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Semiconductor process nodes no longer

18 June 2009 | By Mark Osborne | News > Wafer Processing

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Process nodes are staying in production longerIt is well known that the semiconductor industry cannot scale below an atom and therefore Moore’s Law has a natural end. However, iSuppli Corp’s Len Jelinek, Director and Chief analyst of its Semiconductor Manufacturing research area, noted in a new report that the cost of processing equipment at the 18nm node and beyond is expected to be cost prohibitive to make further node migrations economically viable.

“The usable limit for semiconductor process technology will be reached when chip process geometries shrink to be smaller than 20 nanometers (nm), to 18nm nodes,” said Jelinek. “At those nodes, the industry will start getting to the point where semiconductor manufacturing tools are too expensive to depreciate with volume production, i.e., their costs will be so high, that the value of their lifetime productivity can never justify it.” 

Jelinek told Fabtech that he wasn’t calling an end to Moore’s Law as a handful of IC manufacturers will attempt to continue to push-out the boundaries but for the majority of semiconductor production, the 18nm node appears to be the new ‘Red Brick Wall’ of economics in the industry.  iSuppli expects the industry to reach this milestone in 2014.

Instead, for the manufacturing majority semiconductor processes are expected to have more lengthy periods of revenue generation. The last node, according to Jelinek that followed the classic rise and fall from a fabrication volume perspective was the 90nm node. In contrast, the 65nm node is not declining at a similar pace and looks set to be a major mature node with a long-life ahead.

Economics will therefore become the mantra. IC manufacturers will try to squeeze as much as they can out of current geometries before moving on to the next level.

“Historically, the focus in the semiconductor industry was always how quickly you could move to the next geometry node,” Jelinek said. “Now the question is how to make money by sustaining a specific node.”

Focus will also turn to 3D structures that allow more transistors to be packed into a single device.

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Reader comments

It is clear that at some point the market will vote its mind by denying capital, lowering valuations, and lowering the P/E ratios even in boom times. I tend to agree with iSupply, the game seems increasingly over and semi will soon become just any other old industry. But, look at the bright side, downturns will be far less severe as we Moore's end. Regardless, who could possible want to be an equipment supplier under this scenario?
By Adolfo Gutierrez on 19 June 2009
I am not sure what to say. Other guys from much more advanced places say just opposite. IMEC is the example.
By Jan Hoppe on 18 June 2009

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