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.
The Nishiwaki fab at one point was the benchmark fab for the TI DRAM business. They consistently had the best yields of all of TI's fabs. That was around 2005. Nishiwaki is a country town with poor access by road and train. The train into town chugs along with a diesel engine (most trains in Japan are electric powered).
I agree, this article is correct in that MEMS, discrete power, and many other devices could be manufactured in these legacy fabs. But instead of selling them to other companies already in these businesses, why not develop in house capabilites and products in these areas instead of selling all of these fabs at way below replacement cost? They should take the millions that they would have to write off as losses and invest that money in themselves while they still can. They could save at least some of these fabs. Whatever happened to Japanese companies taking the longer view towards their futures? This trait was one of the strengths that made them great.
It does seem odd that foreign companies are interested in the fabs but someone in Japan is not.
I agree that the Japanese companies have to expand their focus a bit and try to wring as much (second-tier) value out of these facilities as they can.
I am assuming that this lack of effort on the part of Japanese companies is not a technological problem so it may be a failing of the capital markets in Japan. Very strange.
Junko, what is your opinion on this trend? Conventional wisdom says dump all of your old fabs. But conventional wisdom is often wrong. It seems that many Japanese companies delayed too long in "restructuring" their semiconductor operations. But now there seems to be a mad dash to exit. Sort of a herd mentality that says if company X is selling then we need to sell as well before it's too late. But it's been too late for some time now for conventional strategies. Throw out the accountants and put some engineers in charge. It's time to try a contrarian strategy. Don't bet the whole company on it, just part of it.
any1, you are absolutely correct, I think, by saying that many Japanese companies delayed too long in "restructuring" their semi operations. Renesas is no longer the owner of its own company and it does not control its own destitny.
Fujitsu, keen on getting rid of its semi division, isn't interested in proposing anything new to reverse the direction either.
Herd mentality is exactly where Japanese companies are in now.
It is, however, an opportunity for chip companies in other countries.
People will pay less than 10% of original equipment price and ship it out to China and outsource the manufacturing at less cost. Knowledge/know-hows of product design can stay in Japan but does not make sense to have these old machines sitting there doing nothing. Also for MEMS, you need more than these old machines to make things you want to make. It 's additional CAPEX Japan does not want to invest for no ROI.
Seems to me once "good enough" (and cheap) replaced "best" as the key metric, the Japanese semiconductor industry was sunk. They simply cant move fast enough to change an entire culture. If automobiles had a Moore's Law moving every 18 months, the Japanese auto industry would also be on its last legs. Tech is unforgiving: have a hiccup, miss a cycle, and you are dead. Autos do not: GM and Chrysler survived near-death experiences, and Toyota overcame the accelerator debacle. No tech company could have done that. Only reason to buy a Japanese fab is to buy a customer you couldnt get any other way.
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