A Different Foundry Model

Skywater, a U.S.-owned pureplay foundry is tackling up-and-coming technologies with both R&D and volume manufacturing.


As the pursuit to produce advanced semiconductors that keep up with the Moore’s Law treadmill becomes more and more challenging, many companies are seeking other ways to provide the next ‘must-have’ electronic products. In fact, many companies have realized that the need for doubling performance is no longer the main attribute necessary to deliver successful solutions for IoT, automotive, and many other next-wave technologies. The market wants products that deliver ease of use, constant availability, and quality at an affordable price. New products are turning to unique materials, 3D chips, and other “yet to be discovered” technologies.

These new products require new approaches for development and production. In order for innovative products to even begin the development process, there needs to be affordable resources available that provide access to research and testing capabilities. In addition, many of these innovative products with new technologies and materials also need a designated path to manufacturing capacity that understands the subtle nuances of working with these unique technologies.

As previously mentioned, all the innovation is not just happening at the bleeding edge of Moore’s Law at 5nm or 3nm process technologies. It is also occurring through the practical use of 200mm wafer capacity. The popularity of 200mm fabs was demonstrated in 2018 when there was actually a shortage of 200mm wafer capacity. The tight capacity supply not only raises prices for companies that already manufacture products on 200mm wafers, it also reduces the flexibility and options available to the start-ups and innovators of the industry.

SkyWater, a U.S.-based foundry, is filling a market need by providing both R&D and volume manufacturing services that can be flexible enough to meet the needs of up-and-coming enterprises.

The SkyWater manufacturing facility is not new. It has a long history of running high-volume products for its previous owner, Cypress Semiconductor, as well as understanding the requirements of R&D activities. It does not run the most advanced process technology nodes. It does not even run 300mm wafers. Today SkyWater is running an all-aluminum 90nm process, but they are working with a variety of customers that are developing carbon nanotubes and products with superconducting capabilities.

Why Semico thinks this company has a lot going for it:

SkyWater is headquartered in Bloomington, Minnesota
No one associates Bloomington, MN with an alluring high-tech destination. But it is the only U.S.-owned pureplay foundry, a unique distinction that afforded it a Trusted Foundry supplier accreditation from the DMEA. This accreditation shows that SkyWater has the confidence of the US government to provide secure national security systems through an assessment of the integrity of their employees and processes used to design, generate, manufacture and distribute national security critical components (i.e. microelectronics). Revenues from their Trusted Foundry work accounted for 10% of their total revenues in 2018 and are expected to eventually increase to 30% of total revenues.

SkyWater is targeting growth markets
In addition to its DMEA accreditation, SkyWater is certified ISO9001/IATFI16949 for automotive, ISO13485 for medical, and is ISO14001 environmentally certified. There is certainly a lot of development going on in both the automotive and medical arenas. In addition, SkyWater is providing custom foundry services, both manufacturing and/or development, in the areas of MEMS, silicon photonics, carbon nanotubes and superconducting ICs. In May, the company announced its new SkyTech Center focused on custom process development, providing a dedicated fab environment for customers, including those with their own dedicated tools.

SkyWater has great research partners
SkyWater is working with MIT and Stanford University to scale a lab-demonstrated technology into volume production. The DARPA-funded program called 3DSoC aims to develop monolithic 3D devices; the SkyTech Center will host critical tasks for this project such as carbon nanotube (CNT) deposition and lift-off metallization. SkyWater has already made its first monolithic 3D IC wafer which includes RERAM on top of carbon nanotube logic.

Semico is bullish on SkyWater’s prospects, not only because of what they are accomplishing within the company, but also timing is on their side. New product development is back on a high cycle. IoT, artificial intelligence, automotive and many other sectors are invigorating the semiconductor industry to innovate with new solutions. New product development will depend on R&D services and production availability, the kind that SkyWater is offering. In addition, trade wars and the geopolitical situation have once again caused some of the U.S. technology companies to scrutinize their supply chain and partners and look for alternatives where needed.

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