According to IC Insights, there ought to be 23 more 300mm fabs (semiconductor fabrication plants or foundries) in operation by 2019. This would bring the total number of volume-production 300mm fabs up to 110, with a likely peak of between 115 and 120 fabs.
In order to provide a comparison, consider that the largest number of operating volume-production 200mm wafer fabs in operation was 210m declining to 154 fabs at the close of 2014.
Companies with the greatest 300mm wafer capacity include memory suppliers Samsung, SK Hynix, Micron, and Toshiba/SanDisk; Intel; and the two biggest pure-play foundries in the world: GlobalFoundries and TSMC.
For the most part, 300mm fabs produce high-volume, commodity-type devices like flash memories and DRAMs, complex logic and microcomponent ICs with large die sizes, image sensors and power management devices. In addition to these, they also are used for products manufactured by foundries, which can fill a 300mm fab by combining wafer orders from a great number of sources.
While the trend is to produce ever larger wafers, to reduce costs by having each step of the manufacturing process performed on more chips at a time, it is not practical to retrofit machinery to handle larger wafers. It is possible for foundries using smaller wafers to be cheaper to operate, however, have higher yields for simple chips and to remain productive.
Although almost all new fab construction and upgrading is in regards to 300mm wafer processing, not all semiconductor devices can make the most of the cost savings provided by 300mm wafers. Fabs running 200mm wafers, therefore, continue to operate profitably in order to produce ICs including specialty memories, display drivers, microcontrollers, image sensors and analog products.
The 200mm fabs can also be used for manufacturing MEMS-based “non-IC” products, for example, accelerometers. Such devices are able to be manufactured in fully depreciated 200mm fabs that were previously in operation making ICs that are now produced on 300mm wafers.
TSMC, UMC and TI remain the three firms with the largest amount of 200mm wafer fab capacity.
Since fabs require a large number of expensive devices in order to function, the cost of building a new fab is estimated to be over a billion US dollars and potentially significantly more. The cost of upgrading a fab can be prohibitive when compared to constructing an entirely new fab in order to use new technology and handle a new wafer size. A typical fab will have several hundred equipment items ranging in cost from around $700,000 to $50,000,000.
Intel expects deployment of the 450 mm wafer by 2020. There is also a drive to automate the entire production of semiconductor chips, which has been dubbed the “lights-out fab” concept.