By 2015, foundries and integrated device manufacturers (IDM) will produce 8,753 million square inches of silicon on 12-inch wafers, up from 4,799.4 million in 2010, equivalent to a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.8 percent during the five-year period. This year alone, IDMs will produce some 5,608.5 million square inches of silicon on 12-inch wafers.
“Initially, 12-inch wafers were employed only for the most advanced products,” said Len Jelinek, research director and analyst for semiconductor manufacturing at IHS. “However, that’s been changing over the course of the past two years, with both foundries and IDMs having determined that 12-inch wafers represent the most cost-effective manufacturing method for mature products. As a result, IHS forecasts a new period of rapid growth for 12-inch wafers.”
For semiconductor makers using mature technologies, high-volume 12-inch wafer manufacturing is the key to success. But as this ramps up, the prospect of moving to the next level—the 18-inch wafer—now is being raised, following discussions during the past few years among key suppliers about a potential transition.
From a wafer manufacturer’s perspective, the transition to 18-inch represents the most logical approach to achieve the cost reductions necessary to stay on track with Moore’s Law, which stipulates that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles every two years.
Nonetheless, major questions remain regarding the benefits and costs of adopting the next-generation wafer size. For instance, it’s still unknown if semiconductor manufacturers, tool suppliers and silicon suppliers can profit from 18-inch wafers—all signs point otherwise. Yet this doesn’t mean that some of the leading companies won’t undertake the transition, which IHS anticipates will begin in 2015 regardless of the economics involved. Already, several industry leaders are building facilities in preparation for alpha tool installation.
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