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EETE DEC 2013

EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW X-Fab ready for global growth, says CEO By Peter Clarke X-Fab Silicon Foundries AG (Erfurt , Germany) is doing well according to co-CEO Rudi De Winter, but as a private company it is not obliged to be very forthcoming with its numbers. The company is coming towards the end of a transition to 200-mm wafer production and sees scope for expansion in its current fabs and in particular at X-Fab Sarawak, its wafer fab in Malaysia. X-Fab, best known as a European foundry focused on analogue, mixed-signal and specialty processes, emerged from VEB Mikroelektronik in Erfurt, East Germany in 1992 soon after the re-unification of the country. The company acquired a few amortized, older wafer fabs and deployed a foundry service business model at a time when it was relatively new and mainly being applied to digital CMOS production. The company, now majority owned by Xtrion NV a holding company based in Tessenderlo, Belgium, is focused on analogue and mixedsignal processes and with much of its work in Rudi De Winter: co-CEO of X-Fab Silicon Foundries the industrial and automotive sectors the company was not as susceptible to the global economic malaise of 2008 and 2009 as some other companies. “We’re doing well. We’ve grown through acquisition. Our latest one was 1st Silicon in Malaysia. That was fully loaded when we acquired it but we had to find new business,” De Winter said. The acquisition took place in 2006 and part of the transition was to qualify the fab for the production of automotive ICs with multiple customers. “The fab runs 200-mm wafers down to 130-nm. It’s the next generation from what we have in Erfurt,” De Winter said. De Winter said that in 2013 the Malaysia fab is at breakeven and that from now on he expects their production to grow profitably. “Manufacturing capacity there is about 20,000 wafer starts per month. We can further increase that to 30,000 wafers per month with additional equipment,” said De Winter. “We installed 0.35-micron HV CMOS applicable to automotive applications with 100V and a lot of different modules. We also have 0.18-micron installed there.” Indeed overall X-Fab’s highest shipping node is 0.35-micron with mixed-signal capability, De Winter said. “The 0.35-micron is still the most popular although 0.18-micron is on a par with it in terms of enquiries.” X-Fab does have a more recent manufacturing acquisition than its fab in Malaysia. In November 2012 X-Fab increased its shareholding in MEMS Foundry Itzehoe GmbH to 51 percent and renamed the company X-Fab MEMS Foundry Itzehoe. “Ah yes, but Itzehoe is MEMS only. The processes are varied so it is very hard to talk about wafer starts per month.” But Itzehoe runs 200-mm wafers as standard something that is unusual in the MEMS sector and which gives X-Fab an economic advantage. The majority of X-Fabs’ five wafer fabs are on 200- mm. Erfurt runs a mix of 6-inch and 200-mm wafers and Dresden will have converted to 200-mm wafers only by mid-2014, said De Winter. The exception is X-Fab’s facility in Lubbock, Texas, which runs specialty processes on 6-inch wafers. “In fact, we announced a deal with Cymbet so we are making batteries on silicon there,” he said. But increasingly some of the digital giants of the foundry sector – TSMC, UMC, Globalfoundries – are also offering ‘more-than- Moore’ processes using their own older wafer fabs. How does X-Fab cope with that level of competition? “If you look across the total foundry landscape there are many processes but they are not all offered in all market sectors,” he said. X-Fab is not playing in the pure digital sector nor does it require the very high volume orders that are normal for the larger foundries. “When it comes to more-than-Moore when you look at the levels of integration for non-volatile memory, for high voltage, across a broad temperature range, I believe we are un-matched,” said De Winter. “We also put a lot of emphasis on design support, we invest a lot in models, in PDKs physical design kits to give customers the best chance of success. Our NVM IP is developed in house, which is important for the automotive market.” De Winter said that in the automotive sector multi-party supply chains are not favoured by customers that must control and attest to the rigor of design and manufacturing for safety. Emphasizing the support to design teams that X-Fab can provide De Winter added: “In MEMS we also have IP blocks and offer pressure and inertial sensor platforms.” X-Fab’s sales by major industry sector breakdowns as: automotive 46 percent, industrial 15 percent and communications and consumer about 33 percent. The high automotive tally is largely due to the work done for automotive component company Melexis NV, a sister company that is also controlled by Xtrion. “Melexis is around a third of our business,” said De Winter. Does X-Fab’s acquisition of 1st Silicon as the next domino in its chain of globalization indicate that as it grows it is choosing to, or being forced to, de-emphasize Europe? “We are glad to have our fab in Asia. It is well received by our Asian customers,” De Winter responded. 16 Electronic Engineering Times Europe December 2013 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE DEC 2013
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