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A Fab in Transition: Moving from Construction to Full-Scale Production

By Thomas Caulfield

Fab8

Back in 2006 when the Fab 8 project was first announced, it was projected to be a $4 billion investment that would create approximately 1,200 high-skilled jobs with an annual payroll of nearly $75 million. These were impressive numbers that drew a lot of attention in both the Capital Region and the industry at large, and for good reason.

Since then, the project has blown every expectation out of the water.

Fab 8 now represents an enormous endeavor with nearly $15 billion of investment. While many companies have been shedding employees, GLOBALFOUNDRIES has already hired more than 3,000 new people for the Fab 8 campus, representing an annual payroll of nearly $350 million. And the construction of Fab 8 has created approximately 20,000 new construction jobs, with more than 10 million man-hours of construction labor.

The scope of the project has changed to keep up with a changing industry. The market has shifted dramatically with the mobile revolution and its demand for power efficiency and long battery life. And the steady march of progress in Moore’s Law has continued, as semiconductor technology has moved from planar transistors to three-dimensional FinFETs.

Fab 8 is right at the center of this transition as we develop one the world’s most advanced semiconductor manufacturing facilities in upstate New York. In April 2014, we announced a new strategic collaboration with Samsung to deliver global capacity for leading-edge 14 nm FinFET process technology. This technology will be a critical enabler for a variety of next-generation applications, from smartphones and wearables to cloud computing and Big Data. Our rallying cry at Fab 8 is “14 in 15” as we drive to ramp the early-access version of this technology (14LPE) to volume production by the end of the year.

As we drive to ramp 14LPE to volume production, we have been engaged in an aggressive construction and tool install ramp on campus, with as many as 20 tools per week installed during peak activity.  I am pleased to report that the aggressive 14nm capacity ramp is now nearing a successful completion. 14LPE is qualified and well on its way to volume production. We have passed our peak construction and tool installation pace and expect to complete this phase of the aggressive tool ramp by the end of 2015 while we concurrently ramp manufacturing output.

This is a significant milestone in our journey at Fab 8, as the mix of activity on campus is beginning to shift from construction to full-scale production. With this shift comes a natural draw-down in construction activity on the site. While all of us at Fab 8 have become accustomed to the steady buzz of activity that comes with a site that is under constant construction, the goal has always been to become a fully operational semiconductor fab producing leading-edge chips for our customers. Today we are one step closer to realizing that vision.

The timing of this transition aligns well with industry dynamics. While the foundry industry has enjoyed impressive growth rates in recent years—frequently outpacing the rest of the technology industry—analysts expect growth in 2015 to be somewhat less robust due to conditions in the larger economy. Along with other major semiconductor manufacturers, we will be slowing our tool purchases and trimming our capital expenditures as we move away from the fast-paced tool ramp.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Analysts expect double-digit growth to return to the foundry industry again in 2016. And in 2016 our product portfolio will transition to the performance-enhanced version of the 14nm technology (14LPP). This technology is on track for qualification at the end of 2015, with the volume ramp beginning in early 2016. The ramp of 14LPP is expected to drive additional construction activity on the site, meaning the growth story at Fab 8 will continue.

Dr. Thomas Caulfield is senior vice president and general manager of Fab 8 in Saratoga County, NY. Caulfield, who joined the company in May 2014, leads the operations, expansion and ramp of semiconductor manufacturing production at Fab 8, where GLOBALFOUNDRIES supports customers on the world’s most advanced semiconductor manufacturing technology platforms.