Globalfoundries: We Have What It Takes to Be a Long-Term Technology and Manufacturing Leader

Globalfoundries is a new name on the market of contract semiconductor manufacturers. The company is a spin-off from AMD and is a result of execution of the company’s “asset smart” strategies. Today we are speaking to Globalfoundries to find out more about the company and its future plans.

by Anton Shilov
04/13/2009 | 08:50 AM

Globalfoundries is a joint-venture between Advanced Micro Devices and Advanced Technology Investment Company of Abu Dhabi. The new contract maker of semiconductors originally was manufacturing division of AMD, which the company decided to spin-off since designing leading-edge manufacturing processes and keeping the fabs up-to-date required gargantuan investments which return required the company to keep utilization rate of its fabs at maximum, something not easy to accomplish considering changes on the market and seasonality.


For Globalfoundries is should be a little easier to maintain leading edge capabilities and keep utilization rate at high levels since its aim is to manufacture microprocessors and other chips not only for Advanced Micro Devices, but also for other companies in the industry. But this does not mean an easy life for the new contract maker of semiconductors: the company has to ensure that it offers the right process technologies to its potential customers to compete against long-established Taiwan-based foundries: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, United Microelectronics Corp., Chartered Semiconductor and so on. Moreover, the company will have to actively expand its manufacturing capacities in order to be able to fulfill demands from potential clients.

In order to find more about Globalfoundries, its short-term goals and long-term goals, we decided to sit down with Tom Sonderman, the vice president of manufacturing systems at Globalfoundries.

About Globalfoundries

X-bit labs: Hello and thank you for taking time for this interview. Let’s start with yourself: Can you tell our readers who are you and what is your role at the company?

Tom Sonderman: I am Tom Sonderman, Vice President, Manufacturing Systems and Technology at Globalfoundries.

Thomas Sonderman used to be the Director of Automated Precision Manufacturing (APM) technology for AMD with global responsibility for the design, development and implementation of manufacturing technologies within AMD’s wafer fab and assembly operations.

X-bit labs: Why Globalfoundries? Is it because of the vision, locations of technology centers and manufacturing facilities, or because the company is a good example of collaboration between the West (U.S.-based AMD) and the Middle-East (Abu Dhabi-based ATIC)?

Tom Sonderman: Globalfoundries vision is to become the world’s first truly global foundry company, with leading-edge manufacturing and technology on multiple continents (the US and Europe in the near-term). We believe this global technology footprint gives us better proximity to customers and most importantly better access to the smartest minds in the industry. As we move to complex geometries like 32nm and beyond this talent is going to be one of the key elements for success if you intend on delivering leading-edge capabilities to customers.

About Globalfoundries, Continued

Just about three years ago AMD had extremely big plans for capacity improvements and by 2010 the company planned to boost its manufacturing capacities by five times compared to the 2006’s levels. At the same time, Hector Ruiz, chairman and chief executive of AMD, made no secret that AMD’s manufacturing capacities could be used to make chips for partners on a contract basis even four years ago. Perhaps, Globalfoundries was planned even before AMD acquired ATI Technologies back in 2006?

X-bit labs: Can you tell us a little about what preceded the creation of Globalfoundries and asset smart strategy? AMD has rather ambitious expansion plans before it acquired ATI. Maybe it wanted to produce chips under contracts itself?

Tom Sonderman: That’s probably best addressed by AMD.  What I can tell you is that the Asset Smart model was something AMD had been looking at for a significant amount of time.

Fab 1 Modules 1 and 2

X-bit labs: Do you think it is the right time to start a contract semiconductor manufacturer now as the world’s semi industry is suffering a great decline?

Tom Sonderman: We actually see this as an advantage for us as we start up and build out key areas of our business. While the current climate is a challenge it presents advantages as we look to build out our infrastructure, purchase tools (in Dresden and NY) and start construction in NY. It also provides a tremendous opportunity to go recruit some of the best talent in the industry to round out our leadership team.

Globalfoundries: Advantages and Strategy

X-bit labs: Globalfoundries is a brand new name on the market. What advantages will you offer compared to existing foundries?

Tom Sonderman: Our business model is quite different in that we are leading-edge only.  No other foundry company in the world has 100 per cent of their wafer starts on 45nm.  We believe our ability to rapidly adopt new technologies and ramp to mature yields will provide tremendous competitive advantage to our customers. AMD provides a high volume customer to ramp new technologies thereby making it easier for other companies to adopt a robust leading-edge process. In addition, our Automated Precision Manufacturing (APM) capabilities are renowned as fueling the world’s most efficient fabs in Dresden. Nobody else has this technology, and now we can unlock it for the entire market.

300 mm Wafer in 45nm Technology

AMD said that the company’s assembly, test, mark and pack (ATMP) assets will not become a part of Globalfoundries, but will remain at AMD. The chipmaker said that since AMD’s AMD’s ATMP operations were specifically tailored for its microprocessor business and thus were better to stay with AMD.

X-bit labs: Do you think that the lack of ATMP operations will be your handicap when competing against TSMC, which does provide appropriate services?

Tom Sonderman: Absolutely not.  Consistent with other leading foundry providers (like TSMC) we will form multiple relationships for outsourced back-end manufacturing to enable our customers increased choice and in how and where they want their products assembled, tested and packaged.

