Nikon and Intel announcements highlight 450mm news from Japan

In a significant announcement during the SEMICON Japan 450mm Transition Forum that sheds new light on the availability of 450mm wafer processing lithography capability, Kazuo Ushida, president of Nikon Precision Equipment Company, said that the company plans to ship high-volume manufacturing (HVM) lithography tools in 2017 through a joint development effort with a chip maker.  Nikon plans to have ArF immersion 450mm prototype tools in 2015-16.

Other 450mm-related news during SEMICON Japan came from Opening Keynote speaker Kasumasa Yoshida, representative director and president of Intel, K.K., who confirmed Intel’s new 450mm Japan Metrology Center (JMC) in Tsukuba. 

Ushida said that requirements for 450mm lithography include higher throughput, improved overlay accuracy, and improved imaging performance. The industry’s expectation for high-volume 450mm EUV lithography insertion in 2018 will likely be delayed due to insufficient light source progress, mask infrastructure and EUV photoresist development challenges.  Furthermore, Uchida said that the very steep curve of EUV technology improvement required is not realistic in the timeframe.

Lithography has been a serious concern among other wafer process equipment tool providers, who have been reluctant to invest in 450mm research and development ahead of a viable advanced node patterning solution.  Other equipment companies have been interested in a 450mm litho solution for process development reasons and also as an assurance that chip makers will actually be ready to implement a complete manufacturing line in the timeframe that tool development is being requested.

Uchida’s pledge aligns with the G450C roadmap. G450C vice president and general manager Frank Robertson, also speaking at SEMICON Japan, said that the consortium plans for nano-imprint litho and pitch doubling capability over the next two years and “real” 193 immersion litho capability for tool demonstrations at the unit process level by mid-2014. 

Robertson said that G450C has now negotiated a full set of wafer process and metrology tools with the exception of lithography. In addition to 14nm tool demonstrations, G450C is focused on providing test wafers. Test monitor 450mm wafers are expected to be available in 2Q13, prime wafers in 2Q14 and epi wafers in 1Q15. G450C is giving priority to consortium members and the participating tool makers. They will also provide 450 test wafers to others via a wafer loan program.  Robertson pointed to a wafer loan request process on the G450C website.

According to economic analysis from Akira Minamikawa, vice president, IHS iSuppli Japan, NAND memory and microprocessors warrant the larger wafer size, but DRAM will not require 450mm manufacturing.  Minamikawa estimates that twenty 450mm fab lines (to as many as 50 “at the most”) will be built in a ten-year period.  He contrasts that figure to 160 fab lines for 300mm and 240 8” fab lines that were built in a similar timeframe.

The need for innovation and collaboration to achieve the cost and time objectives was a common observation from G450C, Nikon and TEL representatives speaking at the Forum.  Each speaker pointed to the important role of SEMI Standards in achieving a successful transition and the need for chip makers, consortia and equipment companies to collaborate in new ways.

Tokyo Electron Limited (TEL) VP and general manager Akihisa Sekiguchi commented that equipment makers face inordinate challenges in the 450mm transition. Concurrent 300mm/450mm R&D and prolonged 450mm startup impose significant financial risk and he warned that it may take years for equipment makers to see an ROI. TEL’s proposal is to unify its various internal platforms for 450mm, and establish an open platform alliance to share previously proprietary information with the supply chain.  Concepts for harmonizing facility connections have been well-received by the G450C as a means to reduced installation costs and complexity.

Intel’s new 450mm Japan Metrology Center (JMC) in Tsukuba was referenced in an earlier industry presentation at SEMICON West and operational since July, but has not been publically announced.  Yoshida said that mission of the new facility is to support the 450mm network by providing “quick turn” metrology, improved supplier R&D velocity and a link to the G450C activity in Albany, New York.

Yoshida said that the semiconductor industry is spurred by silicon innovation and penetration.  He referenced smartphone demand, which is expected to grow at a 24 percent compound annual growth rate over the next several years, and tablets with a 53 percent CAGR, as key market drivers.  He further commented that 15 billion intelligent connected devices will be present by 2015 and contribute to an estimated 35 trillion GB of data traffic. He said that the combined market drivers potentially yield semiconductor industry sales with greater than 50 percent upside by 2020 — meaning a worldwide market of about $450 billion. He anticipates that Intel products will represent a 25-26 percent share of the total and therefore the company requires aggressive investment to increase capacity.

The next SEMI 450mm Transition Forum will occur at SEMICON Korea on January 30, 2013.

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