Executive Interview with Michael Noonen of GLOBALFOUNDRIES
MWJ: Global Foundries was established in 2009 and has already grown into one of the world’s largest foundries – how did the company grow so quickly?
MN: When we were spun off from AMD back in 2009, we had one customer, one fab in Dresden Germany and a limited portfolio of leading edge technologies addressing a very narrow segment of the semiconductor market. We knew that diversification was a key factor in realizing our vision as a leading provider of semiconductor manufacturing solutions and that a part of our business needed to exist within mainstream technologies. The acquisition of Chartered Semiconductor established our footprint in the AP region immediately expanded our technology portfolio and opened us up to a whole new set of customers which would help us realize our vision of diversification but more importantly allow us to provide a more holistic approach to customer silicon technology solutions. Our broad portfolio allowed us to introduce these customers to leading edge technologies and collaborate with them to develop leadership technologies addressing their respective markets. A broad portfolio, a collaborative culture of technology development and continued capacity investment provides customers an alternative choice to the pure play foundry incumbents. Our goal is to be an extension of our customer’s own product development teams and not an arm’s length contract manufacturer. We sincerely believe that this is what our customers want and our continued growth is a good metric for how well we are doing.
MWJ: What are the main advantages of having a global manufacturing footprint with facilities in major cities in the US, Europe and Asia?
MN: Global manufacturing has several important benefits. Prior to the devastating events in Japan more than 2 years ago, many people questioned the strategy and value of a global manufacturing footprint. Today every major semiconductor company is seeking geographic supply chain diversity to help de-risk delivering their products on time in the volumes required. Geographic diversity also allows us to draw technical talent from various regions not only bringing new ideas into the company but allowing our workforce to become a mirror of the customers we serve. Cultural diversity in this case becomes an asset in helping us to work with customers across the globe. There are not many pure foundries that can make this claim. There is also an advantage in co-locating our manufacturing where major industries have a large presence. For example, our Dresden fab is located in the heart of the German automotive industry. This provides an advantage for electronics IDMs and fabless automotive semiconductor companies to be near their end customers. In the United States, our new fab in Malta, New York can also support the needs of the US defense industry which requires domestically sourced silicon as part of the military’s trust program. There is also the global capacity aspect and we maintain technology overlap between all of our factories. This flexibility is a great asset for our customers. As a responsible world citizen, our global footprint also allows us to contribute to the economic prosperity of the regions where we operate.
MWJ: As more semiconductor companies adopt the outsourced manufacturing paradigm, how do you offer deeper collaboration with your partners?
MN: That’s a great question. I think part of the answer is building a deep understanding of our customers business and application space through real collaboration. This helps us translate the design challenges our customers face every day into real solutions that allow our customers to minimize risk and achieve faster time-to-market and yield. We have placed a huge emphasis on becoming a market-focused company. What this means is having a proactive approach to technology development by anticipating the needs of the market and developing whole product solutions to fit that need. The deployment of 14XM, our first process supporting 3D transistor technology, is a great example of this approach. Mobile semiconductor customers needed access to the performance and low power benefits of 3D FinFET transistor technology for their next generation of high performance and low power mobile processors. GLOBALFOUNDRIES collaborated with the leaders in mobile semiconductors to define and deploy our 14XM 3D FinFET solution. 14XM has all of the benefits of 3D FinFETs but leverages more mature 20nm backend design rules. This is an example of how collaboration allows a safer and speedier path to revenue for both of us.
MWJ: What processes and capabilities do you offer in the RF CMOS area?
MN: GLOBALFOUNDRIES offers customers a wide range of RF silicon technologies ranging from 180nm SiGe for very specialized, high performance wireless applications down to 40nm RFCMOS, which we have custom tailored to address the growing millimeter wave wireless market. We are currently in development of a 28nm RF CMOS offering based on our industry-leading High K Metal Gate (HKMG) technology, which we believe will offer customers a distinct performance advantage for RF SoC applications. Our initial modeling of the technology indicates there is a quantifiable Ft improvement and leakage current advantage over poly-SiOn technologies at the same node, so we are excited about the potential of this technology for highly integrated RF SoCs which need to meet the stringent demands of tomorrow’s battery powered mobile devices. We recently announced our commitment to offer a 28nm fully-depleted SOI (FDSOI) technology and although this is not an RF offering as of yet, we do believe that this technology holds promise in solutioning the next generation of integrated radios. All of our RF processes are full-featured offerings and include specific device enablement which RF designers come to expect from an RF technology leader. These include scalable, layout-optimized RF active devices and a full suite of rich passive structures including high sheet rho resistors, MIM capacitors, MOM capacitors, varactors and thick metals. We have several unannounced offerings we are working on which you will be hearing more about in the future.
MWJ: There are several choices when it comes to high volume RF silicon technology providers. What differentiates GLOBALFOUNDRIES from the competition?
MN: In 2012, we embarked on a strategic initiative called Vision 2015. For mainstream technologies, the goal of this initiative was to increase our focus on the growing power management, analog, mixed signal and RF (AMS & RF) market by taking a platform approach to technology definition. The result is a transformation of our Singapore manufacturing operations and a realignment of our portfolio to provide a more optimized mix of existing and new technologies to address the needs of the markets we serve. This also helped us leverage economies of scale across our entire technology ecosystem including process development, device modules, EDA tools, and IP. We are still in the process of this multi-year transformation but we are already seeing the benefits to our business and, more importantly, our customers. If one looks at the pace of technology innovation in history, once a technology becomes high yield and robust, the normal evolution was to develop the RF variant next, followed by non-volatile memory technologies and then finally high voltage and analog. It was not that long ago that much of the RF SoC market was in 65nm and although there are still products being developed there for certain markets, the trend is clear this is moving fast to 28nm. Leading edge is no longer a statement only describing digital logic technology advancement. Leading edge takes on new meaning when you apply this from the market and applications point of view. Our focus is on the important market and applications requirements and, by redefining leading edge relative to the market and applications requirements, we are in a better position to innovate across the board.
