NEW YORK – GlobalFoundries' Fab 8, one of the largest semiconductor fabs in the United States, sits on 233 acres of the Luther Forest tech campus in Malta, N.Y. A tour of the plant and an affiliated research center in nearby Albany provided a look inside an operation that now carries the DNA of chip giants such as AMD, IBM and Samsung.
The Malta facility stands at the bleeding edge of the company's nine fabs worldwide. It now produces 14nm chips while working on 10nm processes and beyond and leads the company’s manufacturing initiatives.
An expanding Internet of Things may not need the performance of such processes and could stretch out the lifespan of existing nodes such as 28nm. Officials here aren’t worried about demand stalling despite the fact new nodes are getting more complex and costly.
“I think it stagnates if you can’t keep Moore’s Law going which is not just about shrink, but better performance and lower cost per circuit,” Tom Caulfield, general manager of Fab 8, told EE Times, adding that 28nm and 14nm nodes both will have a long life. “As long as I’ve been in the industry people have been talking about [the end of] scaling, yet we always manage to keep innovating and scaling,” he said.
Caulfield, an industry veteran who spent 16 years at IBM and served as COO of several other companies, said he is invigorated by the problem solving GlobalFoundries must do to support a consolidating semiconductor industry. “When you run out of problems, that’s when you should really be worried,” he said.
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The small town of Malta is located about 40 minutes north of New York’s capital city Albany, on the location of a former rocket test site. Originally conceived of as a plant for AMD, Fab 8 opened in 2009 with significant funding from the state of New York and has been the recipient of approximately $11.5 billion in various investments. After AMD slowly divested itself of interest, Fab 8 is now 100% owned by Mudbadala, the investment arm or of the Abu Dhabi government.
Fab 8 is responsible for development at 28nm and below and can produce up to 60,000 300mm wafers per month. (A Singapore site manufactures 180nm-40nm chips, and Dresden makes 48nm -22nm chips.) The fab has approximately 400,000 feet 2 of clean room space across three phases of development. Ongoing construction work still employs about 1,500 workers, down from 4,000 at the height of 14nm development.
“Construction in this area is very difficult; it was the first time something of this magnitude was built here in a very long time,” said Gerald Goff, director of site construction and infrastructure. “The infrastructure, the workforce wasn’t here. There were a lot of travelers coming from across the country, from Texas where the semiconductor industry is established,” he said.
Fab 8 is run off the power grid of the regional utility, National Grid, with back up diesel supplies that could provide the 214 megawatts of power necessary to drive the plant. Twenty-five to 40% of that energy goes to operating the facility and the rest powers tools, Goff told EE Times.
The fab uses 475,000 cubic feet of gas per hour on a cold day and 3.5 million gallons of water per day, which is in ample supply from nearby springs and the Hudson River. Among its less technical challenges, GlobalFoundries has a big problem with geese which often fly into its power lines when wet and get fried. Goff has several decoy birds in a nearby pond meant to deter the geese from flying near the power lines.
While location near water can be a problem for things that fly, it’s an ideal location for constructing large buildings. A compressor tower, for example, traveled by barge from Japan, then across the U.S. by truck, and up the Hudson on a boat. Landlocked cities may have more difficultly transporting such large objects efficiently, Goff added.
Work is underway on the fab’s phase three development sector which will support 10nm.
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