Semiconductor fabs are interesting operations. You invest a billion or so into the most advanced manufacturing technology available, then it becomes obsolete in less than a decade. Some simply close and some continue to make lower tech products and accept their second or even third class status.
Don’t you just hate it when you spend $1 billion building something,
only to find out it’s obsolete within a decade? That’s the fate of
semiconductor managers who have old manufacturing facilities filled
with old equipment. The question is how to make the best of a very
Surprisingly, if an older fab is retrofitted it generally doesn’t go
on to make photovoltaic chips or become a nanomanufacturing center. In
many cases, the fabs continue to make chips, but those that require
less cutting-edge technology.
And some try a different path in the hopes of remaining competitive.
Surprisingly, most of the older 200mm fabrication plants are still in
use and will remain so for a long time. The key is for the people
running them to find products that can be made on older technologies
while staying cost effective. Freescale Semiconductor started to revamp
processes at its 17-year-old Oakhill fab in the third quarter of last
year. That effort should end in mid-2009 and result in more than 30
different products lines being manufactured at the fab. Chris Magnella,
the facility’s director of operations, says his goal is to remain
competitive with the manufacturing costs of more advanced plants in
How does he aim to pull that off?
To meet that challenge, he’s selected a mix of products that benefit
from being made at 200mm wafers, such as MEMs chips, as well as
high-voltage power management chips. Additionally, he’s using equipment
that’s incredibly old, trying to keep the costs associated with fab
operations down. Magnella declines to make big investments in technology at the fab that
won’t pay for themselves in a year or less, and he’s embraced a lean
manufacturing ethos that pushes the employees to innovate.
Basically creating a competitive advantage by being different. A sprinkling of lean doesn’t hurt either.