SAN JOSE, Calif. - Texas Instruments Inc. is ramping up analog chips in a 300-mm fab in Texas. And rival Maxim Integrated Products Inc. has recently qualified and shipped production analog product built on 300-mm wafers.
The question is whether or not a 300-mm fab is a big deal in analog. Nearly all analog chips are made in older fabs with trailing-edge processes. Maxim and TI separately claim 300-mm will give them a competitive advantage over their respective rivals.
One analyst disagrees to some extent. ''TI's 300-mm 'Death Star' Rfab a legitimate fundamental risk, but investor fears now overblown. TI is ramping its 300-mm 'Death Star' Rfab, the world's first such analog fab, and investor concerns about the impact on other analog players has likely reached overblown levels, over-impacting valuation multiples,'' said Craig Berger, an analyst with FBR, in a recent report.
''While we do think TI's aggressive capacity ramp could bring some lower pricing and reduced margins to high performance analog markets (thus impacting Maxim, National, Analog Devices, Intersil, ON Semi, and others), high performance analog customers generally buy chips based on performance and features, not price. We further note that Maxim is qualifying 300-mm analog parts with manufacturing partner Powerchip, which should help it respond to TI,'' he said.
Maxim is now producing 300-mm wafers using its 180-nm BCD analog process technology (S18) in Taiwan's Powerchip Technology Corp.'s wafer fab through a foundry agreement. This deal was already announced.
''This achievement gives Maxim a strategic advantage in the analog market, providing a capital-efficient manufacturing model that enables quick response to changing market conditions,'' according to the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company.
''Maxim is now qualifying 300-mm analog parts with manufacturing partner Powerchip, which management suggests will lower fab unit costs by 20–30 percent, and overall unit costs by 10–15 percent,’’ Berger said in a recent note.
''Maxim’s stated objective is not to reduce end product prices, but rather to increase gross margins on high volume parts. If these parts meet quality standards, they will be treated as ‘risk’ parts that can be shipped to end customers,’’ the analyst said. ''It is conceivable that high-volume production on this fab can ramp later this year or in early 2011, thereby allowing Maxim to keep better pace with demand and match TI’s 300-mm manufacturing claims.’’
It extends Maxim's hybrid approach to wafer fab capacity, utilizing both in-house and outsourced wafer fabrication. This concept was introduced by Maxim in 2007 when the company partnered with Seiko Epson.
During a recent event, analog chip maker Maxim unveiled what it called ''the new Maxim’’ or ''Maxim 2.0.''Actually, ''As part of the evolving and ongoing plan, the analog chip maker has remade the company-and shaken up the corporate culture. It has expanded its product focus, reduced chip and process development times, embraced foundries and is on an acquisition spree.
One more factor to consider in the discussion: many analog and mixed signal chip companies cited in the article above also have digital products and/or partnerships that are already in the 300mm wafer fab. With the evolving 3D stacked chip products & market opportunity, it is now a question of being compatible with the digital products in a stack, in particular wafer-to-wafer.
Even without the 3D stacking scenario, much of the wafer-level chip packaging now a days takes place in the 300mm processes. Cost is a major driver and as quoted in the article, higher gross margins are always welcome.
Dr. MP Divakar
Many analog IC are not as complex as digital IC in terms of number of transistors used. The silicon cost is only a very small portion but test cost and design cost (expertize as there is practically no good simulation and synthesis tools for analog design). So, moving to 300mm many only solve part of the delivery issue but may not really lower the overall cost too much. However, high performance analog market usually is not in huge volume. Companies including MAXIM enjoys great profit margin with low volume high performance sockets. When it comes to volume, people usually are willing to trade performance for price. I'm not sure if 300mm manufacturing process can help.
300mm will be mainly used for highly integrated mixed-signal power management products - in 180 and 130nm nodes - pure analog ICs will remain in 0.35 micron and older nodes.
Note that big foundries, e.g., TSMC and UMC can offer 300mm analog technology platforms, that is, 300mm is not a major barrier or differentiation.
The impact of 300mm is likely overstated and may be limited to large chips - a la MOSFETs (discretes). Maxim will use both 200 and 300mm outsourcing.
A bigger impact is the emergence of analog technology platforms - this megatrend benefits foundries and fabless start-ups. Unlike in Digital, start-up formation, hence also M&A activity, is high in Analog fabless space
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