The ConFab: Chasing Price, Power and Performance

At The ConFab 2012, Mike Noonen of GLOBALFOUNDRIES kicked off the Fabless-Foundry Supply Chain session, noting that the manufacturing cycle time is now sometimes longer than the product lifetime. “It’s very high stakes poker,” he said. He noted that 75% of the semiconductor industry’s capacity is located in areas with high to moderate risk levels when it comes to natural disasters, and important consideration given that three of the industry’s last inflection points have been due to natural disasters.

Noonen noted that the semiconductor industry has always had the cyclic reality of the semiconductor cycle to deal with. This challenge has been compounded by several factors in recent years that fabless and fab-lite companies must contend with. These are:

• Financial markets demanding higher returns and hence more operational efficiency
• Fewer options for leading edge manufacturing
• Product lifecycles that much shorter than design and even production times in some markets
• Disaggregated worldwide supply chain that can be disrupted by natural disasters

Nooned said there is a need to get back to an early engagement and collaboration, with a postGDS2 type of handoff.

He also believe the era of second sourcing is past. “Time just doesn’t allow this. There’s not much a benefit,” he said.

In the same session, Nick Yu of Qualcomm described the “internet of things” as the biggest platform in the history of mankind. “It’s going to explode,” he said. “The world is moving to a higher level of abstraction,” he added, pointing to the amount of social networking in the world. “All of these applications are in their infancy,” he said, noting that in many parts of the world, people’s first experience with the internet will be on a smart phone. “PCs and laptops are probably a thing of the past,” he said. “The smartphone is the remote control for your life.” He also said your first 3D camera is going to be in your phone.

All presenters emphasized three requirements moving forward: power, performance and price. “Power and cost are now a higher priority than performance,” he said. “Chip cost reduction may not happen at advanced technology nodes,” he warned.

BJ Woo of TSMC highlighted the many challenges faced by foundries, and the responsibilities they face. “Just delivering an accurate SPICE model is very challenging,” she said.

Fortunately, new technologies can actually reduce variability. “When you move to high-k metal gate, the variability is reduced,” she said. “When you move to FinFET, it’s even further reduced.”

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