The Week In Review: Manufacturing

Intel to buy Altera?; Intel exits Sematech; foundry wars; multi-beam arrives.


Intel is in talks to buy Altera, according to The Wall Street Journal. If a deal is reached, Intel would enter the FPGA market amid a slowdown in its core processors business. Intel would also secure its largest foundry customer in Altera. For years, Altera’s sole foundry was TSMC. Then, not long ago, Altera selected Intel as its foundry partner for 14nm. TSMC still handles 20nm and above work for Altera. Now, Altera will soon select a foundry partner for 10nm. The contenders are Intel and TSMC. Meanwhile, Altera is expected to ship its 14nm FPGAs in the fourth quarter of 2015, which is later than previously expected. Intel’s 14nm finFET process is up and running. Why the delay? “The challenge was more front-end loaded,” said John Daane, president and CEO of Altera, at a recent event.

Is Sematech beginning to unravel? Intel has quietly exited from Sematech, the Albany, N.Y.-based chip R&D organization, according to reports. Intel was a founding member of Sematech. “By way of explanation, Intel has elected to leave Sematech. In accordance with Sematech rules, Intel gave the organization notice two years ago. The evolving landscape for precompetitive R&D has changed and Intel believes it can achieve its goals through other organizations and methods,” according to a spokesman for Intel, which belongs to Imec and other organizations. At present, Sematech still lists IBM, GlobalFoundries, Samsung, TSMC, and others as members. Stay tuned.

At one time, Nvidia had one foundry partner—TSMC. Now, the graphics chipmaker may expand that list to three foundries. “Based on conversations with management at Nivdia’s Analyst Day as well as Nvidia’s recent 10-K, we believe Nvidia now uses Samsung as a foundry supplier in addition to TSMC. We also believe there is a potential for Nvidia to use Intel as a foundry,” said RBC Capital Markets analyst Doug Freedman, in a report.

Samsung and TSMC are still vying for Apple’s A9 foundry business. Some claim that TSMC won the business, while others say Samsung. “Samsung is very careful not to name Apple as a customer; however, commentary regarding its 14nm ramp in late Q2 suggests that Apple is still the target, in our view,” according to a report from Pacific Crest Securities, after a recent conference call with Samsung. Both Samsung and TSMC could ultimately win business at Apple.

GlobalFoundries and NXP Semiconductor have jointly developed a next-generation embedded non-volatile memory. This has resulted in the production of 300mm prototype wafers on GlobalFoundries’ 40nm process. Volume production is expected in 2016 at its Singapore fab.

Tokyo Electron Ltd. (TEL) has raised its forecast for the fiscal year. The company also confirmed that its previously-announced merger with Applied Materials has been pushed out.

Mapper Lithography has officially announced the FLX-1200, the first lithography system based on massively parallel electron-beams. The FLX-1200 has a throughput of up to 2 wafers per hour and can be used for sub-90nm technology nodes, down to 14nm. The system is available in a 300mm and a 200mm configuration. The tool is now available for customers.

In a video, Takayuki Nakamura of Advantest brings mask defects at the 1xnm node into focus.

Micron and Photronics will not renew their existing joint photomask venture after May 5, 2016. Instead, the companies reached a new agreement under which Photronics will become the main merchant mask supplier for Micron. Upon the conclusion of the so-called MP Mask venture, Micron may elect to purchase the MP Mask assets or Photronics’ equity interest in MP Mask.

Photronics said that Peter Kirlin will be promoted from president to chief executive, effective May 4, 2015. He will join the company’s board. Constantine Macricostas, Photronics’ current chairman and CEO, will continue on the board as executive chairman.

As reported, the 3D NAND market is heating up. Micron Technology and Intel revealed the availability of their 3D NAND technology. The new 3D NAND technology stacks flash cells vertically in 32 layers. Meanwhile, Toshiba and SanDisk announced the development of the world’s first 48-layer 3D NAND device. Toshiba is sampling the device.

Is the memory business falling apart? Amid some product delays for its NAND products, SanDisk has lowered its forecast again. Pacific Crest Securities lowered its forecast for Micron. “We are lowering our F2015 estimates to account for lower PC DRAM pricing. PC DRAM pricing is down 7% to 9% in the quarter, mobile DRAM pricing is relatively flat and server DRAM pricing is down 2% to 3%. Micron has been moving capacity from PC DRAM to mobile DRAM, which means FQ3 bit growth could be lower than our previous estimates. We believe DRAM supply growth will be around 25% this year, but Micron’s could be around the middle teens,” according to the research firm.

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