X-bit labs: What services, in addition to manufacturing, do you plan to offer to your customers?

Tom Sonderman: Our focus will be a range of manufacturing and design enablement services that enable our customers to increase their time to market.

X-bit labs: The vast majority of contract makers of semiconductors are based in Southeast Asia, meanwhile you will have manufacturing facilities in Germany and the U.S. Do you expect this will limit the number of potential customers?

Tom Sonderman: No, quite the opposite.  We see this as a competitive advantage.  Close to 70% of our addressable market is in California alone with a number of other key customers in Europe. We also believe having manufacturing capabilities on two continents will allow us to better mitigate risk for our customers.

X-bit labs: In various interviews Globalfoundries implied that it could build manufacturing facility in Abu Dhabi or Taiwan. Is it a strategy to build foundries in different parts of the world? Or do you simply promise to consider certain projects going forward?

Tom Sonderman: Our focus is currently building out our second fab in Dresden with bulk silicon capabilities and breaking ground in NY this summer.  Beyond that we’ll add additional capabilities as the market dictates.

Renderings of Fab 2

X-bit labs: It is definitely risky for fabless semiconductor developers to change manufacturing partners. How do you plan to offset that risk for them and encourage to transit their production to Globalfoundries?

Tom Sonderman: Through offering them a compelling long-term roadmap and relationship opportunity. With a robust capacity and technology roadmap and up to $6B in committed funding in the coming years we believe we have what it takes to be a long-term technology and manufacturing leader and a tremendous partner for our customers. If you look at the current players in the market we believe there are very few companies that will be able to sustain these long term investments.

X-bit labs: What are your market share goals for the mid-term and long-term?

Tom Sonderman: We’re not prepared to share them at this time.

Globalfoundries: Technologies and Customers

X-bit labs: It is rather well known that the vast majority of chips are produced using rather mature process technologies, e.g. 65nm and older. However, the first bulk process tech Globalfoundries will launch is 32nm tech. Isn’t such a plan too ambitious?

Tom Sonderman: We don’t believe so. 32nm bulk silicon is already running in Dresden and we’ll be ready to accept customer designs later this year with an aggressive production ramp in 2010. We have proved time and time again (90nm, 65nm, 45nm) that we can adopt leading-edge technologies at mature yields as well or better than anyone else in the industry. We expect this trend to continue with 32nm.

Inside Globalfoundries' manufacturing facilities

X-bit labs: There are not a lot of companies who are utilizing state-of-the-art process technologies. What industries are you primarily targeting with your services?

Tom Sonderman: PC platform technologies (CPUs, GPUs), wireless, game consoles and telecom are a few examples of markets we’re targeting.

X-bit labs: You will launch 32nm bulk process technology later this year at Fab 1 module 2 (ex Fab 38), the same fab is now used solely for production of AMD processors. Will there be enough capacity for AMD and new customers?

Tom Sonderman: We will ramp bulk silicon in our second module in Dresden with our first module (formerly Fab 36) remaining dedicated to SOI and AMD microprocessors.

X-bit labs: Will other customers be able to produce their chips using SOI process technology that AMD uses to make its microprocessors.

Tom Sonderman: We plan to offer SOI to prospective customers should they want this technology.

X-bit labs: What about high-k metal gate (HKMG) dielectric? Will your 32nm bulk process feature this tech?

Tom Sonderman: Yes it will, for both bulk and SOI.

Inside Globalfoundries' manufacturing facilities

X-bit labs: Do you plan to offer so-called “half-node” process technologies, which are optical shrinks of available fabrication processes?

Tom Sonderman: Yes we do.

X-bit labs: When does AMD plan to start outsourcing its chipset and graphics chip production to Globalfoundries?

Tom Sonderman: We intend on competing for AMD’s graphics business in the 32nm/28nm technology node.

X-bit labs: Will outsourcing to Globalfoundries force AMD’s ATI specialists to design graphics chips using different methods? Will it increase the risks of missed product cycle because performance or yields will not be on the level that they would be comfortable with?

Tom Sonderman: Absolutely not. Our Dresden fabs are regarded as the best in the world for ramping new processes and reaching mature yields.  It is our intention to open up these capabilities to AMD’s Graphics Product Group moving forward.  We are currently engaged with them to ensure we build the necessary design enablement capabilities to meet their needs.

Inside Globalfoundries' manufacturing facilities

X-bit labs: Have you already signed any manufacturing agreements with any customers apart from AMD?

Tom Sonderman: We are actively engaging with multiple tier 1 fabless and fablite semiconductor companies who require leading-edge capacity.  We’re not ready to announce any new relationships yet.

X-bit labs: AMD has always said that manufacturing processes did not matter to end-users. Will Globalfoundries share the same ideology (even though it is hardly logical for a foundry company) and provide certain non-technology related benefits to its customers?

Tom Sonderman: The manufacturing process is only as important as the product innovation it unlocks. The AMD 45nm process is a great example of this. Our focus is on using our leading-edge technology to enable customers to get more performance, power efficiency and functionality from their products.

X-bit labs: Thank you very much for informative answers!