Muted references by Intel that its recently announced D1X Fab would 450mm capable is starting to look more like doable if you take veteran leader of TSMC, Morris Chang at his word. Speaking in a conference call with financial analysts, Chang was in pumped-up mode after a capacity sold-out year and expectations of the same this year.
Chang took time in his prepared remarks to cover the sensitive issue of a transition the larger wafer size.
I want to say a few words about the 450-millimeter wafer manufacturing. Our first 450-millimeter pilot line is planned at our Fab12 Phase VI, starting with 20-nanometer technology. The timing of pilot line will be around 2013, 2014. Our first 450-millimeter production line is planned in around 2015, 2016.
If TSMC is doing it then Intel and Samsung are too. The group had formed a little alliance to collectively pummel equipment suppliers into submission or something like it.
The timelines seem very aggressive, particularly for the pilot line, though as in previous transitions not all the tools are ever ready at the same time and some will look less than production worthy, more a cobbled together variant of a 300mm platform.
But the mention of a production line this decade is really aggressive.
The public stance from equipment suppliers, especially those in North America is that development costs will be so huge the old and costly route at 300mm is not to be repeated. Basically, they paid upfront and then waited a couple of years longer before Intel said OK, were ready now!
I still remember Applied Materials boss at the time standing up at a conference asking the likes of Intel when were they going buy his 300mm tools.
So what has changed?
Nothing yet but we will certainly get the financial analysts asking those questions at every equipment firms quarterly conference calls.
Indeed, without prompting and stated within prepared remarks during Lam Research’s latest analyst call, Steve Newberry, CEO said,
For the IC manufacturing industry in general, we see capital intensity increasing across all market segments with the move to 2X technology note and below. We would expect this trend to continue for a number of years as customers deal with the complex technological challenges associated with new memory device architectures and new materials and new architectures in advanced logic as well as rising investments related to an eventual transition to 450mm.
It seems that eventual transition to 450mm has already been laid-out.
Of course we don’t know yet what the cost of the transition will actually be. But with Chang’s TSMC already pushing CapEx to US$7.8 billion this year on expanding 40nm and starting 28nm production to keep up with demand the equipment suppliers may be fearing spiralling RD&E costs but by 2015-16 should see the cash registers go ka-ching in a way not seen since the dot-com boom of 2000.