July 12, 2012
By: Larry Rulison
Source: Times Union
ALBANY — New York state may have just shouted "checkmate" in the global chess game to develop the next generation of computer chip factories that use 18-inch, or 450-millimeter, silicon wafers.
Intel Corp. — one of the founding companies of the new Global 450 Consortium in Albany — is investing $4 billion in ASML, one of the world's largest makers of computer chip manufacturing equipment.
Intel's announcement is a stunning turn of events for the Albany consortium — also known as G450C — which is planning to spend $1 billion over the next five years at the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering to develop 450 mm technology.
Today's computer chip factories — including the one operated by GlobalFoundries in Saratoga County — make chips on 12-inch, or 300 mm wafers.
But the larger 450 mm wafers can produce more than twice the number of chips in the same amount of time — providing huge cost advantages to the industry, which constantly strives to make chips cheaper.
"Reducing costs has always been the focus of this industry the past 40 years, and this is what this is all about," Peter Wennick, ASML's chief financial officer, said in an interview posted on the company's' website.
Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy said the ASML deal is not directly associated with its G450C efforts.
"However, anything that helps move 450 mm forward could be good for the industry," Mulloy said.
The fact that Intel is partnering with ASML is significant in many ways. ASML specializes in lithography machines that etch chip patterns onto the wafers, and industry experts have worried that the jump to 450 mm could not be achieved without advancements in lithography.
ASML says the Intel investment will allow it to accelerate development of its new lithography process called extreme ultraviolet lithography that can significantly reduce the size of chip components. When used in combination with 450 mm wafers, the industry is expected to realize huge profits.
ASML, which is based in the Netherlands, is also one of Europe's leading semiconductor companies. Intel's investment in ASML — which includes a 15 percent stake in the company — could signal problems for Europe's effort to take a leadership position in the race to 450 mm. ASML is also inviting other manufacturers to buy equity stakes. Up to 25 percent of the company is being offered in total.
On Monday — the same day that Intel and ASML disclosed their partnership — IMEC, Europe's largest computer chip research lab, and a direct competitor to the NanoCollege for corporate research dollars — said that it is moving ahead with plans to develop its own 450 mm pilot production line.
Belgium-based IMEC said support for the line would come from the Flemish government and that funding IMEC's decision came after an EC report found that Europe may have fallen behind efforts at the NanoCollege to move the industry to 450 mm. The report suggested that it might be prudent for Europe to work with the NanoCollege and the G450C instead of going it alone, because most companies would only want to work with one lab.
Last fall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the creation of the G450C — whose members are Intel, IBM, Samsung, GlobalFoundries and Taiwan Semiconductor Co. The program is part of a larger $4.8 billion initiative that also includes nearly $3 billion in spending by IBM to shrink computer chip components to 14 nanometers — which is about half the size of components on chips made today. Those advances are expected to be made using EUV machines that will be located at the NanoCollege's new NanoFab X building.