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Twelve-inch Wafers are Not Just for High-End Chips Anymore

More semiconductor suppliers will use twelve-inch wafers rather than eight-inch wafers to produce chips.
Semiconductor production on twelve-inch silicon wafers, rather than eight-inch or smaller silicon disks, will more than double from 2010 to 2015, as more mature chips are produced on the larger size disks, according to researcher IHS iSuppli.

By 2015, foundries and integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) will produce about 8.7 billion square inches of silicon on twelve-inch wafers, up from 4.8 billion in 2010. In 2011, IDMs will produce about 5.6 billion square inches of silicon on twelve-inch wafers.

"Initially, twelve-inch wafers were employed only for the most advanced products," said Len Jelinek, research director and analyst for semiconductor manufacturing at IHS iSuppli, headquartered in El Segundo, Calif. However, that thinking has changed over the past two years as foundries and IDMs determined that twelve-inch wafers represent the most cost-effective manufacturing method for mature products. "As a result, IHS iSuppli forecasts a new period of rapid growth for twelve-inch wafers," Jelinek added.

The transition to larger wafers should be good news for semiconductor buyers. Suppliers get more usable chips per wafer on twelve-inch wafers than eight-inch, which should increase supply.

However, while there will be greater use of twelve-inch wafers over the next four years, some chip suppliers are discussing transitioning to eighteen-inch wafers.

From a wafer manufacturer’s perspective, the transition to eighteen-inch represents the most logical approach to achieve the cost reductions necessary to stay on track with Moore’s Law, according to IHS iSuppli. Moore’s Law stipulates that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles every two years.

There are serious questions concerning the benefits and costs of adopting the next-generation larger wafer size. For instance, it is uncertain whether semiconductor manufacturers, tool suppliers, and silicon suppliers can profit from eighteen-inch wafers, said Jelinek.

IHS iSuppli reported that the transition to eighteen-inch wafers will begin in 2015. Several industry leaders are building facilities in preparation of alpha tool installation.