SAN JOSE -- In a major move to expand its fab capacity, silicon foundry startup 1st Silicon (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd. has ordered $100 million worth of semiconductor equipment, including advanced 193-nm exposure tools for its eventual push into the 0.13-micron arena.
1st Silicon placed the order with various tool vendors in recent weeks, with plans to install the equipment in its 8-inch, 0.25- to 0.18-micron fab by year's end, said Claudio G. Loddo, CEO of the company, based in Kuching, Malaysia.
The tools will be used to expand the company's current and future capacity, Loddo said. "We have cut orders to expand our capacity," he said. "We are investing [in new chip-equipment] for our current 0.18-micron capacity," he said in an interview with SBN at the Semicon West trade show here today.
The company is also investing for its entry into the 0.13-micron market, which will take place next year, he said. Overall, the tool procurement will expand its fab capacity by "one-third," he said.
The move also comes amid the current and severe IC downturn. Other foundries, including the big players in Taiwan, have reportedly pulled back from their chip-equipment purchases. But in a move to buck the trend, Loddo said that 1st Silicon is preparing for the eventual upturn in the semiconductor industry, prompting the company to procure new and advanced tools for current and future designs.
The new tools will be installed in its plant in Kuching. The company has been producing 0.25-micron designs for some time, while also ramping up 0.18-micron chips since the beginning of the year. The company's technology partners include Cypress, Seiko, and Sharp.
1st Silicon is also working with various companies to develop a 0.13-micron process technology, reportedly including Sharp. Loddo said the Malaysian company is also developing a process technology that is "compatible" with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) "That's been our plan a ll along," he said.
The 1st Silicon executive declined to comment on its tool vendors, but noted that it obtained new and advanced lithography, chemical vapor deposition (CVD), and etch equipment. The company has also procured 193-nm exposure tools as well, which are geared for its eventual push into the 0.13-micron process arena, he added.
At present, the company main lithography-tool supplier is Japan's Nikon Corp. The Nikon-based tools are reportedly geared to process chips, based on process technologies from Sharp. But 1st Silicon's efforts to develop a "TSMC-compatible" process could prompt the company to purchase tools from ASML Holding N.V., according to analysts. TSMC's main lithography-tool supplier is ASML of the Netherlands, according to analysts.