Common Platform Alliance key to foundry success

Brings together Global Foundries, IBM, and Samsung

THE ORIGINAL ANNOUNCEMENT back in June seems to have been generally missed, possibly because most of us aren’t familiar with the Common Platform Alliance, an organization striving for a common, open design ecosystem and fab synchronization, amongst other things. Global Foundries, IBM, and Samsung are the key foundries that make up the Common Platform Alliance and they’re all currently working on a joint 28nm process technology platform which will make life easier for their customers.

Developing foundry technology is expensive; just ask Intel how much money they spend on their foundries every year. The Common Platform Alliance is a very clever move, as early R&D costs are shared between the three companies, as well as to some degree, some of the other partners in the alliance. Freescale, Infineon, Samsung, STMicroelectronics, Renesas and Toshiba are all part of the alliance and they’re all pitching in with their unique knowledge to help develop the best in business technologies, not only for their own needs, but for all of the foundry customers.

These aren’t exactly unknown companies in the business, but another 15 companies are part of the ecosystem, including ARM and MIPS to mention a couple of the more well-known names, but there are also several other important partners such as Cadence, Magma and Mentor Graphics, all of which produce solutions that enables various levels of chip design and fault finding. This also means that a customer can use any of the three foundries in the alliance and expect to get the same result, a unique offering in the market today.

The Common Platform Alliance is expected to be overtaking TSMC in terms of 32 and 28nm foundry capacity according to Semico Research. Even as early as next year the alliance is expected to have almost twice the output of TSMC when it comes to 32 and 28nm 200mm wafers, although TSMC is expected to catch up to a degree in terms of volume by 2012, but won’t be able to keep up with the alliance over the foreseeable future. By 2012 the alliance is expected to be producing well over 1 million 200mm 32 and/or 28nm wafers and this is set to increase to about 1.7 million by 2014.

This is not going to come for free and Global Foundries is already in the middle of the construction of its new 28nm and below foundry which is called Fab 8 and which will be located in New York State. This new foundry is being designed from the ground up to manufacture 28 and 20nm wafers and is expected to output some 60,000 wafers a month when fully ramped. This facility is expected to be brought online in 2012 and there’s space for two additional fabs at the same site for future expansion. At the same time, Global Foundries is expanding Fab 1 in Dresden and the new expansion will be ready for 28nm production. The Dresden plant will be able to output 80,000 wafers per month once the new addition comes online sometime in middle of next year.

Global Foundries own numbers are suggesting 200,000 300mm wafers per quarter by the end of this year and over 300,000 wafers per quarter by the end of 2011. By the end of 2012 the company should be putting out no less than 400,000 wafers a month and it will continue to grow from there. These are no small goals, especially for a foundry that only has three major fabs. There are some smaller fabs located in Singapore alongside Fab 7, but these fabs aren’t taken into account when it comes to these statistics as they focus on more specialized products using different manufacturing technologies.

By being able to share the R&D costs, create common standards and to build on a common platform, Global Foundries should be able to compete more efficiently alongside its alliance partners. We’re actually quite surprised that none of the Taiwanese or Chinese foundries are part of the alliance, but it seems like they’re happy to go it on their own for the time being. We can see the foundry industry being consolidated in the future, just as so many other industries have been in recent times. The pure cost of running a modern foundry is getting to the stage that if you’re not among the top foundries in the world, you won’t be able to compete and an uncompetitive foundry will quickly lose its customers in today’s high-tech world.S|A

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