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CEO outlines Globalfoundries' future plans

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:gate-first HKMG? photo lithography? manufacturing process?

After a year plagued with difficulties and setbacks, Globalfoundries Inc. CEO Ajit Manocha is all praises of the company's performance in 4Q11. Manocha added that Globalfoundries was set on "keeping the momentum going."

Globalfoundries' new fab in upstate New York is due to start ramping imminently, he said, with 20nm expected to be introduced in June. The company has said it expects to spend more than $3 billion in capital expenditures this year.

While that figure may seem significant, it's significantly lower than the more than $5 billion that the company spent on capex in 2011. Analysts have suggested that the decrease is largely driven by the delay (or potentially cancellation) of a new fab in Abu Dhabi.

Ajit Manocha

While Monocha told EE Times that Globalfoundries' Malta, New York plant is ramping, there is still some speculation about the stability of the fab's future.

Globalfoundries did not disclose its 2011 revenues, but after its challenges with yields on AMD chips and a restrictive wafer supply agreement, there is speculation in financial circles that the firm may well have missed its 20 percent growth projection (on 2010 revenues of $3.5 billion) predicted at the beginning of 2011.

Meanwhile, Manocha said Globalfoundries' Dresden facility would continue with 32nm and 28nm manufacturing, while plans were already underway for 14-nm.

In an interview with EE Times, the CEO dismissed Globalfoundries' competition as only having shipped "a few thousand wafers" with high-k metal gate in 2011, noting that his firm had shipped well over 700, 000.

"People thought that gate first would never work, but didn't we prove everybody wrong?" he asked.

Despite Manocha's confidence, however, many analysts still question whether HKMG was indeed the right choice to make. The struggles with gate-first HKMG were well-documented and cost companies like AMD tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue in 2011 due to the delays in launching its Llano APU.

While technically elegant, the gate-first HKMG has proved particularly difficult to ramp and now the company will need to make another challenging transition as it follows Intel and TSMC to gate-last HKMG at 20nm.

Manocha agreed that scaling from 40nm to 32nm had indeed presented a challenge, and that it would be yet another bridge to cross reversing the metal gate going from 28nm to 20nm, a bigger challenge, he said, would likely come from the photo lithography side of the process and then moving to 450 mm wafers.

Globalfoundries' fab future remains under the microscope
While Monocha told EE Times that Globalfoundries' Malta, New York plant is ramping, there is still some speculation about the stability of the fab's future. For example, the question remains whether Globalfoundries will be able to recover lost credibility with its customers and attract tier 1 fabless companies for its 28- or 20nm process nodes.

Last but not least, there is also a question mark over the foundry's relationship with its closest partner and parent company, AMD. With the apparent cancellation by AMD of 28nm products at Globalfoundries and no plans to move GPUs away from TSMC anytime soon, some analysts are publicly wondering how long the relationship can continue after so much strain.

While it is already known that AMD will manufacture the successor to Llano, Trinity, on 32-nm SOI at Globalfoundries Fab 1 in Dresden, Germany, the more distant future is harder to predict.

With no public updates on the status of its wafer supply agreement for 2012, industry speculation is rampant that AMD will move production away from its spin-off foundry to an all-TSMC approach post-32 nm.

Given that GLobalfoundries profitability has not been helped by the restrictive supply agreement put in place in 2011 (based on good die pricing) one has to wonder if this divorce will best serve both companies.

While AMD struggles for relevance in an increasingly complex silicon landscape, Globalfoundries, too, faces a real test on whether a post-AMD world unlocks its ability to deliver on the vision of "the first truly global foundry," launched way back in 2009. Only time will tell.

- Sylvie Barak
??EE Times

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