450mm may never happen, according to Mark Durcan, CEO of Micron, the world's fourth largest semiconductor company.
“I am not convinced that 450mm will ever happen but, to the extent that it does, it's a long way out in the future,” says Durcan, “there is not a lot of necessity for Micron, at least over the next five years, to be spending a lot of money on 450mm. There is a lot of investment that needs to go on in the equipment community to make that happen. And the value at the end of the day - so that customers would buy that equipment - I think is dubious.”
Four years ago, research by SEMI suggested that 450mm may only reduce die cost by 8% - not worth doing at an R&D cost of $25-30 billion and the $10 billion-per-fab outlay required by device manufacturers.
However, last month Malcolm Penn CEO of Future Horizons, which is heavily involved in the EU's 450mm plans, said that 450mm reduces die cost by 30%.
Nonetheless it was reported before Christmas that ASML's effort to develop 450mm has been 'reduced'. ASML has confirmed that this pretty much reflects the situation
Although Samsung, TSMC and Intel have not pulled out of the 450mm development programme, the programme has slowed because of an intervention by them.
The intervention could be the result of disagreement by the three companies. Samsung and TSMC don't want to enable Intel, because Intel's nascent aspirations in the foundry business now put Intel in competition with TSMC and Samsung.
“No one's made the commitment to 450mm yet,” said Penn, “for the Big 3 it's Maybe; for GloFo, Toshiba, Micron and Hynix it's Maybe; for the equipment firms it's No; for the Big 3 European firms it's No.”
There was a time when people were serious about 450mm and put serious money behind it.
In mid-2012, Intel paid $3 billion for a 15% stake in ASML and said it would put another $1 billion into the R&D projects, Samsung bought a 3% stake in ASML for €503 million with a commitment to put up €276m for ASML's R&D programmes, and TSMC paid €838 million for a 5% stake in ASML and another €276 million for the R&D projects. Intel is also funding a 450mm development effort by Nikon.
How, one wonders, can an industry worth $300 billion last year, which was worth $275 billion in 2007 and first hit $300 billion in 2010, be able to afford a $30 billion R&D effort and $10 billion apiece for factories?
The answer, of course, is that the industry can't afford it. But a public-private effort that brings in government and consortia stretching across the industry supply chain may be able to devise a way.
What is at stake is the declining cost of electronics. This is said to have had a massive, while deflationary, effect on worldwide productivity for the last 40 years.
Shrinking is one way to get declining cost but, with shrinking delivering less and nearing its limit, 450mm is the only other way to reduce die cost.
If die cost stops declining, there are ways of reducing cost-per-function like 3D transistors for processors and stacked transistors for NAND.
And sub-system cost can be reduced through packaging advances like TSV.
Even without 450mm, even without shrinking, there's life in the old silicon dog yet.
Image: G450C Global 450 Consortium