by Anton Shilov
10/15/2013 | 11:25 PM
As the market further shifts towards mobile and ultra-mobile computing, Intel Corp. is reconsidering some of its plans to speed up arrival of certain products or cut manufacturing costs of other chips. However, there are also things that Intel will just continue to spend on in order to sustain its semiconductor market leadership. One of such things is 450mm wafer initiative jointly developed by Intel and its partners.
During the latest conference call with financial analysts, Intel’s new chief executive officer, Brian Krzanich, reiterated plans to start volume production of chips on 450mm wafers in the second half of this decade. Since the transition to 450mm wafers is an extremely complex process that will take more than one decade eventually, some of its milestones will take longer to complete, whereas the other will take shorter time to achieve. For Intel, the transition is clearly a long term goal and the company will unlikely cut spending on the project due to slow demand at a point of time.
“We have not changed our timing [regarding 450mm]. We are still targeting the second, latter half of this decade. We continue to see great value in 450mm: it brings tremendous economic value to everybody who participates in it. We continue to work with our partners, we are here part of the joint development program in New York, continuing to work on 450mm. We continue to work with our partners, especially TSMC and Samsung and we are still targeting the back half of this decade [as time for commercial production]. This is a long ten-year program when you really take a look at it. So I think you will get mixed signals throughout those ten years,” said Brian Krzanich, chief executive officer of Intel.
This summer Intel confirmed the beginning of construction of the fab D1X module 2. The new facility will be the world’s first semiconductor manufacturing factory processing 450mm wafers, which will be used primarily for development purposes and which will lead the way for the whole multi-billion dollar industry.
Rendering of Intel's manufacturing facilities in Hillsboro, Oregon, which includes D1X module 2 research fab. Image by Portland Business Journal.
Intel did not reveal any more details about the project that is supposed to cost Intel about $2 billion only this year, it is unclear at what stage the construction is and when exactly it is projected to be completed. In fact, the only thing we do know about the schedule for the fab D1X module 2 is a short comment made by Intel’s chief financial officer earlier this year.
“We will spend roughly $2 billion to start building our first 450mm [D1X module 2] development facility [in 2013]. […] When we look at 2015 as the time when we can have [450mm] equipment available, we want to start […] construction of a big development facility [now]. [Construction] is typically a couple of year’s cycle,” said Stacy Smith, the chief financial officer of Intel, earlier this year.
D1X module 2 is about the same size (1.1 million square feet, 106.1 thousand of square meters) as the original fab D1X and is built specifically for 450mm wafers. When the second module is complete, it will start up on 450mm wafers once it is equipped with appropriate manufacturing tools and gear.
Intel is currently equipping its D1X development fab to process 300mm wafers using 14nm manufacturing technology and expects to initiate production this year. While the D1X module 1 facility is 450mm-capable, it will come online as a 300mm fab.
“We do not have a specific schedule for D1X module 2 yet. The spending on 450mm this year is for bricks and mortar and some early development equipment, but nothing for production at this time,” said Chuck Mulloy earlier this year.
Nowadays chips that power everything from washing machine to smartphone to PC to server are made on 300mm wafers. The growing demand for more advanced microprocessors as well as increasing competition calls for slashing down per-processor costs. Being made on larger 450mm wafers, chips for advanced devices will get more affordable over time.