imec chat: Inside a new 450mm cleanroom investment

July 10, 2012 — imec will build a 450mm wafer fab cleanroom at the research organization’s site in Belgium, with a new EUR100 million government investment, announced by the Flemish Minister of Innovation Ingrid Lieten. Solid State Technology caught up with Luc Van den hove, president and CEO, to discuss the implications for semiconductor manufacturing at 450mm, how to build a 450mm-capable cleanroom, and more.

Imec’s aim is to provide research 2-3 nodes ahead of what is in the semiconductor production fabs today, which means imec is working on process challenges, throughput enhancement, etc, for the 10nm/14nm node. The transition to larger 450mm wafers will coincide with moves to this smaller process node, and both changes will affect manufacturing greatly, Van den hove said. “With each step in the process, there will be specific challenges when you convert to 450mm,” he said. Throughput must be high enough to reap the benefits of the larger wafer size.

Initial 450mm assessment is taking place now, with R&D on processes slated to occur in 2015 and 2016. Early manufacturing will begin in 2017. With this in mind, imec recognized a need to open the new cleanroom by mid-2015. Initial tool assessments will be done in the 450mm-compatible area of imec’s 300mm pilot line cleanroom.

What goes into making a cleanroom 450mm accessible? Higher ceilings, increased weight-bearing specifications, and more room for tools like extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography scanners, said Van den hove. The equipment will require new wafer stages that move at high speeds through various environments (air, liquid, etc).

Imec will also bolster its metrology suite to evaluate 450mm/1Xnm node processes, with a focus on perfect layer uniformity across the larger wafer surface.

The EUR100 million investment will help imec extend 450mm wafer development investments to EUR1 billion in the next 5 years, when the researchers will be installing 450mm tools and equipment. Imec is negotiating the investment with the European Commission for funding and with global industrial partners such as foundries and fabless/fablite semiconductor companies, as well as semiconductor manufacturing equipment and materials suppliers.

The government’s return on its investment is a high-tech ecosystem in Belgium, and Europe as a whole, Van den hove said. Semiconductor manufacturing tool suppliers need to invest a large sum in 450mm development, and they are looking for support from other parties to lessen this burden. Many of the major tool and materials suppliers for chipmaking are based in Europe, as are many fabless semiconductor companies. Government investment like that announced today fosters an “innovation engine” in Europe, Van den hove concluded.

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