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FD-SOI Not Just For France Any More, China Signs On?

FD-SOI Not Just For France Any More, China Signs On?
by Paul McLellan on 04-30-2014 at 9:07 pm

 The COO of ST Microelectronics, Jean-Marc Chery announced that they have signed a new foundry agreement for FD-SOI. What he actually said doesn’t reveal who the foundry in question is:“We have just signed a strategic agreement with a top-tier foundry for 28nm FD-SOI technology. This agreement expands the ecosystem, assures the industry of high-volume production of ST’s FD-SOI based IC solutions for faster, cooler, and simpler devices and strengthens the business and financial prospects of the Embedded Processing Solutions Segment.”

Of course, at some level it could be anyone but the rumors are that it is SMIC (Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation) headquartered in Shanghai China. If true, this is very significant. So far ST is the only company that is committed to FD-SOI and it has one fab to run it in at Crolles, just south of Grenoble in France. Plus ST is not really in the foundry business.

 But SMIC is firmly in the foundry business. According to the boilerplate at the end of their press releases:Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation is one of the leading semiconductor foundries in the world and the largest and most advanced foundry in mainland China, providing integrated circuit (IC) foundry and technology services at 0.35-micron to 40-nanometer.

    [*=1]headquartered in Shanghai, China
    [*=1]a 300mm fab and a 200mm mega-fab in Shanghai
    [*=1]a 300mm mega-fab in Beijing
    [*=1]a 200mm fab in Tianjin
    [*=1]a 200mm fab project under development in Shenzhen

They also manage a 300mm fab in Wuhan owned by Wuhan Xinxin Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation.

ICInsights reckon that they have a capacity (in 300mm) of 57,000 wafers/month. They obviously have more capacity in total since many of their fabs are 200mm (and I don’t know if the 57K number includes the Wuhan fab).

As the boilerplate says, until now SMIC has had processes down to the 45/40nm node but nothing at 28nm and below. This agreement (if it is them) will give them a 28nm process with an obvious path to 20nm and below over time if they choose to go there. Which they may not since SMIC is never going to be the technology leader, their niche is to build chips for the Chinese market which is extremely cost-sensitive, and 28nm may well be the lowest cost per process transistor.

GlobalFoundries announced in February last year that they had:signed a memorandum of understanding to manufacture the process with the developer, STMicroelectronics. Mike Noonen[then]executive vice president of worldwide marketing and sales at the foundry chip maker[said]that a physical design kit for the process will be available in the first quarter of 2013. The first “risk production” will come from a Globalfoundries wafer fab in 4Q13 and volume production will ramp during the first half of 2014.

That never happened and when I asked GF earlier this year (since I was talking about it at EDPS a couple of weeks ago) they said it was not a priority in 2014. Of course, since then they have announced their 14nm partnership with Samsung so I think they are full-speed ahead on FinFET and will only do FD-SOI if the customer demand is there.

The reason that this is important is that the major negative about FD-SOI is that ST has been the only company committed to it. And they have limited capacity and are not really a foundry, they are an IDM. I have not seen any serious criticism of FD-SOI as a technology, only criticism of the lack of an ecosystem because FinFET has “sucked all the air out of the room.” If SMIC is really signing on then this changes things since there is significant foundry capacity available and probably a significant cost advantage. If customers start to demand volume, GF may well reassess the importance of 28nm FD-SOI and bring it online. I don’t know if they ever licensed the process or just signed an MOU (where, typically, no money changes hands). Since it uses equipment they already have in place for 28nm bulk, it would not be a major effort to bring it up and they could do it in parallel with the 14nm FinFET transfer from Samsung.

Also read: FD-SOI Better Than FinFET?

More articles by Paul McLellan…

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