TSMC: 18 inch wafer production to start in 2018

TSMC has announced that it will begin volume production of chips using 18 inch (450mm) wafers in 2018.

J.K. Wang, vice president for operations at the mega foundry, said at a conference held by industry body SEMI in Taipei that the company is expecting to complete specification settings for 18 inch wafers in 2014 or 2015, with a view to setting up pilot lines in 2016 or 2017, according to The Taipei Times.

Assuming that each step goes to plan, Wang said that TSMC expects to then begin volume production in 2018, which would also coincide with plans to move to 10 nm process production with FinFET transistors at the same time.  

He said that the company has now completed its planning stage for 18 inch wafer production, and will work with other chip manufacturers as part of the G450C alliance to set standards for the technology.

The move to 18 inch wafers from 12 inch wafers will mean manufacturers will be able to get double the amount of chips from each wafer produced, with the same effort.

Wang also gave an indication of the development timeline of other chip production technologies. Vice president for research and development, Burn Lin, said that TSMC would use legacy immersion technology up until 10 nm process production, according to the Taiwan Economic News.  

For production at smaller processes, TSMC is considering using e-beam lithography technology, while it waits for another next generation production technology, extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, to mature.  

TSMC, along with Intel, recently invested in dutch chip equipment firm ASML, contributing towards the firm’s R&D spend as it develops its EUV technology.

While EUV is not the only option for TSMC for 18 inch wafers, or Intel or any others for that matter, Wang said that that the firm would be waiting for ASML to move ahead with development of its production technology in 2015.  Wang contends that this has led to a delay in the move to 18 inch production.

Chip industry analyst Malcolm Penn at Future Horizons told TechEye that the timeframe given by TSMC for implementing 18 inch production is more achievable than previous estimates.

“That’s more realistic, that beats their original one that said 2013,” Penn said, adding that there has a certain amount of chest beating in the past.

While Intel and TSMC have both been chucking money at developing EUV technology, Penn thinks that 18 inch production will not necessarily hinge on its use, and Intel is expected to move to 18 inch production ahead of TSMC.

“Each of those timings is completely independent, they may for convenience choose to time them together, but they don’t have to,” Penn said. “It is purely convenient, nothing technical.”

Samsung may choose to link them in a different way,Intel may choose to link them in a different way, we are talking about implementation – Intel can hang on to lithography longer than the other other two can,” Penn said.