“The industry cannot stagnate at the existing 300 mm wafer technology…every time an industry executive says we can’t afford the R&D, it sends a discouraging message to all the young, creative engineers: the semiconductor industry is stagnant, protecting profit margins instead of forging new markets… Let’s get back to an innovative mindset!” – Joanne Itow
Let’s stop for a minute and reflect on the reality of the semiconductor industry – an industry that has grown exponentially through both scaling and manufacturing innovation to become the one industry that has most enabled improvements in the global standard of living.
Innovation is the key to semiconductor industry success. No one would argue with that.
However, innovation drives business decisions –not the other way around. When an idea goes from research to development, it is because it offers more processing power, lower manufacturing costs, or higher yields than the current approach. When the resulting process moves into production, it is because a solid business case can be made for adoption and return on investment. That’s why some innovations – like copper interconnects – were implemented, and why others – like 157 nm lithography – were not.
Putting 450mm wafers into production isn’t about driving innovation; it’s primarily about making a rational business decision based on solid technical and economic research. Today’s economics do not support it. There is plenty of investigation that has been done, and almost all of it shows an investment cost so high that no one – not IDMs, not equipment and materials manufacturers, not even state or national governments – is willing to bear it right now.
But to take 450mm as the one and only indicator of a vibrant, leading-edge, innovative industry that can attract and retain engineers is inaccurate.
What the article in question doesn’t mention is that regardless of wafer size issues, “next-generation technology innovation” is very much alive and well with EUV, TSV and 3D ICs, new gate stack materials, and Fab 2.0 – all of which have promising business cases, and therefore all of which have attracted investment dollars. Innovation is all around this industry today, and will be for a long time.
Yes, there is much at stake. Business leaders have made well-informed strategic and tactical decisions about their limited resources and their business opportunities, and today, that’s why a transition to 450mm wafers is not high on the priority list.
When the next innovations – whatever they are – present themselves, the industry will analyze the possibilities and the returns, and well-argued businesses cases will be made, spurring tangible investment.
For 450mm production, the industry’s actions and ensuing investments clearly show that time is not now.