Last week, Mark LaPedus at SemiMD put together a great article about the latest surge in 450mm consortia and consortium-like 450mm projects. It appears that 450mm R&D is poised to really take off with the formation of these new groups. After reading the piece, I wondered if there would be some interesting observations if one dug a little deeper—there are.
In particular, by reviewing the participants in the organizations and programs that have emerged onto the 450mm scene, there’s an obvious, common thread. Not surprising, that thread is Intel. Intel is a member on every program and in every consortium, sans two for which it appears they are ineligible. This gives little doubt to how serious Intel is about 450mm. By contrast, other proponents of 450mm, namely, the remaining G450C chipmakers, are noticeably missing.
The Missing Chipmakers
While Samsung, TSMC, Globalfoundries (GF) and IBM’s membership in G450C (the 500 lb consortium gorilla in the mix), is a clear sign of 450mm support, why are they missing from the rest of the groups?
As many of the new projects receive government funding from the European Union, a requirement of regional presence is an explanation for TSMC and Samsung’s absence. This would also apply to Metro450, which has funding from Israel’s government. With fabs in both Ireland and in Israel, Intel qualifies for participation in both regions. The State of New York’s funding eventually requires a local fab for continued subsidy, however, there has been no current impact on membership from this obligation.
None of this explains the absence of GF from the European activities. Perhaps, with GF’s participation with Imec and Fraunhofer, there’s an expectation that information will flow to them through these research group’s involvement in the 450mm projects, but that’s unlikely. Most projects and joint ventures have strict rules on dissemination of project data and results to non-participants, except through group-approved papers and published standards activities. GF is even missing from the local Saxony450 effort, at least in the latest version of participants listed, though their Dresden fab is in the heart of Saxony.
What is also somewhat a paradox is that European chipmakers, that is, those that historically have their headquarters in Europe, such as ST Microelectronics, Infineon, and NXP, are completely absent from the 450mm programs. Since participation in a Euro-centric 450mm project is likely not a huge financial commitment, could it be that there is concern that any involvement on their part gives the appearance of agreement on the need for 450mm? If 450mm continues to build at its current pace, these chipmakers may need to develop some proactive 450mm strategy, sooner or later.
It is notable that there are no 450mm-centric consortia based in Taiwan, Japan, and Korea. Since 450mm’s success primarily depends on suppliers, the relative dearth of major equipment suppliers, for any wafer size, in Taiwan and Korea, might provide some explanation, assuming funds flow to only local companies. However, with 450mm possibly being the last major industry disruption for new suppliers to enter the market, it is surprising that these governments would not try to coordinate supplier research and development activity. It might allow Samsung and TSMC the opportunity to “buy locally” from some homegrown suppliers.
By contrast, Japan has strong supplier participation, both supporting G450C and within the SEMI-based Equipment Supplier Group (ESG). However, actual Japanese government-sponsored research and development efforts appear absent. Perhaps this is because Japanese chipmakers have not been supportive of the 450mm transition. Similar to the EU’s reasoning, advancing Japan’s supplier base for global 450mm sales seems like a worthy justification to consider a government-coordinated, regional effort.
No labeling of “good” or “bad” has been intended in this article. Each semiconductor industry participant has well-thought-through motives for strategies they take. Similarly, the data reviewed “is what it is,” and the discussion herein is intended to provide food for thought.