450mm Wafer Transition: Supply Chain Impact Discussed at SEMICON West

450mm Wafer Transition: Supply Chain Impact Discussed at SEMICON West

With pilot line programs accelerating in New York and leading chip manufacturers increasingly committed to 450mm, discussions on the industry’s transition to larger wafers have moved to the complicated questions of when and how.  Key to the implementation of 450mm wafer production will be the ability of key subsystem and component suppliers to support leading tool makers with critical enabling products and technologies vital to 450 pilot lines and high volume production.  At the SEMICON West 450 Supply Chain Forum, a standing room only crowd heard Applied Materials, Lam Research and KLA-Tencor discuss the key implications and opportunities for equipment, subsystem and materials suppliers.  Also providing the latest updates on 450mm development 450mm Discussion Imagewere Ron Rinfret, 450mm Program Director at Intel, and Michael Liehr, General Manager of the Global 450 Consortium (G450C).

Much of the debate on 450mm has been on the cost of R&D, the terms of participation in the G450C pilot lines, and the critical need for coordinated, industry-wide insertion into high-volume production to avoid a disastrous “false start” on 450mm implementation.  A primary purpose of the 450 Supply Chain Forum, however, was to shed light on how key suppliers will be impacted and how they can benefit from this major industry transition.  To highlight the complexity of the challenge, 90% of ASML’s components and subsystems are provided by outside suppliers.  Applied Materials is dependent on 800 suppliers worldwide, with 75 prime strategic suppliers representing 80 percent of their annual procurement allocation. 

During SEMICON West, Intel Corp announced they will spend more than $4 billion to buy a stake in ASML and bankroll its research into 450mm systems, introducing a new dynamic in 450mm supply chain readiness. In a statement announcing the ASML deal, Intel Chief Operating Officer Brian Krzanich said, “The transition from one wafer size to the next has historically delivered a 30 to 40 percent reduction in die cost. The faster we do this, the sooner we can gain the benefit of productivity improvements."  The action has generated widespread speculation about how many other strategic investments chip makers will make in suppliers to ensure a smooth transition to larger wafers.

Jonathan Davis, president of SEMI’s Semiconductor Business Unit, kicked off the session outlining the program agenda and objectives.  “The success and progress of semiconductor industry has been based primarily on geometric scaling,” he said.  “Scaling is a continuous effort by a global and diverse supply chain who understand the goals and objectives of product development efforts. Wafer size transition, however, is episodic, and often controversial and chaotic. Through collaborative business models, industry standards and open dialog we can lessen the chaos and improve the probability for success for all involved.”

Mark Fissel, Vice President of Lam Research’s 450mm Program, confirmed that Lam “will supply tools when the industry needs them,” but indicated the entire industry will be hard pressed meet aggressive timelines.  He contrasted the industry’s experience with earlier wafer size transitions. During the move to 300mm, “people voiced concerns about cost and return on investment, but we knew that smart people and companies would find a way to work through the problems.”   Today, Fissel pointed out, the industry’s challenges are much more complex and uncertain.  There are fewer customers, suppliers need to invest in both expensive 300mm and 450mm development efforts, there remain a lack of test wafers, and real EUV necessary for R&D won’t be available until some point in the future.  At the same time, the industry is in a “much more rational” position with standards and an industry consortium for pilot line and equipment qualification.

Fissel recommends the industry “define an integrated learning window,” where intensive supply chain development efforts can be optimized over a two-year period.  A focused and fixed learning window with EUV can reduce costs, reduce 300/450 R&D redundancies, and reduce false start risks.  “A fine balance” is needed for proper funding, timing and volume production planning.

Allen Ware, vice president of M+W and program executive for the G450C project pointed out the needs and opportunities for new collaboration methods in his presentation.  Next generation fabs present new facility challenges in facilities, tool deployment, resource conservation, and other areas.  In building the facility, he sees opportunities for re-engineering the fab beyond a straight-line scale-up.  This is an opening to explore new concepts “in facilities, component standardization, EHS and other areas,” but indicated “we’re not sure” how to work with tool suppliers, chemical suppliers, abatement and water system providers, and other key segments.  He is currently proposing a Facilities Council to maximize coordination and interaction between key facility players.  Candidates have been identified for the Council, but a timeline has not been established and it is unclear if the group can be formed and productive under the tight schedules and new purchasing practices imposed by G450C.

Kirk Hasserjian of Applied Materials, discussed the key factors necessary to make a successful transition, including:

  • Synchronized transition
  • Lithography availability
  • Solving the R&D cost dilemma
  • Improving and extending collaboration methods
  • Ensuring innovation continues
  • Supply chain readiness

Hasserjian emphasized the R&D funding question remains unanswered (except for perhaps ASML).  Current R&D spending for wafer fab tools has been hovering around $5 billion a year.  That will ramp to $12-13 billion in 2016 as suppliers will have three nodes of complex 300mm development to manage (including new transistor design, interconnects, wafer level packaging, and patterning challenges) , on top of re-engineering the product line for 450mm production.  Where will that dramatic R&D funding come from in an industry with stable revenues?  Hasserjian says G450C is a tremendous start, but alone it is not sufficient.  Further cost sharing among industry and government is imperative and further collaboration efforts will be needed. 

For the Applied Materials supply chain, “there will be a significant impact,” according to Hasserjian.  Applied will looking for suppliers who can work across the entire product line, has the resources necessary for meaningful R&D, and the financial weight to survive the new industry economics and accept the risk.   Applied expects further industry consolidation and will be increasing strategic partnerships with their suppliers.

Akihisa Sekiguchi of Tokyo Electron calls the 450mm transition “the inflection point of the decade.”  Agreeing with Applied on the key factors for successful transition, Sekigushi underscored the technology challenges by pointing out the cost per gate reductions at the 90nm, 65nm and 45nm nodes in the range of 40%, turned into a cost increase at 22nm.  “DRAM, Flash and logic are all hitting technical barriers,” he said.  These continuing scaling challenges will remain with a transition to 450mm.  Further complicating the TEL roadmap is the fact that it isn’t yet completely clear what customers want in a 450 tool: a simple scale up of 300mm or new features and configurations as they were revealed during the 300mm transition.  In a significant announcement, Sekiguchi said TEL would develop and offer a multi-chamber, modular “open platform” fab tool for the 450mm era. The platform could also potentially be used by other equipment makers.

“Key Messages Will Be Repeated”

Opening presentations by Ron Rinfret, 450mm Program Director at Intel, and Michael Liehr, General Manager of the Global 450 Consortium, reaffirmed the goals and objectives of the industry move to larger wafers and provided a snapshot of the G450C status and schedule.  Currently 11 tools are onsite in Albany with 5 more expected through the year.  Next year is anticipated to rapidly increase tool installations.  While both speakers repeated the key messages, the presentations contained significant differences in terminology and definitions on G450C timing, illustrating the difficulty tool makers are having in negotiating the new landscape.  And, beyond G450C, simultaneous and separate discussions are underway directly with the chip manufacturers for both pilot line and high-volume manufacturing roadmaps, further complicating planning decisions.

As negotiations continue with leading capital equipment companies, and new business models and private and public funding sources develop for 450 tools, key subsystem, component, materials, and other key suppliers will increasingly have their own difficult investment and product planning decisions to contemplate.  In fact, much of the difficult risk calculations and terms are increasingly being transferred to the supply chain.  As TEL’s Sekiguchi stated, 450 brings “danger, plus opportunity.”

The next 450mm Supply Chain Forum will be held at SEMICON Taiwan, September 5-7, 2012.  For more information, visit www.semicontaiwan.org