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450mm Wafers: More At Stake Than Just A New Wafer Size

As the semiconductor industry grows its way out of the 2008/2009 downturn, it’s inevitable that the debate over 450mm wafers will rear its head again. The major objection to 450mm wafers lies in the research and development cost, and the ability of all parties involved to benefit from the large investment.

The industry cannot stagnate at the existing 300mm wafer technology. Consumer demands for more memory will push NAND and DRAM to ever increasing product densities and increased unit volumes. Logic products will continue to move up the performance curve while offering more features in a system-on-chip or high performance multi-core product. The ability to produce chips on a more economical manufacturing process is good for the overall industry's future. It’s the availability of low cost memory and high performance and/or low power processors that enables the creation of new applications, increasing demand for electronic goods and more semiconductors, a cycle that keeps our industry ticking.

And don’t forget, it’s the availability of mature capacity that enables a plethora of new features. When DRAM vendors moved to 300mm wafers, they used their old 200mm capacity to produce cost-effective CMOS image sensors. LED, medical applications and smart grid are being enabled because of efficient 200mm capacity which is available as advanced products move on.

In order to meet our next generation technology demands, the industry will have to find a revolutionary solution. Whether it is 450mm wafers or not, the solution will most likely be expensive and disruptive. But every time an industry executive says we can’t afford the R&D, it sends a discouraging message to all the young, creative engineers: the semiconductor industry is stagnant, protecting profit margins instead of forging new markets.

Competitive markets are designed to weed out the poor performers, but we are weeding out the risk-takers and we’re no longer attracting the best of the young, innovative entrepreneurs. We all need to be sending a positive message that the magic in the black box, whether it is a cell phone or an iPad, starts in the manufacturing of the semiconductor chips.

It’s time for the industry to quit viewing semiconductor technology at the end of a long journey. We haven’t exhausted our technology option! Let’s get back to an innovative mindset!

Joanne Itow, Managing Director

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