[International] ISS Europe 2012 ponders 450mm wafer fab challenges
The quest for expanding semiconductor manufacturing to 450mm wafers in Europe  has taken large chip companies by storm and placed them squarely in the eye of it.

At the Industry Strategy Symposium Europe 2012 chip players reasoned with each other of the need to take up the challenges for taking the next steps of IC production in Europe despite the economic and cultural challenges posed by such a quest.

Michael Hummel, Texas Instruments Head of European Operations, gave his perspective on making every wafer size dimension count: “I worry that in our quest to tackle 450mm manufacturing we leave behind the the support for the current successful product 200mm product lines.”

TI’s average semiconductor manufacturing mix of its current embedded and analog chip bucket involves approximately 70 percent of internal manufacturing. Experience in volume production in its two 200mm plants in Freising, Germany and Greenock, Scotland highlight Europe’s competitive manufacturing gaps. “We have had to deal with high labor costs and lack of work flexibility due to regional labor regulations and higher European energy cost and associated taxes and fees,” said Hummel.

TI has been in Europe for some 40 years. “Catering steadily to Europe’s way ofdoing things we established work time accounts and worked out contract labor regulations for innovative ways to deal with weekly and annual working hours to form an engineering eco-system that minimizes disruptions.”

Also, Europe’s environmental legal framework provided TI with an early focus on sustainability, which today places the company in a leadership position and provides a competitive edge for future expansion in Europe.

Hummel listed on what is needed for TI to sustain a semiconductor fab in Europe: an engineering recruit pipeline; 200mm equipment and spares; competitive electricity cost; contract labor laws that grow their eco-system; and a political and economic stability, "which I cherish every time I return from other regions in the world."

Rutger Wijburg, vice president and general manager, at GlobalFoundries Fab 1 in Dresden called for bridging the „Valley of Death“ — the chasm between real good European research and real marketable chip products. “We need to endorse the European Union’s program of a unified plan through its Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) program, such as nanotechnology, micro- and nanoelectronics including semiconductors, advanced materials, biotechnology and photonics."
“These technologies are needed to restructure industrial processes that will  modernize the European Union industry as a whole,” said Gabriel M. Crean, VP for Technology at CEA, in the ISS Europe keynote. Crean has acted as a consultant for European Governments and the European Union (EU) Research Directorate.

"The 450mm initiative, EEMI450, established in 2009 has currently more than 45 companies and institutes," said Bas van Nooten, Director European Cooperative Programs, ASM International, in a statement. van Nooten will share his take on a new EEMI450 White Paper presented to the European Commission earlier in February at the Tuesday Technology session at ISS Europe 2012.

VC scenes

 Claus Schmidt, Managing director of Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH, believes that Europe needs venture capital as an accelerator for innovative industries. He lists power electronics and power semiconductors such as SiC, GaN-on-Si, as well as sophisticated sensors as gaining major interest and provide the need product needs for 450 mm plants.

 “VC in Europe and especially in Germany is underrepresented compared to other regions like U.S. and Israel,” said Schmidt. “What’s more semiconductor investments are of decreasing interest to VC’s all over the world."

 Schmidt cites specific EU issues such as lack of entrepreneurs, attractiveness of financial environment, tax and legal conditions "which have to be addressed or eliminated in order to stipulate more VC activities in EU.”

 By contrast, Ari Komeran, director Israel Open Innovation Center, TME EMEA Manager, provided a glimpse of Israel’s approach to VC money: “We have a unique funding mechanism to encourage joint innovation development which is based on an agreement between Intel and the Israeli Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS).”

 The agreement calls for Intel, its supplier and the Israeli government, all equally share the risk and benefits of VC funding. “This leverages investment by 3X: the supplier invests in innovation to deliver proof of concept per expectations; Intel invests resources and/or in-kind to support the supplier; and the OCS matches Intel’s investment by cash funding to Intel’s supplier,” explained Komeran.
 For his part, Bill McClean President of market research firm IC Insights implied the predicted IC market growth may be a 450mm play over the next 10 years since there will be a consolidation to a few large players, "certainly among the seven largest semiconductor companies": Samsung, Intel, TSMC, Toshiba/SanDisk, Hynix, Micron and GlobalFoundries. “The 2011 capital spending of the first two alone, Samsung and Intel, outrank the rest sustantially. In fact, I would not be surprised that Intel gets into the foundry business to expand their horizons,” speculated McClean. "It's a battle for world domination."

 Perhaps the most poignant remark came form market research firm Future Horizon's CEO Malcom Penn: "If Europe does not embrace 450mm, Europe is history."

Source: EETimes