When it comes to the future of chip manufacturing, the industry is focusing on the move from 300mm wafers to 450mm wafers, which will not only offer improved performance but will also keep costs down.

Chip manufacturer Intel has announced that it plans to collaborate with Samsung Electronics and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, in a bid to create 450mm wafers, with pilot tests expected to start in 2012. However, the switch will also require billions in investment by the industry, which some manufactures feel would be a waste since they are content with the current 300mm wafers.

Lose the resistance, because the time for change has come, said Joe Draina, associate director of International Sematech Manufacturing Initiative, in an interview.

The last big change in wafer size was in the 1990s, and the investments are needed to make up lost ground on productivity and profitability, he argued.

ISMI is a subsidiary of Sematech, an industry association that represents the industry's biggest semiconductor manufacturers. It has started a program that researches productivity improvements and cost effectiveness that should come from the switch to 450mm wafers.

We spoke to Draina about his thoughts on an industry's move to the 450mm wafer size.

Does Sematech have any specific timeline to move chip manufacturing on to 450mm silicon wafers?

If you look at the ITRS [International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors] roadmap, they look at 2012... but we recognise that the market conditions are going to dictate what the timing is for all that.

How does wafer size and the size of features on a chip relate to each other?

As we get down to 22nm and smaller, the complexities of delivering that particular device... are problematic with cost and productivity at 300mm. Once we get down to those kinds of devices, it is highly desirable to [move to] the next wafer size.

When you talk about productivity gains with 450mm wafers, what numbers are we looking at?

When you look at the... historic productivity curve... we have calculated that there are hundreds of millions of dollars of productivity opportunity that we've missed out on. If you look out from 2012 to 2018 or something like that, it can be hundreds of millions of dollars. If you look out 15 years past 2012, if we... stay at 300mm you are talking of billions of dollars of lost productivity.

Some people may say "so what, you're still making profits." Yeah... but you're not making as much. That means less money that you can put back into research and development. Your whole engine for technology pace begins to slow down. That affects all other electronic devices that we have come to know well.

NEXT PAGE: Joe Draina's thoughts on how the industry will work together to switch to 450mm wafer chips

  1. The associate director of International Sematech Manufacturing Initiative discusses 450mm wafer chips
  2. How the industry will work together to switch to 450mm wafer chips