Globalfoundries is one of the world’s largest semiconductor fabs with some of the most prestigious customers including Apple, AMD, Broadcom, IBM and Qualcomm. The company operates manufacturing centers in Germany, Singapore, New York and Vermont and has a total of ten fabs operating an even split of 200mm and 300mm fabs. The company was formed back in 2009 after Advanced Micro Devices spun off their fabs to divest from their fabs in Dresden. The company later acquired Chartered Semiconductors of Singapore in 2015 to continue their expansion and in 2015 acquired IBM’s fabs in East Fishkill New York and Vermont.
Globalfoundries positions themselves as the “customer-first” chip fab, so one of their goals is to address the vast variance in silicon needs which results in varied silicon manufacturing at different fabs around the world. Simply put, chips with higher performance computing requirements need FinFET technologies but battery-operated, lower performing devices like low and mid-range smartphones and IoT do not.
Globalfoundries already has fabs all over the world dedicated to different manufacturing processes, but the cost of entry for leading processes can be prohibitive to some emerging customers and these battery-powered, lower performing use-cases, especially those in China. Because of price sensitivities, we are starting to see more attention focused on mature nodes with pricing and yields more in-line with their customers’ needs. That is why Globalfoundries created the 22FDX process, which uses the 22nm Fully-Depleted Silicon-On-Insulator (FD-SOI) technology.
Globalfoundries says that 22FDX delivers FinFET-like performance and energy efficiency at the cost of 28nm planar technologies. 22FDX is very cost-sensitive by delivering a 20 percent smaller die size and 10 percent fewer masks than 28nm while also requiring nearly 50 percent less immersion lithographylayers than FinFET. It is designed to be targeted towards more cost-sensitive applications like IoT, mainstream and lower end mobile, networking and RF connectivity. These areas are of intense interest to the Chinese market, which is why Globalfoundries announced in February, 2017, that they would be building a fab in partnership with the Chengdu government for 22FDX in Chengdu China.
From my experiences, I have seen the most successful companies in China either making big investments in China or sharing your IP with Chinese partners, or do both. Globalfoundries clearly understands these nuances, which is why Globalfoundries involvement with the Chengdu government is important to the project’s success. Additionally, In China, when the Chinese invest with you, then you know that you’ve got something with some real potential for growth. I believe the odds are with all things equal, Chinese SoC and chip companies will choose you as their partner if the government is invested. That’s why the $100 million investment from the Chengdu government is a big deal as it confirms the municipality’s commitment to the project and the growth of the industry around it. The goal is to attract chip companies to move to Chengdu and hire engineers to create multiple design centers and turn Chengdu into a center of excellence for designing 22FDX chips for mainstream mobile, IoT, automotive, RF connectivity and other growth markets. The Chinese government and local municipalities are becoming increasingly interested in creating a home-grown semiconductor industry inside of China and this project in Chengdu is one of those key efforts.
GlobalFoundries could be on the brink of something very big with the project in Chengdu as the company is expanding into a very large market with an appetite for modern high-growth technologies. Because chip fabrication is such a high-skilled process that attracts other highly-skilled jobs, it only seems logical that the Chinese government in Chengdu would want to participate in facilitating that growth. Globalfoundries has done a good job of having large semiconductor customers like AMD, MediaTek and Rockchip express their interest in the Chengdu project and encourage others in China to follow.
Based on what I have seen at AMD with Ryzen, their high-performance process looks good, and from what I hear from modem vendors their process also looks good and in many cases, 22FDX is the clear winner for certain lower-cost purposes. With this investment, I suspect that we will see much more growth in 22FDX and its implementation in manufacturing chips, especially those coming out of China.