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Europe awards contract to assess 450-mm pilot line

January 28, 2011 // Peter Clarke

Europe awards contract to assess 450-mm pilot line

Two consultancy firms with expertise in the semiconductor industry Future Horizons Ltd. and Decision SA have been awarded a one-year joint contract to assess the benefits of a 450-mm semiconductor prototyping line being located in Europe.

The remit is that the study should analyze what is required to support research and innovation in the production of ICs on 450-mm diameter wafers and the measures necessary to attract investments and to support advanced research infrastructures, prototyping and early nanoelectronics manufacturing in Europe.

In Europe any transition is likely to be of more significance to semiconductor manufacturing equipment companies. ASML Holding and ASM International are leading vendors of equipment and to have 450-mm manufacturing in Europe could help sustain them as world leaders.

The evaluation project is labeled SMART 2010/0062 and is not to exceed 250,000 euro (about $340,000).

Malcolm Penn, the founder and principal analyst at Future Horizons (Sevenoaks, England) is well-known as an advocate of retaining control of manufacturing in the chip industry, which stands in opposition towards the trend to fab-lite being pursued by most integrated device manufacturers.

Jean-Phillipe Dauvin, formerly chief economist with STMicroelectronics and still economist emeritus there, joined Decision in 2007 and the consultancy has other semiconductor and electronics experts on its books.

According to the European Commission background documents to the tender process "With strong and accelerating globalization of research, development, innovation and manufacturing, the sector of micro/nanoelectronics in Europe has become fragile and must look for new ways to maintain and enhance its competitiveness."

Indigenous chip companies, such as STMicroelectronics, appear unlikely to be prepared to transition to a 450-mm wafer era. The most likely contender is for support for 450-mm production to be offered at IMEC's pilot line in Leuven, Belgium, but the research nature of this facitllty would make unsuitable for industrial throughouts. Two companies that remain committed to leading-edge chip manufacturing and have fabs in Europe are Intel Corp. in Leixlip, Ireland, and GlobalFoundries Inc. in Dresden, Germany.

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