By David Lammers
When I arrived in Santa Clara for the GlobalFoundries Technology Conference, I ran into an engineer who develops atomic-level deposition equipment. “Ask them (GlobalFoundries) if they are going to buy any tools the rest of this year,” he said, only half-jokingly.
The answer appears to be a definite “yes.” Ajit Manocha — who stepped in as an interim CEO following the twin departures of Doug Grose and Chia Song-hwee — has served on the board of directors at ATIC, the Abu Dhabi investment fund which now owns about 80 percent of GlobalFoundries. GlobalFoundries will spend about $8 billion in 2010-2011, including $5.4 billion this year, the equivalent of 120 percent of revenues. By the end of 2013, GlobalFoundries will have a total capacity of 2.4 million wafers (300mm equivalents).
The Abu Dhabi investors remain committed, but Manocha said “they are not just going to dump money on us. I we are not successful, it does not support the Abu Dhabi vision.”
It is no secret that GlobalFoundries has worked to improve initially poor yields on the 32nm SOI processors made for AMD at its Dresden fab. One executive said while Intel has stuck to its tick-tock approach of alternating a new process with a new architecture, the situation got too complicated at the 32nm node for GlobalFoundries and its main customer, AMD.
While AMD had used the same basic CPU architecture for several technology nodes (from 130nm down to 45nm), at 32nm it switched to the Fusion architecture, combining a CPU with a graphics processing unit. That architecture was the first time a GPU was manufactured on an SOI process. The switch to 32nm, and to a gate first HKMG module, all complicated things unduly. At the same time, the Dresden fab went from being a single-product CPU fab to a foundry for multiple customers.
“If we had it to do over again, I don’t think we would have made so many changes at the same time,” he said, adding that with so much learning under its belt, progress should quicken.
Norm Armour, general manager of Fab 8 in Malta, N.Y., said GlobalFoundries will begin volume production in Malta in the summer of 2012, beginning at 32nm SOI and then quickly segueing to 28nm bulk. Fab 8 is two months ahead of schedule, and equipment is being moved in at a fast pace, he said.
At Dresden, a capacity rampup to 80,000 wafers per month is underway. “At Fab 1 we have made tremendous progress on defect density learning,” Armour said. A new general manager is coming on board at Dresden, and five lines are being stitched together into one cohesive fab, capable of processing multiple products at the same time.
At Fab 7 in Singapore, Armour said GlobalFoundries is buying more immersion scanners to support a 40nm capacity increase to 50k wpm.
In total, Armour said GlobalFoundries, along with its Common Fab partners Samsung, will soon have more 32/28nm capacity than TSMC, though I’m sure Morris Chang would dispute that.
Armour said a few things about 450-mm wafers. The GlobalFoundries modeling shows that the equipment capex per die could see a 26 percent reduction with the larger wafers. “We are targeting the 14nm node, though there are significant challenges with lithography, with EUV and double and triple patterning.”
Armour touched on the question of how an Abu Dhabi fab fits into the equation. “We are planning the ecosystem, training the people there in the emirates, with the expectation of building a fab in the near future,” he said. The location, near the airport has been identified. The executives were somewhat vague about timing, saying that groundbreaking will occur sometime in the next two years, with fab construction “depending on customer needs.”
Manocha said GlobalFoundries will announce a timeline for the Abu Dhabi expansion next year. “It depends on the ramp plans in New York and Dresden,” he added.
Gregg Bartlett, senior vice president of technology and R&D, said he is getting concerned about the rate of progress with EUV lithography, despite his long support for the technology. GlobalFoundries has ordered an NXE:3300 tool from ASML, and continues to study EUV processes by using the alpha demo tool at Albany Nanotech and the NXE:3100 tool at Imec, where GlobalFoundries is a recent new member. Will EUV be ready for the 14nm node? Bartlett is among the optimists.
And Bartlett talked about the importance of packaging, including a new cooperative agreement to co-develop technology with Amkor, with other companies invited to join as well. TSVs will be needed for low-power systems such as smart phones, but getting the heat out of vertically connected networking and graphics systems that draw more than 7-10 Watts may require interposer solutions, he said.
The CEO successor question may be answered this year. My bet is on Bartlett, who is relatively young, experienced on both the transistor and design ecosystem sides during his years at Motorola/Freescale, and extremely good at explaining things.