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TI 300mm fab puts pressure on analog rivals

Posted: 05 Oct 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:TI fab? 300mm? analog?

Texas Instruments Inc. is putting its analog rivals on notice with its latest a 300mm fab in the United States.

The company's long-awaited move to announce the dedicated 300mm analog fab is aimed to jumpstart and extend its leadership position in analog share. Eventually, the company could also put pressure on its rivals with the new fab, especially in the power MOSFET arena, where it competes against Fairchild, IR, On Semiconductor and others, according to an analyst.

As reported, TI (Dallas) plans to open a 300mm analog semiconductor fab in Richardson, Texas, the company said Tuesday. At the same time, the company also outlined its roadmap for mainstream analog processes and tipped a new 130nm technology based on copper interconnects.

On the fab front, TI's new analog facility, dubbed RFAB, will be the first analog chip fab to use 300mm wafers. TI has already moved to equip the fab by buying $172.5 million worth of chip production equipment from Qimonda AG's fab in Sandston, Virginia.

In effect, TI bought the entire 300mm fab tool-set from Qimondaat a huge and stunning discount. Under the terms with Qimonda, TI bought 330 fab tools from the DRAM maker. The deal included i-line and 248nm scanners from ASML Holding NV and Nikon Corp. To ramp up RFAB, TI will need to buy only 6 more tools, including epitaxial reactors and furnaces.

TI plans to move this equipment from Virginia to the Richardson fab. The company expects to begin equipping the facility next month and ship the first chips from the fab by the end of next year.

Initially, RFAB will produce chips based on TI's LBC7 process, its mainstream, workhorse analog technology. The 0.25?m process is a high-power, BiCMOS technology.

300mm advantage
Chips based on the LBC7 process account for 40 percent of TI's analog output. Over time, the fab will make chips based on TI's future analog processes, such as the yet-to-be-announced LBC8 (0.18?m technology) and LBC9 (130nm).

RFAB enables TI to expand its worldwide analog capacity and bring "us cost scaling," said Kevin Ritchie, senior VP of the technology and manufacturing group at TI.

The fab will give TI a leg up on its rivals. In fact, the company's analog competitors have not announced a new fab in several years. Most analog fabs produce 8-inch wafers and below, it was noted. In contrast, "TI is the only vendor that can bring 300mm to analog," said Doug Freedman, an analyst with Broadpoint AmTech.

Initially, a 300mm analog fab could be advantageousand could the lower the costfor "large-die" products like MOSFETs, Freedman said. Earlier this year, TI acquired Ciclon Semiconductor Device Corp., a supplier of power MOSFETS and RF-based LDMOS power transistors.

"The MOSFET makers might have the most to worry about" with TI's 300mm fab announcement, he said. Leading power MOSFET suppliers include Diodes, Fairchild, International Rectifier, Ixys, On Semiconductor, Vishay and others, he said.

One of the challenges for TI is clear: photomask costs. A 300mm mask-set is more expensive than 200mm (and below) reticles, he said. To get a return for a 300mm mask-set in analog will be challenging at best.

Overall, TI remained the No. 1 analog chip vendor in 2008, despite seeing its market share decline to 14.1 percent from 14.4 percent, according to Databeans Inc. The No. 2 analog player, Europe's STMicroelectronics, grew its analog business 1 percent from $3.8 billion in 2007 to $3.9 billion in 2008, thanks largely to the weakening of the dollar and consolidation of the ST and NXP wireless businesses, Databeans said.

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