Taiwan steps up work on next generation chip production

The Taiwan government plans to work closely with the island's chip makers to move forward on advanced chip production using 18-inch round silicon wafers.

The Taiwan government plans to work closely with the island's chip makers to move forward on advanced chip production using 18-inch round silicon wafers.

The silicon discs are meant to replace the 12-inch wafers currently used in mainstream chip manufacturing, and are expected to lower costs in addition to allowing smaller and smaller chip sizes. The materials are important as people demand electronics gadgets in increasingly smaller sizes, such as smart phones, digital music players and cameras, and other items.

The challenge for chip makers is not only to create semiconductors powerful enough to run these items, but to be able to manufacture them cheaply enough that they can be used in products for everyone.

Taiwan hopes to encourage the adoption of the technology by working with chip makers and research groups on future projects such as setting up test 18-inch production lines. There are no concrete plans to build such a line, said an official from the island's Industrial Development Bureau, but Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute will likely win government funding for 18-inch-related projects in the future.

The government also hopes Taiwanese companies will start manufacturing chip equipment.

"We haven't put a lot of effort into that so we want to figure out how to build up that kind of expertise," said Lu Cheng-chin, an official at the Industrial Development Bureau in Taiwan.

He gave no time frame on the proposal, saying only that current efforts are focused on getting companies and research groups together for discussions on how best to proceed with development of the technology.

The new technology faces a major hurdle in its expected cost. A factory designed to make chips on 18-inch wafers could cost between US$12 billion and US$15 billion to build, nearly triple the price of an equivalent 12-inch (300-millimeter) wafer factory, according to the industry group, Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI). Not many companies will be able to afford to build such factories.

It's important that they find a solution to the problem because without the new wafers, chip manufacturers won't be able to reduce costs at the pace users and gadget makers have come to expect. Chips are the foundation of every electronic device, and often one of the most expensive components.

Two main efforts hold the key to reducing the cost of chip production: shrinking the size of transistors to make chips smaller, and enlarging the wafers to hold more chips. Typically, the industry has focused on shrinking the transistors, but that is becoming more difficult as they are nearing the size of an atom.

The new 18-inch wafer initiative is the latest stab at making the silicon discs larger. The 12-inch wafers used today can yield 2.25 times more chips per wafer than older 8-inch (200mm) wafers, yet take just about the same amount of time to pass through a factory, significantly boosting total monthly output. An 18-inch factory would show a similar leap in output.

Taiwan is home to the largest concentration of 12-inch wafer plants in the world, including 14 already in mass production and 5 more under construction. The island's chip manufacturers accounted for 11.5 percent of all chips produced last year, the government said. Taiwanese contract chip makers took a 68.4 percent share of the made-to-order chip market last year, while the island's memory chip makers made 20 percent of the world's supply of DRAM (dynamic RAM).

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC), the world's largest contract chip maker, is already working with an industry group led by the International SEMATECH Manufacturing Initiative (ISMI), to figure out how to make 18-inch silicon wafer technology more economical, as well as overcome some technical challenges.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Dan Nystedt

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?