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Ceitec CEO sees mega-fab in Brazil's future

Posted: 05 Feb 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Brazil fab? foundry? 300mm fab? semiconductor industry?

Brazil semiconductor startup Ceitec SA is set to officially cut the ribbon on its fab in Porto Alegre, in Southern Brazil, in a milestone event expected to be attended by several government officials, including the country's president. By all accounts, the Porto Alegre fab is modest by modern semiconductor manufacturing technology standards, capable of about 1,000 six-inch wafers per week using 0.6?m process technology licensed from X-Fab Semiconductor Foundries AG. But according to Ceitec's top executive, the Porto Alegre fab is only a stepping stone, one that will eventually lead to a large, 300mm "TSMC-type fab" in Brazil within three years.

Eduard Weichselbaumer is a 28-year veteran of the semiconductor industry, having held senior management positions at companies including Fairchild Semiconductor, LSI Logic and Virage Logic, among others. He took over as Ceitec's chairman and CEO last year.

In a recent interview, Weichselbaumer told EE Times that Ceitec is employing for the time being a fab-lite model, with its Porto Alegre fab capable of handling the manufacture of its initial RFID chip, a cattle identification tag dubbed Chip de Boi. The company plans to use an outside foundry for other offerings targeting wireless communications and digital multimedia market segments, Weichselbaumer said.

But barring another global recession, Ceitec expects the Porto Alegre fab to be 90 percent full in two years, Weichselbaumer said. At that point, he believes it will make sense for Ceitecwhich is 100 percent owned by the Brazilian governmentto raise capitallikely by going publicto build a much larger fab in the country.

"If I put a TSMC-like fab into South America today, it would be like something completely out of a dream world," Weichselbaumer said. But within three years the infrastructure and the semiconductor industry support system will be robust enough to support a large fab, he said.

According to Christian Gregor Dieseldorff, an analyst who tracks fabs at the trade group SEMI, most of the equipment in the Porto Alegre fab is eight-inch ready. He said he believes the company plans to transition the fab to eight-inch wafers by the end of this year.

Boosting domestic market
Weichselbaumer and other Ceitec proponents argue that the company can succeed partly by virtue of the domestic Brazilian market and its population of about 190 million. Ninety-eight percent of Brazil's electronics are imported, Weichselbaumer said, including 100 percent of semiconductors.

The Brazilian government is keenly aware of this Weichselbaumer said. "This is a very high-level, strategic project," he said. "These guys want to increase the number of high-tech exports and lower the number of high- tech imports into the country."

In recent years, the Brazilian government has launched several programs to establish IC design centers, fabs and assembly plants. In 2007 the government unveiled a set of tax and other incentives to attract multinational chipmakers.

Several multi-nationals have design centers in Brazil, including Freescale Semiconductor Inc., which has been in the country since 1998.

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