Semiconductor factories that process 450mm wafers are very expensive to build and require new equipment that costs more than existing tools. However, such fabs can produce twice as many chips of current geometries, thus, reducing costs per chip, and potentially can enable larger semiconductors. Yet another advantage is lower amount of engineers per wafer required for a 450mm fab compared to several 300mm fabs, according to TSMC.
The demand for chips is increasing gradually every year. As more devices employ complex microprocessors and microcontrollers, that demand will get substantially higher compared to today’s levels. As a result, the output of factories as well as the amount of fabs will need to get higher. Increasing the output of 300mm fabs or the number of them requires increased amount of workforce and engineers. One 450mm semiconductor production factory can process 1.8 times more chips than one 300mm facility without substantial increases of headcount, according to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.
“TSMC believes it will become more and more difficult to attract 'good engineers. […] In fact, TSMC will need 7000 fewer engineers over a ten year period when it enters into the 450mm era. […] As expected, TSMC’s intercept point for 450-mm fabs will be at the 20-nm node,” said said Shang-Yi Chiang, senior vice president of R&D at TSMC, in an interview with EE Times web-site.
Modern fabrication technologies cost billions of dollars to be developed and process technologies of the future will cost even more than that. As a result, it is inevitable that TSMC and others will have to increase the research and development as well as capital spending. As a result, for sub-16nm fabrication processes 450mm may actually be a huge benefit.
TSMC’s first 450mm pilot line is planned at its Fab12 Phase VI, starting with 20nm technology. The timing of pilot line will be around 2013 – 2014. The company will initiate commercial production using 450mm production line in 2015 – 2016 with 14nm fabrication process.