October 23, 2012, anysilicon
Silicon wafers are the most essential element in the realization of ICs. The semiconductor industry had invested heavily to increase the wafer size during the last 30 years, so while foundries used to produce 1 inch wafers, today’s common wafer size is 300mm (118 times larger than 1 inch). There is a clear plan to move towards a 450mm wafer size (1.5 times larger than 300mm).
Increasing wafer size is not a trivial process. As a matter of fact, silicon wafer manufacturing technologies were re-engineered in order to achieve the technology necessary to increase the wafer size during the years. It is difficult to grasp the amount of capital invested in the size growth innovation. My guess is around a triple-digit Billion USD.
A larger wafer diameter enables producing more semiconductor devices from a single wafer, enhancing productivity and efficiency. If foundries would still produce 1 inch wafer today, there is no chance they’d be able to support the volume of smart-phones, tablets and PCs.
Common Mistake: 300mm wafer is NOT 12 inch!
Wafer diameter was traditionally noted in inches, but today’s ‘correct’ figures use millimeters and they describe the wafer diameter; the following table shows the correct size of the wafer.
One of the common mistakes in the industry is the actual physical size of the 300mm and 450mm wafers. Many seem to automatically use the inch metrics and announce “12 inch” and “18 inch” accordingly.
This is absolutely incorrect. A 300mm wafer is actually 11.8 inch.
So next time you hear someone referring to 12 inch wafer, use this info to correct the misunderstanding.