In an interview with EE Times Europe, Johnson said he sees Globalfoundries (GF) among the world's top players. "They have mastered immersion lithography and they soon will be able to use EUV (extreme ultra violet) lithography," he said. Immersion and EUV lithography are two front end technologies in chip manufacturing regarded as enablers to move forward to smaller geometries which in turn helps chip manufacturers to get more productive.
"They are quite advanced with their 40nm technology and they have a very aggressive roadmap," the chip expert said. "By end of next year they will have a full suite of processes including 28nm general purpose bulk."
Johnson, who is research vice president for high-tech market researcher Gartner, added that actually GF and Taiwan-based foundry market leader TSMC are not competing head-to-head yet. "GF focuses on leading-edge technologies with geometries of 45nm and smaller while the bulk of TSMCs business is in the 65nm segment".
Globalfoundries recently has signed a manufacturing contract with STMicroelectronics the first one for the company which otherwise depends on microprocessor manufacturing orders from AMD, one of the company's two parent companies.
Johnson said the fact that GF's wafer fab is based in Europe could have contributed to ST's decision, since the short distance facilitates communication. Similar effects will be likely once the company has launched production in its wafer fab in upstate New York which currently is under construction. "I would not be surprised if GF would be already in talks with Texas Instruments," Johnson said.
The planned fab in New York also will benefit from the close vicinity to IBMs semiconductor research institutes in that region. "IBMs Albany nanotech labs will influence and help GF", Johnson predicted. In addition, this location offers plenty of elbow room to grow for the company, if needed. According to Johnson, the fab currently under construction is designed for a capacity of 35.000 wafer starts per month. "There is space for two more fabs the same size," Johnson said.
Nevertheless, the Dresden fab is far from being outdated. The fab will probably being able to extend immersion lithography down to 28nm and perhaps even to 22nm. "In terms of technology, they are competitive for the next seven to eight years," Johnson said.
As a result of the tough competition against market leader Intel, AMD was forced to put major efforts to develop ways and methods to improve manufacturing efficiency. GF today greatly benefits from this legacy. "They probably have the best process control capability in the industry," Johnson summed up. "TSMC better should look over its shoulder."
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