It 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.