As the largest European semiconductor vendor with annual revenues just a hair under $10 billion, STMicroelectronics brings plenty of clout to two related questions this year: how will it conduct its process technology development, and how will the company apportion its chip manufacturing.
Like Freescale Semiconductor, STMicro derives only about 10-15 percent of its revenues from products made on a leading-edge digital CMOS process. About half of that 10-15 percent goes out to foundries for wafer fabrication, with the rest done within STMicro. The rest of the company’s production is done on higher value-added, proprietary processes, such as the BCD (Bipolar Cmos Dmos) process used for automotive ICs requiring high power and relatively high performance. (STMicro gets about 14 percent of its revenues from automotive ICs.)
While the Crolles alliance between ST, NXP, and Freescale ends later this year as 45-nm development wraps up, the Crolles II fab will continue. NXP has said it will leave both the alliance and the fab this year. That means that the 2.500 wafer starts per week will be divided in half, between ST and Freescale, rather than in thirds.
It may be that 1,250 300-mm wafers per week doesn’t sound like a lot. However, if only 7-10 percent of the $10 billion in annual revenues is on digital CMOS and made on internal capacity, Crolles II will continue to play a big role. Also, if even a fraction of the ST-Hynix joint venture fab in China is diverted from DRAMs and flash to logic, that would provide ST with increased logic or mixed-signal capacity in China.
Carlo Bozotti, the relatively new CEO of STMicro, has said several things recently. One is that ST is well set for capacity for the time being. Another is that that the company wants to keep its capital investments down, bolstering its balance sheet during downturns.
And more recently, Bozotti has said he wants to work with a leading alliance, or partner, to develop its 32-nm process. At one point, Bozotti was quoted as using the word “obtain,” which would imply a licensing deal with a foundry. Co-development would imply joining something like the Fishkill alliance, already bulging with members but one that surely would welcome Europe’s leading chip maker.
All that raises the question of what happens to the shell in Catania, Sicily, and whether STMicro will ever operate its 300-mm M6 fab there. Already, management has said that ST's current capacity loading is "suboptimal." They are no doubt glad that Catania isn't worsening the situation now.
However, if Catania continues to stand empty, it could stand as a symbol for Europe's semiconductor industry.
About weQuest: weQuest's are written by G Dan Hutcheson, his career spans more than thirty years, in which he became a well-known as a visionary for helping companies make businesses out of technology. This includes hundreds of successful programs involving product development, positioning, and launch in Semiconductor, Technology, Medicine, Energy, Business, High Tech, Enviorntment, Electronics, healthcare and Business devisions.