The July 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Ignoring Intel Rumors, GlobalFoundries Will Do $1-billion Expansion

Plus the foundry will build a new fab in New York state

2 min read
A large sprawling complex of buildings with a forest and lake in the background
Fab 8 and Company Headquarters in Malta, New York.

It used to be rare that the semiconductor industry made the news, as Thomas Caulfield, CEO of GlobalFoundries, said on Monday. Caulfield was addressing an assembly of industry partners and political dignitaries including Senator Charles Schumer of New York and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. “Every day now we’re in the news, not about what we did but what we haven’t been able to do enough of,” he said. “Our manufacturing capacity, worldwide, has been outpaced by demand.

Hoping to cash in on remedying that situation, GlobalFoundries announced a $1-billion investment aimed at adding 150,000 wafers per year of capacity on Fab 8 in Malta, N.Y., at the company’s most advanced facility. Caulfield also announced that GlobalFoundries would build a new fab in Malta. However, he provided no details about that fab.

The truth is that GlobalFoundries has been in the news quite a lot lately, but not for any reason Caulfield would talk about. Intel is rumored to be interested in purchasing GlobalFoundries for US $30 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. Caulfield would not acknowledge the rumors. Such a tie-up would be a good fit for Intel, analysts say, because the company is in the process of rebooting its foundry business. GlobalFoundries would provide both ready-made capacity and, perhaps more importantly, know-how to get that business off the ground.

The Fab 8 expansion would generate 1000 jobs at GlobalFoundries and thousands more in the local economy, Caulfield said. The $1-billion expansion comes on top of a global $1.4 billion expansion and a new fab in Singapore that will add 450,000 wafers per year.

globalfoundries press releaseSen. Charles Schumer (left), GlobalFoundries CEO Thomas Caulfield, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. Credit: GlobalFoundries

Fab 8 has had its ups and downs. In 2018, the company installed two extreme ultraviolet lithography machines in a drive to produce 7-nanometer chips, then the industry’s most advanced. However, company executives calculated that they would never be profitable if they continued chasing Moore’s Law and abandoned the project. Instead, the company has focused on adding technology features to their existing processes, such as embedded MRAM memory and advanced RF capabilities. IBM is now suing GlobalFoundries, because it says the latter company was obligated to produce IBM chips at 10-nanometers or better, a process technology between 7-nanometers and the 12-nm that GlobalFoundries currently operates at Fab 8.

The lack of detail about the new fab in Malta, N.Y. may be in part because there is likely a considerable amount of federal government money at stake. Schumer scored a rare bipartisan win pushing the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 through the U.S. Senate. The bill includes $52 billion for semiconductor manufacturing and R&D, but it must pass in the House of Representatives before it’s signed into law. And after that, the Commerce Department must figure out how to dispense the funds.

The $52 billion seems small compared to other programs in the works in South Korea and Europe, which could be in the hundreds of billions of dollars over a decade. Raimondo described the U.S. plan as “a historic, once in a generation investment.” But she also acknowledged that $52-billion won’t be enough. “It’s just the tip of the spear.”

The Conversation (0)

3 Ways 3D Chip Tech Is Upending Computing

AMD, Graphcore, and Intel show why the industry’s leading edge is going vertical

8 min read
A stack of 3 images.  One of a chip, another is a group of chips and a single grey chip.
Intel; Graphcore; AMD

A crop of high-performance processors is showing that the new direction for continuing Moore’s Law is all about up. Each generation of processor needs to perform better than the last, and, at its most basic, that means integrating more logic onto the silicon. But there are two problems: One is that our ability to shrink transistors and the logic and memory blocks they make up is slowing down. The other is that chips have reached their size limits. Photolithography tools can pattern only an area of about 850 square millimeters, which is about the size of a top-of-the-line Nvidia GPU.

For a few years now, developers of systems-on-chips have begun to break up their ever-larger designs into smaller chiplets and link them together inside the same package to effectively increase the silicon area, among other advantages. In CPUs, these links have mostly been so-called 2.5D, where the chiplets are set beside each other and connected using short, dense interconnects. Momentum for this type of integration will likely only grow now that most of the major manufacturers have agreed on a 2.5D chiplet-to-chiplet communications standard.

Keep Reading ↓Show less