LONDON – Foundry chip company United Microelectronics Corp. (Hsinchu, Taiwan) has announced it will work with IBM Corp. as part of the IBM Technology Development Alliances group on the development of 10-nm CMOS FinFET process technology.
The announcement follows on from a similar one made a year ago that UMC had licensed technology from IBM for a 20-nm CMOS process including FinFET transistors.
That process has been relabeled as a 14-nm FinFET process, in-line with similar moves by the rest of the industry. Essentially the 16-nm FinFET process from number one foundry supplier Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. and a 14-nm FinFET process from Globalfoundries Inc. utilize 20-nm back-end-of-line processes.
UMC said it would work with IBM to improve the 14-nm FinFET to provide a low-power process for mobile computing and communications while it would send an engineering team to join the 10-nm development work that will take place in Albany, New York. UMC's implementation of the 14-nm and 10-nm FinFET processes will take place at UMC's Tainan, Taiwan R&D site.
UMC has previously said it intends to be in production with the 14-nm FinFET process in the second half of 2014.
The co-development of 10-nm FinFET and manufacturing process is to follow on from the 14-nm FinFET. Source: IBM.
"Established over a decade ago, the IBM alliance allows the partners to leverage our combined expertise and collaborative research and innovative technology development to address the demanding needs for advanced semiconductor applications," said Gary Patton, vice president of semiconductor R&D at IBM, in a statement issued by UMC.
One possibility is that the 10-nm FinFET process will be based on FinFETs constructed on silicon-on-insulator wafer. It could thus unite differences that have sprung up between the mainstream that is pursuing FinFETs on bulk CMOS and STMicroelectronics that is pursuing fully-depleted silicon-on-insulator IC manufacturing.
However, UMC is falling behind in the foundry IC production race. For 2013 UMC is expected to have a capital expenditure of about $1.5 billion compared with spending of $9 billion by TSMC and $3.5 billion by Globalfoundries (see Intel, Samsung set to dominate chip capex in 2013).
"IBM is an advanced research center and worth taping in to," said Malcolm Penn, chief executive of market analysis firm Future Horizons Ltd. "The problem is that over their lifetime UMC has barely been profitable and you need profits to invest in manufacturing capacity. UMC has to try and keep the research investment going but putting it into volume production will be another matter," he said.
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