Page 4

EETE DEC 2013

Should Abu Dhabi build a MEMS fab? By Peter Clarke The Abu Dhabi plan to work with the chip company it owns, Globalfoundries, to build a wafer fab in the emirate, appears to have been on hold for a couple of years. But there are signs emerging that the plan could be revived with a change of focus to MEMS. Some of you may remember that along with the creation of foundry chipmaker Globalfoundries in 2009 and 2010 by an investment vehicle of the Abu Dhabi government came a plan to set a wafer fab down there in the emirate. Early in 2011 the plan was to break ground in 2012 for an $8 billion Abu Dhabian wafer fab with chip production starting in 2015. However, after Ajit Manocha took over as CEO of Globalfoundries in October 2011 the plan went on to the back burner. This is despite sustained efforts to build up academic, semiconductor research and training efforts in the emirate. But perhaps the Abu Dhabi government and Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC) – the investment vehicle that owns Globalfoundries – could dust off the plan and update it by inserting MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) ahead of wafer fab. The benefits are numerous, not least that the market for MEMS components is growing faster than the overall market for semiconductor ICs. The next obvious benefit is that it would provide a much lower cost of entry into chip manufacturing for the United Arab Emirates. About $500 million would allow the creation of a purpose-built 200-mm going on 300-mm wafer fab that could be the best in the world for the production of MEMS. This would also allow Globalfoundries to focus its big spending “Does a new-build MEMS fab make sense for Globalfoundries in a sector where the fablessfoundry business model is not yet fully established?” – of the order of $10 billion – in upstate New York where it must now be considering whether its next fab will be for the production of ICs on 450mm diameter wafers. A third factor is somewhat double-edged and might be a source of contention. Timing and location The good news is that Globalfoundries already makes MEMS and so would be a good partner to carry such an Abu Dhabi plan forward. The bad news is that Globalfoundries makes MEMS in Singapore and that city-state might be lobbying to keep MEMS expansion there. There is also the issue that by tradition MEMS production has moved into amortized facilities as IC production has moved out. To purpose-build a MEMS factory in Abu Dhabi would be ground-breaking on multiple fronts. However there are signs that Singapore and Abu Dhabi are attempting to finesse this. It was announced in November that Singapore and Abu Dhabi research institutes and government economic agencies have agreed to establish a “twin-lab” to research MEMS aided by their commercial protégé Globalfoundries. However, this is R&D transfer to Abu Dhabi’s Masdar research institute, not full-blown manufacturing. The most significant cause of contention would be the possibility that Abu Dhabi and Globalfoundries have a different sense of urgency about this; one born of the difference between political and commercial interests. The idea of building a shell for a MEMS foundry in 2014 for production in 2016 might make sense for the Abu Dhabi government and bureaucrats. This would not be too far behind the original plan. The question is: does a newbuild MEMS fab make sense for Globalfoundries in a sector where the fablessfoundry business model is not yet fully established? I asked ATIC about plans they might have for a MEMS wafer fab and the response was: “We are committed to establishing a manufacturing and technology presence in Abu Dhabi, but have not established a concrete timeline or announced specific details about the facility.” There was no acknowledgement of my MEMS reference. I also asked at Globalfoundries. The response: “We are still committed to establishing a manufacturing and technology presence in Abu Dhabi, but we have not established a concrete timeline or announced specific details about the facility. Given the volatility in the world economy and the decline in global semiconductor demand due to economic conditions, we are reviewing our expansion plans to ensure they are fully aligned with customer needs.” The first sentence shows unanimity. The second sentence shows a different emphasis. But, of course, Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds have deep pockets and ATIC is not obliged to pursue a MEMS wafer fab with Globalfoundries exclusively or at all. STMicroelectronics might make a suitable partner or a consortium might make sense. However, this would also beg the question: “If a purposebuilt MEMS foundry would make sense for Abu Dhabi why can’t the continent of Europe choose to afford to do something similar within Europe?” 4 Electronic Engineering Times Europe December 2013 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE DEC 2013
To see the actual publication please follow the link above