Perhaps it's getting through the current IC downturn. Perhaps it's managing the complex supply-chain. Or searching for ''killer applications.''
Wrong! ''Despite the technical challenges, the biggest hurdle to continued innovation (in the semiconductor industry) is economics,'' warned GlobalFoundries CEO Doug Grose.
IC design, fab and R&D costs are all soaring out of control. ''Only a handful of providers'' can afford the costs and keep up with Moore's Law, Grose said during a presentation at the GSA Expo here.
Over the years, the integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) have struggled to keep up with those costs, prompting many of them to take the fab-lite or fabless route. Those IDMs include LSI, Infineon, Sony, Freescale, NXP, ST, TI and Fujitsu, among others.
''The IDM model is on a slow, dying path," Grose said. Intel, Samsung, TSMC, and, to a lesser degree, Toshiba, can keep up. Besides TSMC, GlobalFoundries and UMC want to be contenders in the high stakes leading-edge foundry game.
The stakes are indeed huge. The R&D costs for process technology are expected to climb from $310-to-$400 million for the 90- to 65-nm nodes, to $600-to-$900 million for the 45- to 32-nm nodes, to $1.3 billion for the 22- to 12-nm nodes, he said.
A fab is expected to run from $2.5-to-$3.5 billion for the 90- to 65-nm nodes, to $3.5-to-$4 billion for the 45- to 32-nm nodes, to $4.5-to-$6 billion for the 22- to 12-nm nodes.
As a result of the soaring costs, Grose urged chip makers to collaborate. GlobalFoundries itself is part of IBM's ''fab club." Abu Dhabi's Advanced Technology Investment Co. recently said it has agreed to acquire Singapore-based Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd., for a total of $3.9 billion, continuing its expansion into the contract wafer production business.
Chartered will be folded into GlobalFoundries, the former manufacturing division of Advanced Micro Devices Inc. floated as a separate entity earlier this year by ATIC, which injected funds into the company under a joint venture deal with the microprocessor and graphics IC vendor. Pooling resources from Chartered and GlobalFoundries will enable the new company to better compete in the tough wafer supply industry with market leader TSMC.