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Mature Technology: It's Where the Action Is

Semico Research has just released a mature technology market research study.  Wait!  Mature technologies?  Aren’t those fabs trailing-edge technology, old hat, passé?  They may use older technology, but there’s a lot of action there now. 

For many years, semiconductor manufacturing has tended to migrate from older fabs to newer fabs in a predictable manner.  Leading-edge semiconductors such as processors and memory migrated to leading-edge fabs.  ASICs and other integrated circuits migrated to the second-generation fabs just vacated by the leading-edge parts.  Discretes and other trailing-edge devices migrated to the third-generation fabs.  Older fabs were decommissioned.  That pattern ended several generations ago.  The reasons are complex.  It involves economics, diverging memory and logic technologies, new applications which require low power, and market dynamics which include company consolidation.

It is debatable whether volume production on 450mm wafers is ready.  Only a very few semiconductor manufacturers, maybe two or three, can afford it; and none of them currently have plans to build a 450mm fab.  The wafer manufacturers and the equipment manufacturers are reluctant to support new 450mm fabs, since the payoff seems so uncertain.  At present, it seems likely that new 450mm fabs will not be built until several years into the future, if then.  The industry may never move to 450mm fabs.  With no new 450mm fabs being built, the focus on increasing capacity for leading-edge semiconductors will be on building new 300mm fabs or retooling existing 300mm fabs for leading-edge production.  In fact, Semico is tracking more than forty new 300mm fabs that are currently planned or under construction.

As new leading-edge 300mm fabs come online, some ICs now being manufactured in 200mm fabs will migrate to older 300mm fabs, but for some devices there will be little incentive to make this migration.  The primary incentive for moving to larger wafers is to lower manufacturing costs, taking advantage of the efficiencies gained by having more die per wafer.  But, for many devices now being manufactured in 150mm or 200mm fabs, more die per wafer may be too much of a good thing.  The die size for many of these devices is quite small, and there are often hundreds or thousands of dies per wafer.  The gain in efficiency is not as pronounced as it would be for larger die.  Some of these devices do not scale well and will probably always be manufactured at mature process technologies.  In addition, there may not be enough market demand to absorb the additional devices that could be manufactured by going to larger wafers.  So, many semiconductors now manufactured in 200mm fabs will remain in 200mm fabs.  As the demand for these devices increases, the need for 200mm capacity will increase.  There are currently more than three hundred remaining 150mm fabs.  For some of these manufacturers there may be a justification for migrating to 200mm fabs, further increasing the need for 200mm capacity. 

According to Semico’s fab database, there are more than fifteen new 200mm fabs planned or under construction.  Another five fabs are being converted to 200mm production.  Semico’s new study, Semiconductor Manufacturing: Mature Technologies, takes a closer look at the demand for products that continue to utilize mature technologies and are produced on wafers smaller than 300mm.  This is an interesting trend.  Check out the study for more information, or contact Rick Vogelei at if you are not a subscriber.