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GlobalFoundries ramping up S'pore chip operations

200 & 300mm wafer production lines running in parallel

[SINGAPORE] The Singapore arm of GlobalFoundries (GF) - or what was previously Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing - is ramping up to expand its 300mm silicon wafer production capacity to wring out a third more semicon chips compared to the older 200mm wafers. The facility has purchased about 1,000 leading-edge 300mm chip manufacturing tools from Taiwanese firm ProMOS DRAM fab.

Santa Clara, California- based GF acquired Singapore's flagship chip foundry Chartered Semiconductor for US$3.9 billion in January 2010. "In 2012, GF announced its Vision 2015 plan to expand its 300mm facility at Fab 7 in Singapore to one million wafers per annum," the company's senior vice-president and general manager for Singapore, Ang Kay Chai, told The Business Times.

"We are in the process of upgrading and converting our Fab 6 from 200mm to 300mm clean room. This is being done in phases to ensure we also protect our 200mm customers' business continuity needs. We are running 200mm and 300mm production lines in parallel in Singapore," he said.

GF makes semicon chips for companies that embed them in cellphones, other mobile devices, automobiles, computers and industrial equipment. GF is a wholly-owned subsidiary of ATIC (Advanced Technology Investment Company), the high-tech investment arm of Mubadala, which is the sovereign wealth fund of the government of Abu Dhabi.

ATIC has invested US$15 billion so far to create one of the fastest-growing semicon companies in the world. Early this year, it announced plans to commit an additional US$9 billion to beef up its semicon operations. ATIC was set up in 2008, at the nadir of the semicon industry downturn.

In 2009, for the second time in two consecutive years, the global chip manufacturing industry declined. "Never before has the semiconductor industry experienced revenue declines in back-to-back years, but this will occur in 2009," warned research house Gartner Inc in December 2008.

"Global semicon revenue is forecast to total US$219.2 billion, a 16.3 per cent decline from 2008. In 2008, chip revenues reached US$261.9 billion, down 4.4 per cent from 2007."

In early 2009, ATIC and AMD formed GF as a joint venture. In March 2012, GF acquired the remaining 8.6 per cent stake from AMD. The company's Singapore site hosts five wafer fabrication plants that make 200mm silicon wafers (four in Woodlands and one in Tampines) and one - called Fab 7 - that produces 300mm wafers. The Singapore sites employ about 6,000 staff.

"We are upgrading system infrastructure, including factory automation, in our 200mm fabs," Mr Ang said. "We have deployed a mobile robotics solution; set up a standardised manufacturing data platform, and are rolling out energy efficiency processes."

GF ranks second globally in wafer fab revenues after Taiwan giant TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) and has overtaken another Taiwanese company, UMC (United Microelectronics Corp).

GF is the only one with manufacturing sites in three continents: Singapore in Asia, Dresden in Europe, and New York in the US. Other players in this space include Samsung Semiconductor, IBM, MagnaChip and Singapore-based SSMC, a joint venture between TSMC and Nasdaq- listed NXP Semiconductors.

Singapore is a key site for GF. "Singapore has more than 25 years of foundry manufacturing excellence and is the largest manufacturing site in our global footprint," Mr Ang said. "Singapore's foundry expertise and broad customer base in the mainstream semicon market are key reasons ATIC acquired Chartered Semiconductor in 2010."

About 27 per cent of ATIC's parent Mubadala's total portfolio of US$55.4 billion has been invested in semiconductors. The rest is spread out among acquisitions in real estate, hospitality, aerospace, healthcare, renewable energy and ICT. The global market for semicon chips was worth US$332 billion in 2013, according to estimates from Gartner.

The United Arab Emirates is Singapore's 14th largest trading partner, with total bilateral trade crossing S$25 billion in 2012. In the Arabian Gulf region, the UAE overtook Saudi Arabia as Singapore's top regional trading partner in 2012.

"Singapore has brand equity in the UAE," Umej Bhatia, Singapore's first resident ambassador to the UAE, told visiting journalists from the Singapore Press Club in Abu Dhabi recently. "Abu Dhabi has chosen Singapore as one of its four models for development, along with Norway, Ireland and New Zealand in its ambitious 2030 plan."

The writer, BT's former BizIT editor, was a member of the recent Singapore Press Club mission to Abu Dhabi and Oman