In the May 15 issue of Future Fab News!, Aaron Hand, contributing editor,  asked for opinions on Mark Bohr’s (Intel) now famous EE Times interview, with Rick Merritt, where he said the fabless model is collapsing and a return to the IDM is inevitable. (I addressed a similar topic a year ago in a post titled Will 3D Integration Keep 2nd Tier Foundries Alive?) So for what it’s worth, here’s my input, from the perspective of the 3D IC industry, where things are progressing quite nicely, thank you, and the fabless/foundry/OSAT model seems to be the most desired for a multitude of reasons.

But before I extol the virtues of the fabless model, I suggest you consider the source of this smear campaign. Of course Intel would love to see the demise of a fabless world, and a return to the IDM. The potential for controlling the semiconductor industry is heady stuff. They would have a lot less competition, for one thing. It’s well known that the transition to 450mm and future scaling is too expensive for all but a few top tier players, of which only one, TSMC, is not an IDM. It was no accident that Bohr’s comments were aimed at TSMC and Qualcomm, when he said TSMC will “only serve one flavor of 22nm” and “won’t be able to make the kind of 3-D transistors needed mitigate leakage current”, and therefore, “Qualcomm won’t be able to use that process.”

Mark Bohr is not entirely wrong when he told Merritt “Being an integrated device manufacturer really helps us solve the problems dealing with devices this small and complex,” But while that may be true when it comes to scaling below 22nm and developing 3D transistors like Intel’s tri-gate transistor, it doesn’t mean the fabless model as a whole is headed for collapse.

In his April 29 blog, Intel says fabless model collapsing… really? Daniel Nenni, of SemiWiki, provided an excellent blow-by-blow analysis of this discussion. He sums it up saying, “Either way, I do not see this as a zero sum game, both TSMC (foundry) and Intel (IDM) will thrive in the new geometries. The fabless model has brought us many new innovations and a very rich ecosystem which will be very hard to break.”  I couldn’t agree more.

In fact, in the 3D IC world, which is being touted by many as an alternative to future scaling, a way to scale further, or an orthogonal arm of scaling, the fabless/foundry/OSAT model is emerging as the most viable solution for high volume manufacturing (HVM) of 3D ICs; and a way for second tier, pure play foundries and OSATS to compete with the Intels, Samsungs, IBMS, and even TSMC (the only pure play foundry attempting to become an end-to-end provider of 3D ICS).

Zvi Or-Bach, of MonolithIC 3D, touches nicely on this in his recent blog post, Reversal from the foundry model back to IDM? Zvi Or-Bach when he states, “this might explain why both TSMC and GlobalFoundries recently announced investment in 3D IC processing lines…. As the current scaling trend works against them, they both chose to move the game to a court where an ecosystem would be more powerful than corporate vertical integration.”

So in answer to your question, Aaron,  I would say  it’s a gross exaggeration for Bohr to predict the demise of a thriving ecosystem based purely on one example.  He’s definitely blowing smoke. ~ F.v.T.

Francoise von Trapp

They call me the “Queen of 3D” because I have been following the course of…

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