Intel delays, changes focus of new Irish fab

The Irish plant, based in Leixlip, County Kildare and known as Fab 24, is still under construction, according to Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy. He said Wednesday's decision to delay the fab's opening from the second half of 2001 until sometime in the second half of 2002 was due to Intel's realisation that if it "waited a little longer," it could base the fab on 300-millimetre wafer production and 0.13-micron manufacturing, rather than on the older 200-millimetre technology, as had been planned previously.

The 300-millimetre technology refers to using silicon wafers in chip manufacture that are 300 millimetres, or about 12 inches, in diameter. Adopting the new technology means that Intel can derive 220 per cent more silicon die per wafer and make cost savings of 30 per cent, Mulloy said. It was a case where "capital benefits" outweighed other concerns, he added.

Wednesday's announcement is unconnected to the financial hit Intel is taking due to lower-than-expected demand for its products, Mulloy said. "It's not tied to that at all," he said. Last week, Intel announced a fourth-quarter profit warning which it blamed on a slump in the worldwide economy resulting in less demand for its products. Intel first announced its planned $US2 billion investment to create a new wafer fab at its Leixlip-based European manufacturing centre in June. The plant's initial remit was to rely on 200-millimetre wafers, moving to 300-millimetre technology at an unspecified later date.

On its completion, the Irish plant is still on track to create more than 1000 new jobs, Mulloy said.

The $US2 billion investment in Fab 24 brings Intel's investment in Ireland since it built its first fab there to $US4.5 billion, according to Mulloy.

Once operational in 2002, Fab 24 will be Intel's first high-volume, dedicated 300-millimetre wafer plant in Europe, and its second in the world. A similar fab in Oregon in the US is due to begin testing silicon in the first quarter of next year, Mulloy said.

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Clare Haney

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