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Malaysia foundry ready to take X-Fab to 180nm, 130nm

Posted: 21 Nov 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:MEMS? CMOS? wafer fabs? manufacturing?

In an interview with EE Times Europe, X-Fab Silicon Foundries co-CEO Rudi De Winter reflects on company milestones such as its acquisition of 1st Silicon in Malaysia and its shift to manufacturing on 200mm wafers in Europe. De Winter also touched upon competitive and regional issues affecting X-Fab.

Germany-based X-Fab Silicon Foundries is doing well according to co-CEO Rudi De Winter, but as a private company it is not obliged to be very forthcoming with its numbers. The company is coming towards the end of a transition to 200mm wafer production and sees scope for expansion in its current fabs and in particular at X-Fab Sarawak, its wafer fab in Malaysia.

X-Fab, best known as a European foundry focused on analogue, mixed-signal and speciality processes, emerged from VEB Mikroelektronik in Erfurt, East Germany in 1992 soon after the re-unification of the country. The company acquired a few amortized, older wafer fabs and deployed a foundry service business model at a time when it was relatively new and mainly being applied to digital CMOS production.

The company, now majority owned by Belgium-based Xtrion, is focused on analogue and mixed-signal processes and with much of its work in the industrial and automotive sectors the company was not as susceptible to the global economic malaise of 2008 and 2009 as some other companies.

"We're doing well. We've grown through acquisition. Our latest one was 1st Silicon in Malaysia. That was fully loaded when we acquired it but we had to find new business," De Winter said. The acquisition took place in 2006 and part of the transition was to qualify the fab for the production of automotive ICs with multiple customers. "The fab runs 200mm wafers down to 130nm. It's the next generation from what we have in Erfurt," De Winter said.

X-Fab acquires Malaysian foundry as part of global expansion

Figure 1: The Kuching wafer fab in Malaysia ready to take X-Fab to 180nm and 130nm.

De Winter said that in 2013 the Malaysia fab is at breakeven and that from now on he expects production there to grow profitably. "Manufacturing capacity there is about 20,000 wafer starts per month. We can further increase that to 30,000 wafers per month with additional equipment," said De Winter. "We installed 0.35?m HV CMOS applicable to automotive applications with 100V and a lot of different modules. We also have 0.18?m installed there."

Indeed overall X-Fab's highest shipping node is 0.35?m with mixed-signal capability, De Winter said. "The 0.35?m is still the most popular although 0.18?m is on a par with it in terms of enquiries."

X-Fab does have a more recent manufacturing acquisition than its fab in Malaysia. In November 2012 X-Fab increased its shareholding in MEMS Foundry Itzehoe to 51 per cent and renamed the company X-Fab MEMS Foundry Itzehoe. "Ah yes, but Itzehoe is MEMS only. The processes are varied so it is very hard to talk about wafer starts per month." But Itzehoe runs 200mm wafers as standard something that is unusual in the MEMS sector and which gives X-Fab an economic advantage.

The majority of X-Fabs' five wafer fabs are on 200mm. Erfurt runs a mix of 6-inch and 200mm wafers and Dresden will have converted to 200mm wafers only by mid-2014, said De Winter. The exception is X-Fab's facility in Lubbock, Texas, which runs speciality processes on 6-inch wafers. "In fact, we announced a deal with Cymbet so we are making batteries on silicon there," he said.

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