TOKYO – Renesas Electronics and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) outlined plans to develop an embedded flash-based MCU platform
licensable to other semiconductor suppliers around the world at a press conference here Monday (May 28).
The new MCU platform integrates Renesas’ 40-nanometer embedded flash (eFlash) technology, the Japanese MCU giant’s crown jewel, with TSMC’s CMOS logic and analog IPs.
Details of the licensing model and business arrangements between the two companies are “still under discussion,” said Shinichi Iwamoto, senior vice president of Renesas Electronics. They plan to complete the new platform by the end of 2012, he added.
Neither Renesas nor TSMC representatives at the press conference would confirm or deny reports of Renesas’ pending sale of Tsuruoka fab
in Yamagata prefecture to TSMC.
However, as Cheng-Ming Lin, director of specialty technology at TSMC pointed out to the press gathering, Monday’s announcement was “the first step toward further collaboration between TSMC and Renesas.”
For Renesas’ part, the company is now sending a clear signal that it’s more willing to pursue an “outsourcing” model – including MCUs for automotive applications. Previously, Renesas executives had said that Renesas was committed to Japan-based manufacture of the company’s “core products” like automotive MCUs.
To be clear, Renesas had previously agreed to outsource MCUs to TSMC using 90-nm eFlash process technology. However, that was based on “a straightforward outsourcing model,” explained Iwamoto, under which “TSMC simply builds our eFlash based on Renesas’ 90-nm spec, which [TSMC] would not be able to release to its other customers.” In contrast, the new 40-nm agreement will allow TSMC to use Renesas’ MONOS (Metal-Oxide-Nitride-Oxide-Silicon) embedded flash technology on TSMC’s own 40-nm process, and make it available for its customers throughout the world.
By getting access to Renesas’ MONOS eFlash technology, TSMC substantially strengthens its IP portfolio. “This is particularly attractive to us,” said TSMC’s Lin. The announcement represents TSMC’s shift in embedded memory cell IPs from Microchip’s licensable 90-nm SuperFlash technology (originally developed by Silicon Storage Technology) to Renesas 40-nm eFlash, explained Lin. Noting that it is no stranger to MCU foundry business, Lin said that TSMC is currently producing more than one million (8-inch) wafers per month.
Cheng-Ming Lin, director of specialty technology (left) and Shinichi Iwamoto, senior vice president of Renesas Electronics
According to Renesas, the Japanese company outsourced 15 percent of its semiconductor products in 2011. That ratio is likely to double to 30 percent by 2016, said Iwamoto.
When asked if TSMC finds Renesas’ fabs in Japan attractive, TSMC’s Lin offered a non-answer, saying the decision would fall to those responsible for business assessment at TSMC. However, “in my personal opinion, I don’t think we should rule out” the possibility [of buying a fab in Japan], Lin added. “Japan has great engineering resources, and I would personally vote ‘yes.’”
Late last year, Renesas announced what the company claims to be the “industry’s first” 40-nm embedded flash memory IP for automotive real-time applications. The plan announced then was for Renesas to be first to launch 40-nm embedded flash MCUs for automotive applications, with samples available by the beginning of autumn 2012. That may still come true, but the 180-degree shift here is that Renesas is making the same technology available for licensing to others through TSMC. Further, the Japanese MCU giant is eager to expand its own MCU market well beyond automotive applications by integrating CMOS logic and other IPs from TSMC.
TSMC’s Lin made it clear that embedded flash is, in fact, one of the three pillars for TSMC’s “specialty technology” division, newly created by Morris Chang earlier this year. Those three pillars deemed critical for differentiated services at TSMC include: high-voltage power management technology; CMOS image sensors and embedded flash, according to Lin.
Renesas boasts that its 40-nm flash memory IP guarantees 20 years of data retention, and can be read from up to 170℃ junction temperature. Additionally, the code flash supports read speed of 120 megahertz (MHz), and the data flash achieves an industry-leading long data-retention period of 20 years even after 125,000 of program/erase cycles.
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