LONDON Foundries in and outside China need greater involvement in design at different points in the manufacturing technology curve, according to a senior executive from Singapore foundry Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Ltd.
A decade ago a foundry could take a GDSII tape and manufacture digital ICs without little design knowledge. That is no longer possible, said Kevin Meyer, Chartered's vice president of worldwide marketing and services. Still, foundries have always been quick to draw the distinction between themselves and integrated device makers (IDMs) lest they be seen to be competing with their customers.
But inside China such distinctions may be further blurred by realities on the factory floor.
Foundries need to either design chips or enable third-party contract design houses to handle design. The reason is that local system houses with access to enormous markets for consumer electronics lack the time or expertise to desi gn the chips themselves, Meyer said.
Foundries about to quickly generate revenues for Chinese systems houses are most likely to succeed in a country that so far lacks the layered specialization of its western competitors.
"We're looking at design service possibilities in China," said Meyer. "We've opened our office in Shanghai. We also think that eventually 8-inch equipment out of Fab 2 could be used to leverage us into a stronger position in China," Meyer added, referring to the possible transfer of equipment and process expertise to one of it new fabs in China. Chartered accomplished that goal with six-inch equipment, gaining an estimated 11-percent stake in local foundry Central Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp.
Chartered also has a small stake in Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC) of Shanghai, although the exact size of that ownership has not been disclosed.
"In China, there's going to have to be some level of enablement beyond EDA flows and library IP," said Meyer.
"That's the China-specific design challenge, but there is also a design challenge at 90-nm [elseswhere]. The foundries are going to be expected to provide more to services to overcome design-for-manufacturing issues, IP validation and so on."
Foundries are going to be asked to handle tasks that design groups once handled themselves as a precondition for getting business, Meyer said.
"The EDA burden on the design teams is exploding. Everybody is being asked to do more for the same or less budget. I could see foundries being asked to provide services to specifically cope with mask costs and to help get masks right first time," Meyer added.