I sat down for a chat with Gary Patton, the CTO of GlobalFoundries, at today’s SEMI Strategic Materials Conference where he had just given one of the keynotes (which I’ll cover another time). His family name isn’t really Patton, his grandfather’s name was Funkhauser, but his step-grandfather’s name was Patton. His father decided to go with Patton (if your name was Funkhauser maybe you would too). Gary actually dug into the ancestry, Funkhauser is obviously German, but it turns out there are none in Germany, only in Indiana.
Gary grew up in southern California and went to UCLA, originally studying Pre-Law. But he didn’t really like the way everyone involved seemed to be Marxists (hey, it was the 70s) and since he was good at math he switched to engineering. He had to scramble to catch up since he’d done a lot of humanities courses and no engineering courses. Eventually he specialized in electrical engineering. After UCLA he stayed in California but moved north and did he PhD at Standford under Jim Plummer.
At the time IBM had various research programs jointly with Stanford and also recruited heavily from there. Gary joined IBM and moved East to what IBMers call “Watson” but is really the “Thomas J. Watson Research Center”. Initially he worked on the SiGe HBT (heterojunction biplolar transistor) which resulted in a big press announcement and a couple of years ago in the IEDM 50th anniversary that paper was picked as the most significant for that year.
The expectation is that this would be the basis of future IBM servers…but then they went CMOS like everyone else. At the time IBM was not in the OEM semiconductor business, they only consumed their own semiconductors themselves, and 3rd parties were approaching them all the time. Eventually that policy changed and this turned into a power amp and RF on SOI business in Burlington (now GlobalFoundries’ Fab 9) where they are the market leader.
Somewhere around then he had to decide whether to remain on the purely technical side but he chose to transition into management. He was at IBM for 25 years, including a fair bit of research but also moving to San Jose to run IBM’s disk drive business (then on Cottle Road, near what is now Ramac Park, surely the only park in the world named after a disk drive). When that business was sold to Hitachi he moved back and for the last 8 years he ran semiconductor R&D for IBM.
Now he is doing much the same thing on the GlobalFoundries’ side of the house where he became CTO when GF acquired the IBM semiconductor business.
GlobalFoundries announced 22nm FD-SOI, which Gary thinks is a very attractive process and is highly differentiated from other foundries giving 16nm performance at 28nm price, and with software control of the forward and reverse back bias giving a very powerful knob to control power vs performance. In fact Sanjay Jha, the CEO, talked about this just last week at the Shanghai FD-SOI workshop.
The old IBM ASIC business is growing now that it is a business line for a pure-play foundry rather than a sideline for a company increasingly focused elsewhere.
I asked Gary about transistor costs. He told me that he thinks we will see real cost reduction (per transistor) for 10nm and 7nm. After all, 14/16nm is really 20nm (same metal stack) and is in some ways a poor tradeoff: it needs double patterning but only just (22nm does not need it) and it doesn’t push deep into the double patterning region to get a big payback. He also says that 7nm will be the last process that can use 193i (immersion lithography and 193nm light). After that we truly need EUV.
Talking of EUV, he told me that they have just had the UP2 upgrade to their EUV scanner in Albany. The availability is much better. In fact he worries more about availability of the tool than the other challenges. Clearly with the light source power there is a ways to go but it is looking good. There is progress on pellicles. More work needs to be done on resist but that seems more like engineering than research. But there is no denying that it is a complicated tool. But if the availability is not high then it will simply be an uneconomic technical curiosity.
One of the things that several people had talked about during the morning was the need for new interconnect. We have heard a lot about FinFET and FD-SOI over the last few years. Gary told me that in Albany they used to have more emphasis on the devices, but now he thinks they are heavier on the interconnect side. There is lots of innovation, especially using new materials, and it is the next challenge. It is no good having great transistors if we can’t connect them up.
So he sees his role, and the big picture technology strategy for GlobalFoundries to be:
- accelerate the leading edge
- produce differentiated solutions
So that’s how a law student is now the CTO of one of the most technical businesses in the world.