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GlobalFoundries Highlights Path Forward as Moore’s Law Ends

The chip manufacturer is shifting focus beyond geometry shrinks.

Held last Tuesday in Santa Clara, Calif., the GlobalFoundries Technology Conference (GTC) provided a forum for CEO Thomas Caulfield and other company leaders to share their vision for delivering value as a chip manufacturer as they shift their focus from investing in 7 nm manufacturing capability and the Moore’s Law chase.

To provide perspective for the firm’s shift from investing in advanced process geometry shrinks, Caulfield illustrated the economic factors that have reduced the number of chip manufacturers investing in 7 nm technology to just three: TSMC, Intel, and Samsung.  Figures 1, 2, and 3 were used to illustrate the following reasons for moving its focus away from Moore’s Law to other exciting technologies:

  • Costs are rising significantly for advanced designs in bleeding-edge process geometries
  • The industry has fallen off the Moore’s Law path as advances slow notably
  • The bulk of foundry revenue opportunities are found at process geometry nodes at or greater that 12 nm.

1. Costs are rising. (Source: IBS – Design Activities and Strategic Implications – July 2018)

2. Moore’s Law is slowing. (Source: Computer Architecture, by John Hennessy and David Patterson, ©FT)

3. Leading edge is not the only game in town. (Source: Gartner Forecast: Semiconductor Foundry Revenue and Supply and Demand Worldwide, 2Q18 Update)


“Pivot” Strategy Differentiates Investments

The focus of the GTC conference was on technology/product solutions that leverage the core capabilities that GlobalFoundries has developed in the decade since its creation. The multi-dimensional view of advancing chip manufacturing presented in Fig. 4 was used to show how GlobalFoundries could support its customers in developing differentiated solutions. Rather than pursue the process geometry bleeding-edge, GlobalFoundries is building on its strengths in areas of differentiated silicon and system level differentiation.

4. Dimensions of innovation. (Source: Gary Patton, SEMI ISS, January 2017)

The multi-dimensional strategy GlobalFoundries is pursuing is organized around four core areas where it seeks to build continued differentiation.  The foundation of FinFET, RF, FDX, and Power/AMS (Analog Mixed Signal) with their related technology elements is presented in Fig. 5.

5. GlobalFoundries’ technology differentiation foundation. (Source: GlobalFoundries, GTC September 2018)

Semiconductor Manufacturing’s Future

The vision presented by GlobalFoundries is very encouraging for the semiconductor industry as it grapples with the reality that Moore’s Law is coming to an end. Innovation is the life blood of the semiconductor industry. If Moore’s Law—the main driver of manufacturing innovation going back to the earliest days of the chip industry—is reaching the end of its path, it is critical that new technologies be identified that can fuel the continued progress of the industry.

It is clear that no single technology will assume the mantle of primary chip manufacturing driver. Rather, a range of advanced technologies will provide the key elements of value creation in chip manufacturing. Certainly, companies like Intel, Samsung, and TSMC will continue to invest in bleeding-edge process geometries for the benefits they can deliver in memory, processor, and advanced logic solutions.

However, without others engaged in the pursuit of continued process geometry shrinks, it would appear that at some point even these companies will start investing in other paths of manufacturing innovation. The strategy shared by GlobalFoundries stimulates optimism for the future of chip manufacturing and the value it needs to continue to deliver for the overall health of the world of technology.

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