MWJ: What are the most popular RF applications that your customers are designing and being manufactured at GLOBALFOUNDRIES?
MN: Our customers leverage GLOBALFOUNDRIES technologies to produce a wide diversity of RF products. Not surprisingly, smartphone RF products make up the majority of our volume and these include cellular multi-mode/multi-band transceiver/baseband chips and WiFi/Bluetooth/GPS/FM radio combo chips. These products are shipping in high volume and are addressing some of the most demanding smartphone and connectivity applications in the market today. We are beginning to see a lot of interest in machine-to-machine and Internet-of-Things applications and have been working to put a multi-technology platform in place which combines low power 32-bit processing with non-volatile memory, radio functionality, sensor interfaces and even MEMS. This is an exciting space and holds promise in driving greater wireless content in everyday household devices. With the recent merger of the WiFi and WiGig alliances, we are seeing increased interest in millimeter wave applications not only for high-bandwidth consumer applications such as short range radio links but also for infrastructure and wireless backhaul as a replacement for expensive fiber. Finally, the penetration of silicon into the realm of cellular and WiFi power amplifiers and front end modules has raised interest in our BCD-lite technology for DC controller applications and we are looking at ways to leverage our knowledge in the area of high resistivity insulating substrates to address the RF switch, PA and antenna tuner markets.
MWJ: What types of design models and tools are available to RF customers?
MN: Each of our RF PDKs comes with extensive documentation outlining technology specific device models and design rules. All of our RF models are Spectre-RF compatible. Some of our kits are also enabled with surface potential models (PSP) to help customers simulate device non-linear behavior. We also include additional PDK add-on tools such as an inductor optimizer which was developed in collaboration with one of our EDA partners (Integrand Software) and allows customers to select the correct inductor topology to meet a given set of inductor performance criteria. We provide full design rule, DFM and layout-vs-schematic checking tools as well as parasitic extraction support to assist in design validation and signoff. Finally, we work with a number of EDA companies who provide RF-centric circuit simulator support and EM simulation of passive structures and transmission lines. These include Lorentz PeakView, Integrand EMX, Cadence Spectre-RF and Agilent GoldenGate and Momentum.
MWJ: What are some of the emerging technologies or trends you see in semiconductor technology?
MN: System optimization does not always mean integrating everything on a single die. The evolution of various packaging techniques like 3D chip stacking provides customers an alternative method of addressing today’s complex systems where power, bandwidth and performance must be balanced. We recently announced a key milestone in demonstrating our 3D chip stacking capability at 20nm using our through silicon via (TSV) technology. We believe this technology is a key to providing our customers a comprehensive packaging solution which allows for the integration of heterogeneous materials and substrates with the best possible reduction in chip to chip interconnect parasitics. Another emerging area we see is MEMS. The growth in micro-mechanical sensor technologies which was put on the map by the mobile space has now proliferated to a number of different segments and applications and holds great promise in enabling the next generation of wireless sensor networks. MEMS is a big focus for us and we are working to establish a center of excellence starting in Singapore where we are ramping MEMS products today.
MWJ: What markets do you project to be your future growth areas?
MN: We believe that market diversity is important to GLOBALFOUNDRIES continued growth and leadership in the foundry space. The explosion in smartphones makes the mobility market hard to ignore. The new LTE and LTE-A 3GPP standards are placing greater demands not only on the digital baseband and applications processing functions but also the radio front end and transceiver functions. Conversely, the growth in the mobility market also has implications on the infrastructure side of things and we fully expect to see growth in the application of small cells and millimeter wave backhaul in response to the growing demand for data. We are also closely watching the automotive space and the development of the connected vehicle market. We have done some work in collaboration with one of our design partners (Catena) in developing an IEEE 802.11abgn/ac/p-compliant radio transceiver using our 65nm LPe-RF technology and believe this could be a catalyst in assisting customers in exploring how our technologies could be applied to this market and other 802.11 markets. Finally, we believe the machine to machine (M2M) and internet-of-things (IoT) markets are poised for explosive growth. We see a convergence happening which will integrate wireless radio, low power processors, NVM and sensors on a single chip. These are all areas of competence for GLOBALFOUNDRIES and given our collaborative mindset, we believe we are well-positioned to innovate with our customers in this emerging space.
MWJ: How will GLOBALFOUNDRIES continue to stimulate the future growth of the company?
MN: The semiconductor foundry industry is poised to grow another $15 B over the next 5 years. This is staggering when one considers how long it has taken the industry to reach today’s revenue levels. In 2012, we were named the fastest growing semiconductor company on the planet with a year over year revenue growth of 32%. This tells us that our strategy is working, customers recognize the value we bring to the industry and we believe this strategy will continue to fortify our growth going forward. Technology innovation is one key to our success and we will continue to invest in talent and infrastructure to help fuel this engine. Our focus on market specific solutions, modular technology platforms and collaborative innovation demonstrates to our customers what we mean by collaborative device manufacturing. Collaborative device manufacturing engenders the deep partnerships needed to help customers gain a competitive advantage. We call this Foundry 2.0. Of course, none of this is possible without great customers and we invite the readers of Microwave Journal to join us on this exciting journey. Let’s innovate together.