The Week In Review: Manufacturing

Intel-Trump fab; GF fab expansion; Panasonic-UMC ReRAM deal; VR crashes; 5G TV.

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Chipmakers
Intel has announced plans to invest more than $7 billion to complete its previously-announced fab in Chandler, Ariz. The fab was announced several years ago, but Intel delayed the plant in 2014. Now, the plant, dubbed Fab 42, is moving forward again. Targeted for 7nm technology, Fab 42 will be completed in 3 to 4 years and will create approximately 3,000 jobs. The announcement was made by U.S. President Donald Trump and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich at the White House.

Intel’s Krzanich sent an e-mail to employees about the fab investment. Here’s a copy of that e-mail.

GlobalFoundries has announced plans to expand its global manufacturing footprint. The company is investing in its existing leading-edge fabs in the United States and Germany, expanding its footprint in China with a fab in Chengdu, and adding capacity for mainstream technologies in Singapore. In addition, Rambus has announced the availability of its High Bandwidth Memory (HBM) Gen2 PHY. The technology is developed on GlobalFoundries’ FX-14 ASIC Platform, which is based on the company’s 14nm finFET process.

Last year, GlobalFoundries announced a memorandum of understanding to form a joint fab venture with the government of Chongqing, a provincial-level municipality in southwestern China. It appears that deal was scrapped, however. Instead, GlobalFoundries is moving forward with a fab in Chengdu. “We decided to combine mainstream and 22FDX capabilities into a single facility in Chengdu to benefit from the advantages of scale. Chengdu is our only focus in China,” according to a spokeswoman from GlobalFoundries. The Chengdu site “is a new fab. A groundbreaking ceremony was held yesterday in Chengdu. The fab will be located in the West Park of the Chengdu Hi-Tech Industrial Development Zone (CDHT), which is ranked third among the 146 Hi-Tech Zones in China.”

Panasonic Semiconductor Solutions has reached an agreement with United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC) on the joint development of a production process for next-generation 40nm ReRAM. At present, Panasonic is shipping an 8-bit microcontroller based on ReRAM technology. That device is a 180nm process. Now, under the new plan, the cooperative project will enable the integration of a 40nm ReRAM process developed by Panasonic and UMC.

Toshiba wants to sell a stake in its NAND flash business. The suitors include SK Hynix and Micron Technology as well as Bain Capital, according to a report from Reuters. In addition, Toshiba has started construction of its previously-announced semiconductor fabrication facility, Fab 6, and a new R&D center, the Memory R&D Center, at Yokkaichi Operations in Mie prefecture, Japan. Fab 6 will be dedicated to the production of Toshiba’s 3D NAND technology.

Infineon’s proposed move to acquire Cree’s Wolfspeed Power and RF division is up in the air. Based on recent communications with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the parties believe the transaction in its current form is not likely to be approved by CFIUS. The parties are exploring whether there are alternatives to modify the transaction. As a result, pending the outcome of these efforts, the likelihood or timing of closing the transaction is uncertain.

MagnaChip reported a loss. The company launched a new headcount reduction plan that is expected to be two to three times larger than a 2016 program, which resulted last year in a reduction in headcount of 169 employees.

Fab tools
Applied Materials has announced that Om Nalamasu, senior vice President and chief technology officer, has been elected to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Nalamasu received the distinction for technical innovation spanning materials development, atomically controlled thin-film fabrication, and commercialization in microelectronics and energy generation and storage.

Market research
Worldwide silicon wafer area shipments increased 3% in 2016, when compared to 2015 area shipments, according to the SEMI Silicon Manufacturers Group (SMG) in its year-end analysis of the silicon wafer industry. Silicon revenues increased by 1% in 2016 compared to 2015.

TV and video delivery is likely to become a core capability of next-generation 5G wireless service, according to Strategy Analytics. “Recent demonstrations have suggested that 5G will support 1-Gbps data throughput rates,” according to the firm. “Combining 5G with other networking enhancements and technologies would allow operators to support TV-equivalent services which could eat into the $500 billion global TV and video market currently served by cable, satellite, IPTV and terrestrial broadcast service providers.”

Production of drones for personal and commercial use is expected to increase by 34% to reach more than $6 billion in 2017 and grow to more than $11.2 billion by 2020, according to Gartner. Almost three million drones will be produced in 2017, 39% more than in 2016.

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Is virtual reality (VR) the next big thing? VR is supposed to drive chip sales, but Richard Windsor, an analyst at Edison Investment Research, says VR is at a “virtual standstill” in the market. “After a very disappointing 2016, virtual reality (is) set to have another disappointing year in 2017, while its proponents work out how to fix the issues that keep it from being a success,” he said in a research note. “The one bright spot remains augmented reality (AR) to enterprise customers.”

For VR, though, retailers have recently removed 200 out of 500 of Oculus Rift demonstration stations due to poor performance. “It appears that the only place where people queue for a demo is at trade shows with the regular user not really seeing the point of the technology,” he said. “This is a further indication that the limitations of VR continue to hamper its appeal. Many of the devices cost several hundreds of dollars and also require a PC to run, further increasing the cost. VR and AR units are still large, clunky and uncomfortable to wear, in many cases they also make the user feel foolish when wearing one. VR cuts the user off from almost all sensory inputs from his immediate environment, severely limiting the situations in which the user would feel comfortable using one.

“Many units also cause feelings of nausea due to an imperfect replication of the real world compared to what the brain is expecting. Many units require an HDMI cable which prevents the user from moving and also increases the risk of a fall should the user trip over the cable. Both games and content remain in short supply limiting the reasons for users to immediately adopt the platform. The adult entertainment industry is a good yardstick for the adoption of new media types and even this has been slower than expected to jump in. The net result is that 2017 will be a disappointing year for VR,” he added.

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