When I sat down next to a yield engineer at lunch during a recent semiconductor manufacturing conference, we started talking. He said he worked at the Malta fab of GLOBALFOUNDRIES but had spent most of his career at IBM’s Fishkill fab, coming over last July 1 when GF formally acquired IBM Microelectronics. I asked him about the transition, whether the IBMers – especially those with some years at IBM — had felt anxieties about moving into a new organization.
“Actually, it was the opposite,” he replied quickly. “At IBM there was a feeling that semiconductor manufacturing was no longer central to the organization’s key purpose. That went on for some time. So when we moved to GF, it was like ‘now we know what we are doing.’ We were finally in an organization where making semiconductors is the main purpose.”
Some of the top managers in New York and Vermont express similar sentiments about a transition process that involved 5,000 people and two fabs.
Geoff Akiki now runs the mask organization at GF’s Burlington, Vt. site, but earlier he was an Integration Executive tasked with bringing IBM Microelectronics into the GF fold. The integration team created a simple color code: Red for people within IBM Microelectronics, Orange for GF people, and Blue for those who would remain with IBM, largely to manage the foundry relationship with GF.
“There was some trepidation, by both IBMers and GF people. Some of the GF people wondered how this would affect their roles in the expanded organization. For the most part, the Red people were hugely excited, because they felt that GF was doing chip manufacturing for a living and had strategies that were better than what they had seen for 10 years.”
If GF brought resources and focus, IBM brought world-class engineers, an ASIC business, and radio frequency (RF) technologies, based on both RF-SOI and SiGe processes, a valuable asset in this era of mobility.
Tom Caulfield, general manager of Fab 8 in Malta, N.Y., said about 600 people came to Malta after the formal integration date of July 1, 2015. However, prior to that a fairly large number of engineers had left IBM, seeing the handwriting on the wall, to apply for positions at GF.
When Caulfield took on his current job in 2014, he hired what he calls “A players” from various companies, including Intel and Samsung, and large numbers of experienced IBMers. “At IBM, microelectronics was seen as a cost center, a means to an end, but not The Business. These guys were chomping at the bit to go where making semiconductors is the real game.”
Bringing 5,000 people – about 3,000 from the Burlington fab and another 2,000 who worked at Fishkill, N.Y. – into GF was a large task. To prepare, Akiki said the integration team created 14 work streams, and organized meetings where as many as 200 people would participate.
Two key decisions eased the transition process. The most important was that there would be essentially no layoffs. GF CEO Sanjay Jha had laid down a philosophy of ‘disturb as little as possible’ during the integration. Bringing essentially everyone over from IBM reduced anxiety levels considerably, Akiki said.
Secondly, GF decided to acquire the two IBM manufacturing sites (and the facilities support staff) at Burlington and Fishkill in their entirety, obviating any need to partition the properties. (IBM kept the packaging technology center in Bromont, Canada).
At the recent 2016 Design Automation Conference (DAC) in Austin, one speaker noted that when Company A acquires Company B, typically the first to be laid off are the EDA engineers at Company B. With them goes the historical knowledge of what intellectual property (IP) is owned by Company B, and how those IP cores can be used by the design teams.
Akiki said from the outset intellectual property was seen as “a large part of the value” of the IBM integration deal. “We bragged about the number of patents we picked up. But we knew that IP often languishes, and we set a specific objective to integrate both the people and the IP files.”
A major effort went into making sure that all of the IP had been categorized, so that GF could “eventually declare we have received the key deliverables.”
Gary Patton became the chief technology officer at GF as part of the integration, and it is probably fair to say that his technology development organization has benefited the most from the deal. One consequence of Malta being a “green field” site, Caulfield noted, is that it takes time to build up the talent. That was especially true in technology development (TD), with Patton adding that maintaining a TD schedule “has been a key knock” in the past.
For the 10/7nm development program, Patton said more than 50 percent of the people are from IBM, adding that the 10/7nm development team draws on experience from the 14nm team.
Caulfield emphasized that Malta has benefited from the “added scale” of ASIC business that came to GF as part of the IBM deal. IBM engineers had developed high-performance ASIC cores, such as a 56 gigabit/s Serdes core, that Caulfield said are not available from other foundries. “We are refreshing our ASICs platform at 14nm, and I can tell you that I entertain about one new customer at week at this site, with at least half of them being ASIC customers.”
I asked about the challenges which remain, a year after the initial integration.
The most important challenge is to further knit together the two human organizations, making sure that the people with two or three decades of service during their careers at IBM share their knowledge with the engineers at Malta, and vice versa. As Caulfield said, “Our job is to get more intermixing going on, to get more balance. We don’t want to bring in all of these great technologists and then not leverage their skills.”
Patton, who earlier managed IBM’s Semiconductor Research and Development Center (SRDC), promises to take advantage of the talent he now manages at GF. “In the 10 years I led the SRDC, I can tell you we always had more performance than Intel. The industry has been heavily focused on mobile, and now customers are not happy with the performance improvements they are seeing from our competitors, compared with 16nm. They are looking for more performance. And guess what? We just brought in a specialty team here at GF that knows how to do performance.”