TSMC joins giant fab race

450 mm wafers in five years, maybe


Taiwanese contract fab TSMC has become the latest chip-maker to join the 450mm (18 inch) wafer push, announcing a five-year project to put between $US8 billion and $US10 billion into a new chip plant.

The project received government approval on Monday.

Larger wafers are seen as key to future chip fabrication processes. As chips become more complex, more masks are needed during manufacture – making the end result more expensive. By lifting the wafer size from today’s 300mm to 450mm, the fabrication processes happen to more individual devices (roughly double) simultaneously, hopefully improving chip economics.

According to Reuters, TSMC’s chairman Morris Chang says he believes rivals such as Samsung are also working on a 450 mm process. He said he believes technical challenges to the process will take five years to overcome.

Intel is already committed to 450mm processes, with plans for fabs in Arizona and Oregon.

A working 450 mm process would set the industry on course to deliver “trillion-transistor” devices.

The technical challenges for such large wafers arise from both the complexity of the devices themselves, and the material handling challenges. Standardisation efforts for such larger wafers include specifications for warp, surface conditions, edge profile and other characteristics – none of which mattered in the ancient days of 50 mm wafers.

Chip design is also becoming more challenging. In this interview with eeTimes, NVIDIA’s Sameer Halepete says physical design teams for wafers will be strained, demanding a shift to better design tools. ®

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