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The head of International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) warned that the chip industry needs to begin discussions of transition to 450mm wafers used to make semiconductors shortly, if it wants to have the 450mm wafer technology ready by 2012.

“We think 2012 would be the year for the 450mm wafers, so we need to start discussing it pretty soon, in the next six months. We need to start planning,” said Paolo Gargini, the Intel Corp. director of technology strategy who serves as the chairman of the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) at Semicon West in San Francisco, California, EETimes web-site reports.

It usually takes about 5 years to prepare standards and prototypes in order to begin designing the actual equipment.

It is estimated that around 14% of all wafers produced this year will be 300mm wafers. The growth in 300mm wafers presence may not impress, as the first 300mm wafer was produced in 2001. The reasons for pretty slow adoption of the larger wafers and more advanced equipment are slowdown in growth of semiconductor market along with exceptional costs for new equipment and manufacturing of large wafers.

At Semicon West conference last week a number of participants said that while the larger wafers may be required by Intel and other companies with big die sizes and large volumes, the larger part of the chip industry will have little enthusiasm for the 450mm wafers, according to the report.

Larger wafers provide lower per-device cost, however, they require special equipment and are generally more expensive to produce. For companies, whose volumes of sales are not giant, it does not make sense to use large wafers as they may not be able to sell all devices, which will increase the per-device cost.

There is an important trend of soaring costs of semiconductor foundries. According to analysts, a plant that processes 300mm wafers and utilises 90nm manufacturing  technology costs nearly $4 billion, whereas a bit less advanced facility that made use of 0.13 micron technology cost around $2 to $3 billion a little bit earlier. With complexity of process technologies going upwards, the costs of plants will continue to ascend. Even now very few companies can afford building 300mm fabs and utilise advanced manufacturing technologies, in future it is likely that a lot of firms will have to either jointly build semiconductor foundries, or to go with contract manufacturers, in order to sustain competitive per-device cost.

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