I too share the concerns of a number of these posts. I wonder how the US can innovate with the fabs offshore. I have spent almost 20 years in the ASIC business and can say it is all about understanding the process and the process variations. To have cutting edge performance the designer must understand the process in significant detail with proper models for simulation and EDA tools that properly mate with the fab models / process parameters. It was always a challenge when trying to extract the most performance out of a process even with almost unrestricted access to the process details. I can't imagine how open the fabs would be to just any design team / EDA tool vendor but I wonder if it would be enough??? I have seen companies struggle and programs falter when the specter of Allocation of some critical part or needed component. Is it possible that designs now do not need to extract the most performance out of the process? It seems that designers face the prospect of "me too" ICs with a common fab/process. Not sure that is the best way to build market share or differentiation.
And attempting to answer Junko's question: semiconductor processes are not mature, they change from generation to generation...I think semi process R&D can be effectively done only by those who have fabs (or perhaps a few leading academic centers sponsored by the same companies)...academia is better off by innovating at smaller, nanotechnology scale, where inventing new concepts by manipulating atoms, molecules, nano materials, etc is much more exciting...Kris
Fabless or not? I guess the old questions remains...I would argue that tighter links between design and fab are needed from IC design technical point of view as we move down the path of shrinking processing nodes...but the business reality seems to be that smaller number of companies can afford the modern fab so the number of have-fabs is shrinking...I agree with @kdboyce, it is better to have a fab, but you need deep pickets...in some ways it is like saying that we all would like to be wealthy, healthy and handsome ;-)...Kris
Fab-less or not, either situation can be a double edged sword.
For those who control their own fabs and production facilities, and who also can afford to maintain their own process development programs, unique products can be made and sold for high margins. The trick is keeping up with your competition who has the same capabilities. That takes a lot of money, which you have to earn by having a high "hit rate" on successful products. Under-utilized fabs are a huge $$$ drain.
On the other hand, depending solely upon one or more non-owned fabs and mfg/test facilities can allow you to pick and choose the best available for your product....unless you have some special requirements. Your infra-structure costs are a lot lower.
I have worked in both situations, and I have to say that I prefer a company with a fab.
In the fab-less case, our leading edge product was "leaked" to another fab with even less scruples who proceeded to copy it and sell thru a related company at much lower price. Law suits and ITU sanctions ultimately did not make up for the losses incurred. In another case, production capacity was suddenly restricted as the fab decided that its capacity should be shifted to another company's "hot" chip...which (understandably) earned them more money.
You are not in control of your destiny if you are fab-less.
Of course you can screw up your destiny fast if you cannot fully utilize and support the necessary fab activities to keep your products innovative and competitive.
Thanks for articulating my question, phoenixdave.
That's exactly what I mean.
I do understand the business need for a lot of semi companies to go fab-lite.
But, here, I am not talking about "mega fabs." I want to know how tighter a linkage between the process technology and the next-gen chip design will be needed.
Or, are we saying that the semconductor design/manufacturing is a "matured" technology so that we don't really need to invest in the next-node material/production/process R&D, and let the academia and someone else in Asia worry about that?
I think Junko makes a very good observation with the question "How do you plan to innovate your next chips?" A lot of innovation comes out of production. New intellectual property is formulated based upon challenges with utilization and manufacturing, including within design and development. How to you remain innovative and obtain intellectual property value through utilization of your patented inventions if you have no control over the manufacturing processes?
Is there any scenario under which a significant number of U.S. chip companies will take back control of their manufacturing and return to building mega fabs in the U.S.? I honestly can't image it happening, except if there were some type of cataclysmic event...
As Don Scansen states in his column here, I think the heart of the matter is this: As a tighter bond between circuit designers and manufacturing becomes more necessary and important at every new node, what impact will it have on those of you who don't have fabs? Do we just leave things to the academia to solve the hard problems and hope for the best? How do you plan to innovate your next chips?
Could anyone explain that?