At a time when so many chip companies are overwhelmingly opting for the fabless or fab-lite model, such a move is simply unimaginable--unless the deal is structured in a way that’s attractive to both buyer and seller. This may take not only genuine imagination but also a leap of faith on the buyer’s part.
But a few vendors in Silicon Valley argue that sometimes a fabless chip company needs good access to a fab, especially if the company is developing new configurations or structures for circuit devices. Without access to process technologies, such a company couldn’t experiment with its ideas, let alone understand how to model new structures in development. More important, foundries are reluctant to work with fabless chip vendors who haven’t already signed up big customers.
So who is there to help them test their new ideas? Silicon Valley used to have SVTC Technologies, a technology services company that provides development and commercialization services for semiconductor process-based technologies and products. It had facilities in San Jose, California and Austin, Texas. But SVTC cut back its operations last year.
Itow, however, remains unconvinced. “I doubt if a small fabless company would buy a fab in Japan, because of the capex burden.” Further, she pointed out that fabless companies “have access to a number of other options for R&D, and testing of new device structures. Many universities, including the University of California-Berkeley, Arizona State Univ. and others, offer prototyping services.”
Future Horizon’s Penn suggests IMEC to serve such needs. Itow countered that IMEC isn’t exactly viewed as a production fab. “But they would certainly be an option for process development and R&D,” she said. Other options, suggested by Itow, include the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at (CNSE)’s Albany NanoTech Complex.