to 450 when necessary,” he said.

In addition to proving that 450mm is technically viable, the consortium resulted in other valuable advancements, Kelly said, including the creation of standards such as the notchless wafer.

Member companies, Kelly said, ultimately concluded that the timing was not right for Phase 2 of the G450C work. “Members decided that they when they feel it is necessary they will reinitiate,” he added.

This article first appeared on EE Times U.S.

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