EE Times Europe:
STMicroelectronics is Mikron’s technology partner in 0.18-micron EEPROM. Will ST also be the technology partner in the 65-nm to 45-nm Sitronics Nanotechnology project?
Krasnikov: : Before the cooperation with STMicroelectronics, we already had cooperation with Infineon for the assembly process and we had a joint venture with the German company Giesecke & Devrient, a smart card producer. Then we worked with
STMicroelectronics and we believe that our partnership and cooperation went very well.
Because we were the first company in Russia that made an upgrade from 0.8-micron to 0.18-micron, every step – design, manufacturing, packaging, testing – was challenging. Everywhere we feel the lack of experienced engineers and the lack of domestic suppliers. It is a hard task to overcome three generations of technology [0.8 – 0.65 – 0.35 – 0.18-micron] in two years. But in general we think that our concept fits our strategy and we regard this [0.18-micron] project as successful.
The partner for 65-nm to 45-nm will be determined after we proceed with an open tender. We regard all known owners of the technology – such as ST, IBM, TI and others – as potential partners.
EE Times Europe: The 65-nm to 45-nm project is expected to produce semiconductors for digital TV and GPS receivers and for the GLONASS satellite system for use within Russia. Please discuss the potential for semiconductor export sales and how Sitronics plans to fill a 300-mm fab?
Krasnikov: : This is a very important question. A part of sales should be provided by our technology partner. It is obvious that the Russian market cannot provide enough demand to utilize the 300-mm fab. Currently we’re working on a strategy with Russian and international consultants to enter the global market. We also plan to use a strategy with our new fab to be partly loaded by foreign or domestic customers, including fabless chip companies. But the foundry model will not be the main model for our 300-mm fab.
Our projects, 200-mm with ST and 300-mm, will use part of the capacity for orders from fabless companies but it will be not a big part of capacity.
The challenges [for the 300-mm project] are to integrate several issues: processes, human resources, equipment, infrastructure, financial issues, design of chips, before we will implement this technology. The main issue is to find a market for this project before we start mass production.
EE Times Europe: Is Mikron planning to increase staff?
Krasnikov: : Mikron has 1519 employees. We depend on qualifications more than quantity and try to support our personnel with continuous training programs. We also try to attract more final-year students.
For our new fab project [independent of Mikron], we will need more professionals. The first step presumes 600 employees in 2009 and we plan to increase it up to 1700 in 2010.
EE Times: Is the shortage of semiconductor engineers and rising wages in Russia a major concern for Mikron today?
Krasnikov: : Shortage – yes. In the 1990s we lost a generation of engineers and now we have engineers older than 45 and younger than 35 and a gap in the age bracket 35 to 45. For work on our new 0.18-micron facilities, about 120 engineers were trained at STMicroelectronics and by our equipment suppliers.
The interest of students was lost during the last 10 to 15 years but we are addressing this problem through close interaction with specialized universities. We can also attract young students by supporting them with relevant salaries, but the general problem is that new young specialists from other regions cannot find sufficient social settings [in Moscow] and prefer to go abroad instead of settling around our city. We are working on this problem together with the city government.
EE Times Europe: STMicroelectronics vice president Jean-Marc Chaumont invited Sitronics to cooperate at the Crolles R&D facility, France. Please discuss what Sitronics sees as the advantages and disadvantages of working at Crolles.
Krasnikov: : All semiconductor companies work in alliances. From this point of view, developing new technology is in our interest.
The semiconductor industry is very R&D capital intensive and we want participation in alliances for further technology development. We don’t want a joint venture, but rather joint R&D work, joint marketing efforts. We are always open for beneficial international partnerships, so we’ll see.
The Crolles proposal for us should be [considered] after the development of our technology. In the near future there is no possibility of joining, but we are going to find a form of cooperation with this alliance.
EE Times Europe: : Does Mikron see a Russian domestic fabless semiconductor industry growing? Approximately how many Russia fabless companies are there today?
Krasnikov: : In Russia we have less than 20 fabless companies worthy of note. There are several reasons. During the last 10 to 15 years it was easier for designers to find work abroad. When we started the 0.18-micron project, we proposed cooperation with other Russian design centers and fabless companies. More than 20 design centers from Russia are already designing some blocks for our process technology.
EE Times Europe: Mikron’s leading Russian rival is Angstrem [a Russian chipmaker in Zelenograd that has AMD as a process technology partner]. What is the competitive difference between Mikron and Angstrem?
Krasnikov: : Today we do not feel competitive pressure from Angstrem because our existing product lines are not overlapping. Angstrem has received government credits worth 815 million euros (about $1.1 billion) in Q1 2008 and is realizing its own semiconductor upgrading project comparable with our project but coming later.
In general, the more semiconductor companies in Russia, the more professional engineers, designers, materials and equipment there will be for us also.
EE Times: Is the Altis Semiconductor acquisition [by Russian company AES from IBM and Infineon] in France beneficial to Russia’s semiconductor industry? Does Sitronics plan any acquisitions?
Krasnikov: : In the future, such a model of acquiring foreign semiconductor fabs will be viable. It will be useful when we have experience and a big market. Then it could have a positive influence. But if we consider today’s situation and a specific project like Altis, we cannot imagine how a group of Russian mangers could help Altis emerge from its critical stage. We don’t know a company in Russia that can manage a semiconductor company abroad that has such big problems as Altis does now.
[Sitronics] is ready to consider an acquisition, not in production but in R&D for example. But first we have certain criteria, certain parameters a company needs to be responsive to.
EE Times Europe: How does Sitronics see the Russian semiconductor industry in five years?
Krasnikov: : Our government has a program to develop high-tech clusters. We could expect the emergence of fabless companies if sufficient conditions will be provided by our government. In five years, the Russian semiconductor industry will probably have foreign players not with semiconductor fabs but with R&D operations. The industry will probably be dominated by one big domestic IC player.