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And the Ecosystem Starts

In today’s discussion of the move to 450-mm wafers, we looked at one of the first pieces of equipment that will initiate the entire development cascade necessary for handling these new behemoths. That’s what makes a wafer change so different from other transitions.

When we move from one silicon node to another, we typically have to replace a few pieces of equipment in the line, add some more for any new steps, and maybe swap out some parts of an existing tool. Not to minimize those things – they can be critical and expensive things to do.

But when the wafer size changes, you end up throwing everything out unless you’re really lucky (dual-size equipment can help soften the blow, but it still replaces the older single-size unit). It’s not just the fact that the size changes, but, more specifically, the fact that it’s getting bigger. Handlers and clearances and reaction chambers set up for older, smaller wafers will not likely be able to handle the new ones – even if the chemistry hasn’t changed.

That’s not to suggest that a wafer size change is only about making more room; as we saw, the size of the wafers brings new challenges of its own in addition to the simple fact of a new, bigger elephant in the fab.

The details that this involves were brought clearly home to me as I was writing the other piece. A press release came in announcing that Hine Automation had released its new STAR SL-450 automated load locks for 450-mm wafers. One of many, many such details that will need to be sorted to get an entire line outfitted for 450 mm.

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