TSMC’s schedule for 450mm mass production — and lithography is the key

by Karen Lo, director, SEMI Taiwan

September 26, 2012 - At the SEMICON Taiwan 2012 450mm Supply Chain Forum on September 7, leading foundries and equipment manufacturers such as TSMC, TEL, Lam Research, Applied Materials, and KLA-Tencor convened to discuss the latest trends in 450nm technology as well as the opportunities and challenges involved. The experts at the forum agreed that many technical obstacles remain on the path to achieve mass production for 450mm wafers by 2018. The industry supply chain must collaborate on innovation to make this vision a reality.

In a presentation entitled "450mm challenges and opportunities," Dr. C.S. Yoo, senior director of the 450mm program at TSMC, said that increasing node complexity means diminishing returns from process miniaturization. For this reason, the industry began studying 450mm wafers with the goal of improving production efficiency, accelerating technology ramp-up, and shortening production cycles. Yoo stated that these advantages, together with higher land and personnel utilization rates, hopefully will offer the semiconductor industry more opportunities for long-term development.

Dr. C.S. Yoo, sr. director of 450mm program, TSMC

According to Yoo, the biggest question in the bid to realize mass production by 2018 is whether the industry can successfully develop the lithography required for 10nm node processes by 2015. At the same time, the industry must solve problems such as rationalizing equipment costs to make return on investments predictable, realizing significant improvements in productivity, and development of automated unmanned foundry operations, smart equipment, and green foundries.

The industry made many technological breakthroughs during the conversion over to 300mm wafers — and Yoo expects that the transition to 450 will produce even more innovative technologies in the future. TSMC will leverage its partnership with the Global 450 Consortium (G450C) as well as work with IC and equipment manufacturers to support the successful transition of the industry to 450mm.

Dr. John Lin, general manager of G450C, introduced the latest developments at G450C, noting that significant advances in 450mm technology have occurred in the past year and industry interest is continuing to build. He stated that the goal of G450C is to begin demonstrating 14nm technology this year and put 10nm into pilot production between 2015 and 2016. Major improvements in the quality of supply for 450mm wafers have been made, and most of the production machinery should complete the prototype phase by 2014. As for lithography — the most crucial part of the project — the preliminary prototype will probably be completed in 2016 and be ready for mass production by 2018.

The CNSE cleanroom is expected to be ready by December 2012; it will be the first 450mm foundry in the world. Lin said that G450C will continue to collaborate with suppliers and SEMI to promote the standardization of 450mm hardware infrastructure components as well as back-end processing and packaging and testing operations. By sharing in the costs of development, the industry will enjoy the benefits offered by 450mm.

Among equipment manufacturers, Dr. Akihisa Sekiguchi (VP and GM of corporate marketing, TEL), Mark Fissel (VP of 450mm program, Lam Research), Kirk Hasserjian (corporate VP of silicon systems group, Applied Materials) and Hubert Altendorfer (senior director of 450mm program, KLA-Tencor) all talked about the challenges involved with developing 450mm equipment.

Seikiguchi believes that 450mm will revolutionize the semiconductor industry and that only companies with strong financial fundamentals will survive due to the high cost of investment. With several years to go until the target of achieving mass production by 2018, Seikiguchi believes that the risks and uncertainty during this period makes proper communication and collaboration between customers, equipment suppliers, foundries and industry associations all the more important. The semiconductor industry should learn from past experience with 300mm transition to avoid making the same mistakes.

Mark Fissel of Lam Research also invoked the transition to 300mm as an example. The first prototype was completed in 1995 but the "dot-com" bubble and other economic factors slowed progress, so it took nine years for 300mm wafer shipments to finally exceed 200mm wafers in 2004. The development of 450mm equipment must also contend with design issues and challenges in terms of technology, capacity, cost and size. Fissel believed that the industry must balance the risk for 450mm development with its long-term ROI.

Kirk Hasserjian of Applied Materials proposed six important factors for a smooth transition to 450mm: Synchronization of the industry’s transition timetable, maturity of lithography, cost sharing, collaboration, innovation, and supply chain readiness.

The eventual wafer size transition will have widespread implications, both for those who make the transition as well as for those that wait. Much of the semiconductor ecosystem is now paying attention to — and planning for — the transition. SEMI is facilitating the development of industry standards and the flow of information throughout the supply chain. SEMI recently launched 450 Central, a web-based information service to help the industry efficiently transition to 450mm-ready solutions and keep the industry informed of important news and perspectives on 450mm wafer processing.

The most knowledgeable and authoritative voices in the industry discuss these tough issues at SEMI events around the world. Our objective is advance the dialog — to convey useful information to our attendees — and to serve as a platform for productive collaboration on these and other industry issues. The upcoming SEMICON Europa (October 9-11) features a 1.5 day session on "Progress in 450mm." For more information on SEMI, visit www.semi.org.

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