U.S. chipmaker plans new factory in China

GlobalFoundries will build a new chip fab in Chengdu, while expanding capacity in Germany, Singapore, and the U.S.

globalfoundries fab 8 cleanroom
GlobalFoundries

GlobalFoundries will open a new factory in Chengdu, China, to make inexpensive chips for wireless devices.

The chipmaker, once part of microprocessor designer AMD, also plans to expand production at existing fabrication plants in the U.S., Germany, and Singapore, it said Friday. It makes chips for AMD, IBM, Qualcomm, and Mediatek, among others.

Beginning next year, the new fab in China -- a joint venture with the municipality of Chengdu -- will produce chips on 300-millimeter wafers using standard manufacturing techniques, the company said.

Sometime in 2019, it will switch to a different manufacturing process, FD-SOI (fully depleted silicon on insulator), which GlobalFoundries calls 22FDX. That process is particularly suitable for the low-cost manufacture of the radio-frequency chips used in smartphones, cars, and the internet of things, the company said.

GlobalFoundries already uses 22FDX at its Fab 1 plant in Dresden, Germany, where it plans to increase capacity by 40 percent over the next three years.

Engineers in Dresden are already working on 12FDX, the successor to 22FDX, so-called because it will produce chips with a 12-nanometer feature size rather than the 22nm of the existing process. Smaller features typically result in smaller chips with lower power consumption, or higher performance for the same consumption, although the use of more advanced production technologies can increase costs.

GlobalFoundries wants to use 12FDX to manufacture chips for 5G, the next generation of mobile phone networks.

In Singapore, the company will speed up lines using older chip technologies, upping production of 40nm chips by 35 percent. It will also boost output of 180nm chips on the older 200mm wafers that were common before 300mm became the norm.

GlobalFoundries was keen to emphasize that is investing in the U.S., too. It has plowed $13 billion into its business there over the last eight years, creating 9,000 jobs at four locations around the country, it said Monday.

Since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump last November, U.S. businesses have found it expedient to promote their investment in U.S. jobs.

Just this week, following a meeting between Trump and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, Intel dusted off a six-year-old pledge to build a new factory in Arizona.

GlobalFoundries is not done investing in the U.S. yet. Early next year, it will increase production of 14nm FinFET chips by 20 percent at its Fab 8 plant in New York, it said. FinFET (fin field-effect transistor) chips have a three-dimensional structure particularly suited to microprocessors. The company is also developing more advanced manufacturing techniques in New York and expects to begin making chips using a 7nm process there by the middle of next year.

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