THE QUESTION Global Foundries has been asking itself over and over again since it became an independent fab firm is "how do you outgun a competitor with 10 times more resources and engineers?" How will the firm overtake UMC and take on giant Taiwanese chip shop TSMC? The answer, according to senior vice president and general manager of the AMD spinoff's Dresden fabs, Jim Doran is "you get smarter."
Getting smarter, however, entails rather more than wooing journos with fancy Powerpoint presentations at media summits, and Global Foundries knows it has to be nimble on its feet if it is even going to come close to competing with Intel and TSMC.
Much of the secret sauce that will enable the company to compete, says Tom Sonderman, GloFo's veep of manufacturing systems and technology, is in Automated Precision Manufacturing (APM) and yield management systems.
"GF needs to be agile" says Sonderman, emphasizing APM's alleged speed and accuracy in responding to manufacturing issues and its ability to help customers fine tune the process to their specific needs.
It's "like putting an EKG on your process tool," Sonderman told us, adding that all of Global Foundries' critical tool sets are hooked up to the APM framework, which constantly monitors their health as well as the health of all chips in production.
After gathering up information about how things are ticking along, APM can then purportedly use that knowledge to make automatic adjustments to the manufacturing process, making sometimes small but often critical changes to yield a better batch of chips.
Finding the best yield to performance ratio is the challenge, according to Sonderman, whose ideal scenario is one he describes as "living on the edge", balancing optimal yield with optimal performance.
Sonderman reckons Global Foundries already has a "rich and powerful set" of its own yield and engineering data analysis tools, and that the Dresden 300mm fab is already considered "world-class" in performance. In fact, added Doran, Dresden is "as good as it gets in the semiconductor industry at the moment."
"Yield management systems are where a lot of the secret sauce is", explained Sonderman, adding that such systems are capable of quickly identifying any yield problems which may have cropped up and fixing them. This, said Sonderman, was greatly helped along by something called dynamic wafer level sampling, which uses wafer processing history to decide which wafers will be most useful in providing the relevant info.
"Customers are are going to feel they can get their hands on and customise the factories", added Doran, claiming "it's really all leading edge technology, no trailing edge stuff".
Sonderman says TSMC doesn't have APM, and this is a huge competitive advantage for Global Foundries. Intel, admits Sonderman, probably has aspects of the technology "but I dont think they've integrated it the way we have," he said.
He added, alluding to Intel's well-known technological arrogance, "if you asked them, they'd probably say they had all of it". µ
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