When IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) celebrated its 100th anniversary this summer, I noticed a consistent theme throughout the media coverage of the milestone.
There was, of course, a great deal of reverence for a company that could endure a century's worth of economic ups and downs. But there was also a sometimes less-than-subtle implication that IBM represents the past of electronics innovation, not the future. For example, SiliconValleyWatcher blogger Tom Foremski wrote
: "The world looks to Silicon Valley for innovation and not to IBM."
But it seems that Foremski and others may have been a bit premature in their proclamation of Big Blue's innovative demise. Last week, it was revealed that IBM is among a select group of chipmakers leading an effort to make the world's largest wafer a reality. IBM, GlobalFoundries, Intel, Samsung, and TSMC, working with Sematech and the SUNY-Albany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE), have formed the Global 450 Consortium (G450C), a $4.4 billion collaborative R&D effort to accelerate development of next-generation semiconductor manufacturing technologies and standards for 450mm wafers.
The movement to support 450mm scale-up has been hotly contested throughout the industry in recent years. In fact, a report from SEMI's Equipment Productivity Working Group (EPWG) termed the move one of largest threats to industry prosperity in our time. A somewhat melodramatic yet valid reaction, given the fact that some chip equipment makers have only recently begun to reap the return on investment (ROI) benefit of the transition from 200mm to 300mm. While 450mm offers the potential of doubling the number of dies per wafer and decreasing die cost, it has been widely asserted that the cost to develop 450mm tools would be prohibitive.
That is, of course, unless there was some way to spread the cost of development throughout the semiconductor value chain, which is exactly what the G450C aims to do. With startup funding of about $75 million from each of the five chipmakers involved -- and the expected infusion of funds from equipment makers looking to capitalize on the standardization of product requirements, tool-specific processes, and product definitions -- G450C appears to be positioned to tackle the bulk of the 200mm-to-300mm conversion complications.
This is an "unprecedented industry-wide collaboration between device makers, consortia and the equipment and materials industries," said Brian Krzanich, senior vice president and general manager of Manufacturing and Supply Chain for Intel Corp.
(Nasdaq: INTC), in a blog
on the company's Website.
IBM's breakthrough efforts don't stop there. Together with its partners in the Common Platform process technology alliance (aka Fishkill Alliance) Samsung and GlobalFoundries, IBM plans to invest $3.6 billion in developing next generation 22nm and 14nm transistor technology and related packaging. These next-generation process technologies are essential to building smaller, faster chip designs with improved power management and multimedia support, as well as longer battery life. IBM and its partners are not the only -- or biggest -- players pursuing this technology, but it is another example of IBM's commitment to progress.
For me, the takeaway is this: In today's fast food, disposable world, it is assumed that innovation is a young man's game, but IBM proves that longevity is not the antithesis of innovation -- it is the product of it.