The Domino Effect: Making 450mm a Reality

The Domino Effect: Making 450mm a Reality  

Challenges, Drivers and Insights behind a Successful 450mm Transition

By Brian Trafas, Ph.D., chief marketing officer, KLA-Tencor Corporation

Brian Trafas photoContinued focus on driving Moore’s law and transistor shrink is pushing the industry’s best to innovate at an increasingly rapid pace. Ongoing buzz surrounding “the road to 450mm” proved inescapable at this summer’s SEMICON West. Anchored in its promise to reduce manufacturing costs of next-generation design nodes by increasing chipmakers’ overall die per wafer, the 450mm transition and its viability are no longer in question  — and yet the industry continues to critically examine when and how to best introduce this next wafer size.

The latest semiconductor revenue projections indicate an ongoing growth rate of four to five percent driving higher future demand for semiconductor chips. The wafer starts necessary to meet this escalating demand for smaller, faster, and cheaper devices will require a significant number of 300mm fabs; however, fewer 450mm fabs would be needed to accomplish the same output.

While the path to 450mm is challenging, recent funding from several industry leaders and the formation of industry consortiums make a 2018 target date for 450mm production more realistic.  However, questions and risks still remain:  How can the industry seamlessly move to 450mm, while also maintaining technology node advancements? Will the progress of next generation lithography technologies, such as EUV, alter the course for 450mm completely?

Applying hard lessons learned from the 300mm transition, the right timing is paramount. Today’s equipment companies will have to commit to the design node when this move will take place. Uniting on this requires a new level of transparency, or openness, among industry players. Further collaboration between chipmakers and equipment suppliers will be critical to identify solutions that remove production “showstoppers” otherwise impeding a successful shift to larger substrates.

Despite the initial 450mm funding that has taken place, the 2018 production timeline is only realistic if companies begin to build out 450mm fabs. The availability of official pilot manufacturing lines will further prompt cooperation by industry “enablers” behind this transition, and ultimately serve as a catalyst to attract customer orders.

To support the aforementioned events pipeline and for 450mm to thrive, the industry must coordinate in every possible way to improve manufacturing efficiencies. This may include reducing waste, managing energy and controlling costs associated with tool development. Industry-formed consortiums will prove to be instrumental in defining these guiding standards. The impetus for industry players to sync up in non-competitive areas — and collaborate around the economies and associated drivers for this transition — will help enable the success of 450mm.

The recent news of two key chipmakers investing in leading lithography is an unprecedented change in the customer/supplier dynamic. The customer investment further exemplifies ways in which the 450mm transition is unlike previous ones.

Even if all of the equipment suppliers meet the 450mm timeline, there are potential roadblocks to insuring that the move to 450mm is successful.  One of the most critical elements for success is die yield. To insure maximum yield:

  • Multiple wafer suppliers must provide defect-free, flat substrates and material suppliers must help enable process and control costs with eco-friendly options.
  • Process equipment manufacturers must provide very precise tools that reduce variation and uniformity across the wafer, especially at the edge of the wafer.
  • Semiconductor manufacturers must develop processes that stay within increasingly smaller process windows.

Process control inspection and metrology tools are critical components to insure success in all of these areas. Having these tools available during early development and ramp will enable a more cost-effective transition.  At KLA-Tencor, we introduced our latest generation Surfscan® inspection platform at SEMICON West 2012 with 300mm- and 450mm-capable tools to address parallel development.

Returning to the earlier questions, while it remains to be seen whether EUV will impact 450mm, how the industry will make a seamless 450mm transition is clear — the answer rests on the collaboration between chipmakers and equipment suppliers to overcome the steep learning curve. 450mm will become a reality, but only through combined efforts to advance the industry together. 

About the Author

Brian Trafas, Ph.D., serves as the chief marketing officer at KLA-Tencor, Inc., where he is responsible for defining product requirements for the company’s products serving the wafer, mask, IC, data storage, solar and LED markets. With two decades of experience in the semiconductor capital equipment industry with an emphasis on process control, Trafas is a sought-after author having written more than 30 technical papers. He has written extensively about CD process control, advanced patterned wafer inspection methodologies and the application of scanning probe microscopes.  Additionally, he has earned several industry honors including the R&D 100 Award from R&D Magazine.

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September 4, 2012