October 17, 2012
$7B bet on next chip
By: Larry Rulison
Source: Times Union
ALBANY — The stars continue to align for efforts by New York state to become the epicenter for the next-generation of computer chip manufacturing.
A majority of the members of the Global 450 Consortium, an Albany-based semiconductor research and development group unveiled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo a year ago, have taken large equity stakes in ASML, one of the world's most important makers of computer chip manufacturing equipment.
Both the creation G450C — and nearly $7 billion in commitments to ASML by three of its members, Intel, Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. — are part of an inevitable move by the chip industry to shift production to factories that make chips out of larger silicon wafers, drastically reducing costs.
Today's chip fabrication facilities — or "fabs" — process 12-inch, or 300 millimeter, silicon wafers. The GlobalFoundries fab in Malta, considered the most advanced in the world, is a 300mm facility.
But in an effort to keep reducing costs — fueling the extraordinary growth that allows it to keep investing in new innovations such as mobile computing — the industry wants to move to using 18-inch, or 450mm wafers.
The surface size of the discs is more than twice that of 300mm wafers, allowing chip companies to double output without having to increase operational costs.
But the key to the transition to 450mm factories is developing new manufacturing equipment — known in the industry as tools — that can handle the larger wafers, which are much heavier and present a host of complex technical issues. ASML makes so-called lithography tools that are critical to imprinting the nanoscale features onto the wafers that make up the circuitry of individual chips.
When the G450C was announced a year ago, the $4.8 billion deal was considered a coup for the state and the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, where the consortium is based.
After all, five of world's most influential chip companies — Intel, Samsung, TSMC, GlobalFoundries and IBM, had committed hundreds of millions of dollars each to the program, which will be based in upstate New York.
Over the past several months, the three largest members of the G450C, Intel, Samsung and TSMC, took equity stakes in ASML to help share the costs of the 450mm transition with the Dutch tool maker. The deals include equity stakes worth $4 billion and $1.8 billion in funding for R&D — ensuring that ASML will be ready to produce tools for 450mm fabs when the industry is ready for the conversion.
ASML spokesman Ryan Young said there was "no direct correlation" between G450C and the investments, but he noted that they "obviously share common goals."
NanoCollege spokesman Steve Janack said the independent moves by the G450C members is a reflection of the state's leadership in the 450mm race. Until Cuomo's announcement, it was unclear if the industry would collaborate enough to make the jump from 300mm.
"This will further accelerate the development and acquisition of tools that will make the transition a reality," Janack said.
Although GlobalFoundries was not one of the G450C members that ended up investing in ASML, GlobalFoundries spokesman Travis Bullard said the company remains "committed to working closely with the supplier community" on 450mm and other technological issues.
"While we can't comment on the specifics of ASML's program, we are always pleased to see progress being made in these important areas. This underscores the need for increased investment from multiple sources to maintain the necessary pace of innovation," Bullard said.