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A look inside GlobalFoundries' Fab 8

Posted: 19 Aug 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:GlobalFoundries? fab? AMD? IBM? Samsung?

GlobalFoundries' Fab 8, one of the largest semiconductor fabs in the United States, sits on 233 acres of the Luther Forest tech campus in Malta, N.Y. A tour of the plant and an affiliated research centre in nearby Albany provided a look inside an operation that now carries the DNA of chip giants such as AMD, IBM and Samsung.

The Malta facility stands at the bleeding edge of the company's nine fabs worldwide. It now produces 14nm chips while working on 10nm processes and beyond and leads the company's manufacturing initiatives.

An expanding Internet of Things may not need the performance of such processes and could stretch out the lifespan of existing nodes such as 28nm. Officials here aren't worried about demand stalling despite the fact new nodes are getting more complex and costly.

Aerial view of Fab 8

Aerial view of Fab 8 in Malta, N.Y. (Source: GlobalFoundries)

"I think it stagnates if you can't keep Moore's Law going which is not just about shrink, but better performance and lower cost per circuit," said Tom Caulfield, GM of Fab 8, adding that 28nm and 14nm nodes both will have a long life. "As long as I've been in the industry people have been talking about [the end of] scaling, yet we always manage to keep innovating and scaling," he said.

Tom Caulfield

Tom Caulfield

Caulfield, an industry veteran who spent 16 years at IBM and served as COO of several other companies, said he is invigorated by the problem solving GlobalFoundries must do to support a consolidating semiconductor industry. "When you run out of problems, that's when you should really be worried," he said.

Lots of power, gas, water...and geese

The small town of Malta is located about 40 minutes north of New York's capital city Albany, on the location of a former rocket test site. Originally conceived of as a plant for AMD, Fab 8 opened in 2009 with significant funding from the state of New York and has been the recipient of about $11.5 billion in various investments. After AMD slowly divested itself of interest, Fab 8 is now 100 per cent owned by Mudbadala, the investment arm or of the Abu Dhabi government.

Fab 8 is responsible for development at 28nm and below and can produce up to 60,000 300mm wafers per month. (A Singapore site manufactures 180nm to 40nm chips, and Dresden makes 48nm to 22nm chips.) The fab has nearly 400,000 feet2 of clean room space across three phases of development. Ongoing construction work still employs about 1,500 workers, down from 4,000 at the height of 14nm development.

"Construction in this area is very difficult; it was the first time something of this magnitude was built here in a very long time," said Gerald Goff, director of site construction and infrastructure. "The infrastructure, the workforce wasn't here. There were a lot of travellers coming from across the country, from Texas where the semiconductor industry is established," he said.

Fab 8's phase three

Fab 8's phase three is under construction for next-generation nodes

Fab 8 is run off the power grid of the regional utility, National Grid, with back up diesel supplies that could provide the 214MW necessary to drive the plant. Twenty-five to 40 per cent of that energy goes to operating the facility and the rest powers tools, Goff stated.

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