The announcement that Freescale Semiconductor, Inc. is joining the IBM-led process development alliance at Fishkill, N.Y. raises intriguing questions.
Now minus both Philips/NXP and Freescale, what becomes of the Crolles alliance? Will it melt into the CEA-LETI research center there in the Grenoble area? What becomes of STMicroelectronics? Is it the odd man out? Or will it follow Freescale to Fishkill?
From a business standpoint, the shift from Crolles to Fishkill raises the question: Which company will make Freescale’s digital CMOS chips?
As Freescale’s own 200-mm factories become even older and less efficient, and as the Crolles 300-mm fab itself proves too small to be effective, Freescale will look to one or more of the Fishkill partners for its SOI-based and non-SOI based digital processes. By the 45-nm node, Freescale will need to shift perhaps 20 percent of its $6.2 billion in revenues – the high-end digital products – to one of the Common Platform partners working in Fishkill. (For the record, those include AMD, Chartered Semiconductor, IBM, Samsung Electronics, Sony, and Toshiba.)
Freescale’s quad-core DSPs and the popular PowerQuicc networking engines are at the leading edge of performance, requiring every ounce of design skill and process technology for these gigahertz-class designs. Will IBM itself manufacture some of these SOI-based products at an expanded Fishkill? I think not, as IBM management probably has little appetite to build more chip factories. Or will Chartered Semiconductor – which already plans to make SOI processors for AMD and IBM-designed game chips at its new 300-mm fab in Singapore – get the business?
Will Samsung become a major foundry player with its new logic fab in Korea? Will Toshiba, which long ago went together with Freescale to build the Tohoku Semiconductor joint-venture factory in Japan, get some of Freescale’s foundry business?
Another question concerns the U.S. talent pool. Freescale now employs about 700 people in process development, some in Austin and others in France. Already, about 1,000 engineers and scientists from the various partners work at the Fishkill alliance, raising the question of how many Freescale technologists will end up with jobs in Fishkill, and how many will be found to be redundant.
One oft-forgotten fact is that Freescale embraces a wide variety of process technologies, ranging from GaAs to RF BiCMOS to the mixed-signal SmartMOS process. Even though many engineers will remain working to keep those diverse technologies up to date, the shift from Crolles to Fishkill surely will result in many smart technologists looking for jobs.
Combined with Monday’s surprise announcement by Texas Instruments that it will license its digital CMOS technology from an unnamed foundry partner starting at the 32-nm node, Freescale’s expected shift to a Common Platform foundry strategy shows just how fast business is changing.
With Freescale and TI edging toward fewer fabs and smaller numbers of technologists, the United States is basically left with the IBM-led alliance on the East Coast, and Intel on the West Coast. Welcome to the new reality.