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ceo interview Tower’s manufacturing complex at Migdal Haemek, Israel. Source Tower Semiconductor. But what about Israel? Even with approaching a billion dollars in annual revenue Tower doesn’t have much capital to re-invest in mature wafer fabs. What happens to Tower’s footprint in Israel over the next ten years? Ellwanger immediately makes the point that its two Israel fabs are doing profitable business for Tower and that, if he could, he would add to the Israel portfolio, through acquisition. “The 6-inch factory is running with nice utilization. The capex budget is tiny, just sustaining capital. We have technologies that have no advantage or cannot be done at lower nodes or do not need extremely high volume, which suits a 6-inch fab.” Ellwanger also makes the point that serving IDM TOPS business and Tower’s full service design capability – where it designs ICs for and on behalf of IDMs on condition that it manufactures them – are well suited to the 6-inch fab. Bigger wafers do bring economies of scale, said Ellwanger, but only up to a point. “A mask set at 300mm is more expensive, 300mm production tools are more expensive and maintenance is more expensive,” he said. What’s made where? In Israel the 6-inch fab is making discrete transistors, power semiconductors, high-speed logic and power management ICs up to 700V. At the 200mm facility in Israel Tower runs RFSOI for antenna switches, power management on BCD and CMOS image sensors, he said. “We still have area to build out in our 6-inch and 8-inch factories. There is capacity expansion that can be done where a $3 million to $5 million spend gets you an additional 1,000 wafers per month.” Tower is part of a consortium with IBM dealing with the Indian government to put down a fab in India. What’s happening there? Ellwanger says there is nothing to report and it is up to the Indian government to make announcements with regard to the progress and timing. “It is not yet part of our detailed business plans. But if and when it does happen it will be highly accretive to our bottom line.” What will be the next significant technology direction for Tower? “Well, we already do MEMS. We are doing a tuneable antenna for Cavendish Kinetics. We also make a MEMS resonator for SiTime as a replacement for quartz timing devices, and we do some small array microphone MEMS,” said Ellwanger. “But the problem with MEMS is there are no PDKs physical design kits. It’s a process-per-product technology. To grow to be a leader in MEMS you need to take say 30 to 40 customers so that you can get some products that go to really high volume. But the trouble with that is that MEMS development is a non-standard, lengthy procedure that can really kill your fab cycle time.” Ellwinger is more bullish about markets adjacent to image sensing such as infrared for thermal imaging for security applications. More technologies? What about packaging and multi-die components? “We’re not really involved in packaging. We have partners and we have access to packaging capability through Panasonic. As to 3D packaging, I am not convinced about the value proposition there. IPDs – integrated passive devices – are interesting and we’re looking at the possibility of making silicon interposers.” And in the area of power, what about gallium nitride? “GaN: well there might be a demand one day. Right now the amount of GaN produced is very small compared with the volume of planar, trench silicon MOSFETs. In fact we do have GaN capability. We manufacture something for Panasonic but we do not offer the process as a foundry flow. But there is not yet much foundry demand.” No more Moore’s Law? When will Tower need 32/28nm CMOS and how will it gain access to it? “I am not sure it ever will. 0.18-micron is state-of-the-art for many analog applications. TowerJazz Panasonic Semiconductor does have a 32nm process in R&D but it is digital.” Ellwanger said he sees no need for Tower to go back into digital IC manufacturing. How does Tower address China? “We have very good sales and application team in China. Some Chinese customers want to work with us; they don’t want to fab inside China because of IP risk.” At the same time there is a trend towards more IC production within China. “China can move faster than India. But you would be keen to spread out the opportunity to avoid capex. Another model would be for Tower to act as a technology provider,” said Ellwanger. When asked if he was considering entering China Ellwanger said: “More than just considering; actively looking at the opportunity.” At this time we are seeing lots of mergers of semiconductor companies. Is that something that affects foundries and could it be a case of acquire or be acquired? “We have seen some; 1st Silicon and X-Fab, Grace and Hua Hong. This will continue to happen. But the real opportunity is where a system-level company wants to exit chip manufacturing,” responded Ellwanger. He adds that at the time Tower was making its deal with Panasonic another systems company wanted to participate in At work in Tower’s wafer fab. Source: Tower Semiconductor. 16 Electronic Engineering Times Europe June 2015 www.electronics-eetimes.com


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