A fox among the chickens
For the semiconductor industry, it’s time to think the unthinkable. This was the message from IFS2014, organised by Future Horizons, in London earlier this week.
“The global IC industry is in epic upheaval,” said Malcolm Penn, CEO of Future Horizons, “it’s the ideal time to seize a long-term initiative.”
The opportunity is 450mm. “Whoever jumps first will have a huge competitive advantage. 450mm delivers a 30% die cost reduction. It will kill the competition,” said Penn.
The problem with the semiconductor industry, as with all industries, is that entrenched market leaders are difficult to replace.
“You can never catch a market leader,” said Penn, “you need a dislocation point to get to a new starting point at the same time as everyone else.”
450mm is, he said, “a serious dislocation point.”
The big question is: Who wants 450mm?
One person who does is Neelie Kroes, vp of the EC, who has a budget of $80 billion to secure a 20% market share for European manufactured ICs.
But which companies want 450mm?
“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 (they can’t support anything their shareholders don’t support).”
So the industry is indecisive. “This is when people think the unthinkable,” said Penn.
Without any single company backing a 450mm plant, the options for building one are:
“There are plenty of opportunities for a new start-up with a 450mm fab,” said Penn.
That would really put a fox among the chickens.
And it might help make Neelie’s 20% attainable. “The 20% production share requires 450mm high volume production in Europe,” said Penn.
A major plus for that happening is that the first 450mm wafers are likely to be processed in Europe – at Imec.
“Imec will be the first to fab 450mm wafers in the pilot line they are building at Leuven,” said Penn “the Intel pilot line will supplant it soon after and be much larger.”
So Europe has the budget and it will have the technology in a timely manner. All it needs is the business model.
The attraction of devising and implementing such a model is, said Penn, that the effect of being first to adopt 450mm processing “is the semiconductor equivalent of a nuclear first strike.”