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TSMC invests in R&D despite downturn

Posted: 23 Apr 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:TSMC R&D investment? 22nm node? foundry?

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd remains cautiously optimistic about the IC industry and vowed that it will continue to invest in R&D despite the downturn.

The foundry giant plans to hire more engineers amid one of the toughest periods in its illustrious history. TSMC also reiterated plans to equip and ramp up its 40nm fab lines this year. It is readying new and separate 3D and CMOS image sensor technologies. And it is also planning to move the IC-equipment in its R&D fab for the 22nm node.

Rick Tsai, president and CEO of TSMC, reiterated industry reports that the silicon foundry giant is seeing new order activity, but he also warned that there are still challenges ahead in the market.

Among those challenges include the overall economy, product demand and margin pressures. "This recession is bad," Tsai said at TSMC's Technology Symposium. "This is a difficult time for all of us."

Indeed, it has been a humbling time for TSMC. After strong growth in the first three quarters of 2008, TSMC's business fell off the cliff in the fourth quarter of last year.

As a result, the company is expected to report a loss in Q1. It also recently cut about 200 jobs, implemented furloughs and slowed its wafer starts.

Now, there are some positive signs for the company and the overall industry. Inventories are low. Activity in China is picking up. "We are seeing what we call rush orders," Tsai said.

Still, the overall IC market is expected to fall in 2009. "We will see a dip in 2009," he said. "We will see moderate growth in 2010."

TSMC roadmap
Nonetheless, TSMC plans to innovate and invest its way out of the downturn, he vowed. Here are some of the company's plans:

1. Now, the company has about 1,200 R&D process engineers. Going forward, it wants to hire 30 percent more R&D engineers.
2. Separately, TSMC has 600 engineers that are focused on IC design issues. Going forward, it wants to hire 15 percent more in this arena.
3. In May, Intel Corp. said it will port unspecified Atom processor cores to TSMC's technology platform including processes, IP, libraries and design flows under the terms of an agreement between the two companies.
4. Seeking to accelerate the product development process, TSMC this week rolled out a one-two punch in the arena: It has unveiled a mixed-signal/RF design kit as well as a foundry-specific integrated sign-off flow.
5. TSMC is developing a new CMOS image sensor process for 2-, 5-, and 8Mpixel designs. It has a new 0.11?m process.
6. TSMC plans to have its 3D efforts in place. By June, it will ready its 300-mm fab for thru-hole-silicon applications.
7. TSMC is moving forward with the phase 4 part of its Fab 12 plant, which is based in Hsinchu. As previously reported, the company plans to equip the fab for use in its recently-announced 40nm process.
8. In Fab 12, it plans to move the equipment for its 22nm node, which is under development.

At present, the company is ramping up its 40nm process. It is also on track with its latest 28nm process, said Jack Sun, VP of R&D at TSMC. Based on high-k and metal gates, the recently-introduced 28nm process is due out in the first part of 2010.

TSMC is currently looking at the various options for 22nm. Like 28nm, the company's 22nm process will be based on 193nm immersion lithography, ultra-low k and its second-generation high-k technology. It dropped hints that its high-k would have an EOT of 0.7nm.

TSMC plans to roll out its 22nm process "two years after 32nm," Sun said. TSMC is set to ship 32nm by the end of 2009.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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