Several years ago, Intel announced that it wouldn’t finish its 14nm manufacturing plant, Fab 42. When Intel announced the move, 22nm was still Intel’s leading-edge process node, though 14nm was on the horizon and would start rolling out in mobile products late that year. Putting Fab 42 on ice was a tacit admission from Intel that its plans to take market share from ARM with Atom weren’t going particularly well, and that the PC industry wasn’t going to need a new fab any time soon.
Now, Intel has announced that it will be bringing Fab 42 online, but not as a 14nm facility. Instead, Fab 42 will be brought online at the 7nm node, and to be online within 3-4 years. Intel expects to create approximately 3,000 jobs directly, with a 10,000-job impact on Arizona itself. Semiconductor manufacturing work in Arizona pays a median wage of $22 per hour (~$46,000 per year) according to the BLS. That’s not fabulous, but a family with two full-time earners at that pay rate would be well above the median household income in the United States.
“Intel’s business continues to grow and investment in manufacturing capacity and RD ensures that the pace of Moore’s law continues to march on, fueling technology innovations the world loves and depends on,” said Krzanich. “This factory will help the U.S. maintain its position as the global leader in the semiconductor industry.”
It isn’t clear yet if Intel will be shutting down any facilities once Fab 42 is online. The company has several plants that will be at or near 20 years old by 2020, and it typically shuts older plants down as new ones ramp up. Then again, the industry isn’t moving as quickly as it once was. When Intel thought it was going to shift to 450mm wafers in the near future, it might’ve made sense to drive new fab construction, since larger wafers means larger equipment, and new equipment might not have fit well in the current buildings. With 450mm wafers dead, there’s less need to retire old equipment.
One possibility is that Intel decided to build Fab 42 out so it would have a near-new fab to deploy Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography, or EUV. The company has previously stated that it doesn’t anticipate introducing EUV before the 5nm node, which would put it roughly six years away from now. If the now-cancelled 450mm wafer initiative could’ve sparked new capital expenditures, the EUV rollout (if it ever happens) could be even harder to retrofit into existing facilities. At present, EUV equipment requires vastly more power and cooling to operate compared to 193nm ArF, and some pieces of equipment are considerably larger.
To be clear, this is speculation on my part — but I strongly suspect that Fab 42 will be completed with an eye towards fitting it out for easier EUV adoption in the future. Intel has not forecast that it expects the PC market to improve in the near future, but the company could be betting that increased datacenter demand and cloud service scaling will drive future product adoption, even if the consumer market declines further.