New GlobalFoundries Fab Cleanroom Facility

GlobalFoundries Fab seeking ASIC Partners

GlobalFoundries Fab plans for the upcoming year display the company’s urge to be a leader in the semiconductor market and to provide a strong position in the Chinese and global economies. Tom Caulfield, the new CEO of GlobalFoundries has a plan to improve financial performance of the privately held chipmaker. Therefore, GlobalFoundries is seeking partners to help Global Foundries be a strong competitor in the hot chip market.

New GlobalFoundries Fab Cleanroom Facility

Caulfield is looking to build a next-generation GlobalFoundries fab, semiconductor cleanroom environment to expand his ASIC services to attract new customers. Meanwhile, he started a reorganization geared to make the company more nimble and to hold his managers responsible for financial progress, he said in a recent interview.

The new fab is probably best suited as an expansion of the existing GlobalFoundries Fab 8 in Malta, New York, where it is preparing to ramp a 7-nm node. Such a facility likely would need support from federal funds, but GlobalFoundries has other options leveraging its fabs in China, Germany, and Singapore. It is GlobalFoundries interest to identify a cleanroom design company that can deliver an innovative nanofab facility to ensure performance across their businesses.

In the first 60 days in his new role, Caulfield and representatives of the company’s owners, the Mubadala Investment Company in the United Arab Emirates, spent a day and a half in Washington, D.C. It was one leg in a world tour of GF’s fabs, exploring the techno-politics of the options.

“Saxony provides 25 cents on the dollar, but the U.S. doesn’t … it’s a policy that needs to be reconsidered because these things can drive jobs away,”

Tom Caulfield, CEO GlobalFoundries

The U.S. Department of Defense could be attracted by the promise of access to 3-nm chips as an expansion of the trusted foundry arrangement that GF acquired with IBM’s fabs in 2015. “This is important for national security and creating jobs … access to a secure domestic supply — we’ll work that angle,” said Caulfield.

Meanwhile, he’s also angling for partners in China as GF starts to bring equipment into its new site in Chengdu, sized to make a million wafers a year. Caulfield also likes the idea of another process-sharing deal. He praised the 14-nm collaboration with Samsung for giving customers a second source and providing capacity on the node “similar to” that of rival TSMC.

Indeed, one of Caulfield’s stellar achievements to date was bringing up the 14-nm process at GlobalFoundries Fab 8 in Malta. AMD used the process to make the Ryzen CPUs and Radeon GPUs, now returning it to profitability. Caulfield wants new partners with IP to expand GF’s ASIC service that he sees as a way attract new customers.

“More and more system companies want to differentiate themselves with silicon, but you don’t just wake up being a silicon design team … first-time silicon engagements are typically doing it through ASICs,” he said, noting that GF is the only company other than Broadcom to have both ASIC services and fabs.

The ASIC service that GF acquired with IBM is already doing customer designs in networking and machine-learning chips with high-end CPUs on the roadmap. However, Caulfield has no illusions of winning the business of mobile applications processors in the near future.

“We don’t have the capacity … [and] we will be behind the leading 7-nm [foundry], but it costs more to be a leader than a fast follower,” in leading-edge nodes, he said.

Beyond the high-profile smartphone processors, “there’s plenty of business to go around … [and] some of the most profitable chips are in mid-range mature segments where assets are depreciated,” he added.

GlobalFoundries Fab environments and products

With the exception of the next-gen GlobalFoundries fab, Caulfield sees his job as filling the company’s existing factories with the most profitable products possible.

“Our legacy technologies in Singapore add very little value for customers, so we capture little,” he said “I’d rather convert that with targeted investments to make higher-value products.”

Caulfield believes that he can deliver before 2020 a 1.5–2x gain in earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization (EBITA), a financial metric short of net profits. Thus, Mubadala’s goal for GlobalFoundries is not necessarily to get out of the red but to “generate cash, which lets us grow our business — we’ve been over-invested,” he said.

Now all GlobalFoundries fab cleanroom environments have general managers sharing responsibilities for their financial performance. Giving general managers ownership of margins and overall performance will be a driver for the business. Caulfield has put IP and ASIC design teams in one customer-facing unit. Such steps aim to speed decision-making, and “that’s a key thrust for me,” he said.

For now, Caulfield is done reorganizing his reports. Follow-on changes are expected to finish trickling through the company by July. Next up, partnerships.

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