The first of a three-part series looking back at GF’s first 10 years, and ahead at the next decade and beyond.
As GLOBALFOUNDRIES celebrates its 10-year anniversary, the company finds itself at a key inflection point. Driven by financial imperatives and changing business opportunities, CEO Tom Caulfield has initiated a sweeping strategic transformation. The move is designed to better utilize the company’s resources and grow the return on investment by focusing on applications where GF’s diverse, differentiated technologies offer significant advantages.
To accomplish this it’s essential that GF employees share common goals, and a company-wide effort to facilitate that, called ONEGF, is taking place. But that isn’t an easy process for any company, and it’s harder still when you consider GF’s origins: It began as an spinoff of AMD’s in-house manufacturing operations in Dresden, Germany; then, GF acquired the Chartered Semiconductor foundry in Singapore; built a greenfield foundry in Malta, NY; and, as if that wasn’t enough, acquired IBM’s former in-house technology development group and chip manufacturing operations in New York and Vermont.
Given all of the change that has taken place, Foundry Files wanted to get the perspectives of long-time employees from various parts of the company on how GF got where it is today, to learn if there are lessons in that experience which can help with the challenges that lie ahead.
Read on to learn why the following GF employees say that a sense of shared purpose, a laser-like focus on the customer, and finding satisfaction in different types of technological innovations may well be the keys to success in the company’s next decade.
Learning by Doing in Dresden: From an IDM to a Foundry
“We can show plenty of scars,” said Jens Drews, Director of Communications & Government Relations for Fab 1 in Dresden, referring to the fab’s challenging transition from a dedicated manufacturing resource for AMD microprocessors to a foundry satisfying the wide-ranging demands of new customers, while at the same time ramping multiple new technologies.
Asked to describe the site’s journey over the last ten years, Jens thought for a moment and then came back with the opening line of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, … it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,” adding that the fab’s momentum and growth potential clearly pointed towards the “best of times.”
Jens, the voice of GF’s Dresden site to employees and to the German and European media and governments, is in a position to know because he has been with the site for more 23 years and has witnessed the changes firsthand.
“We started out in Dresden with a straightforward goal – to compete with Intel in CPUs – and we were tremendously proud when we were able to do that,” he said. “But during the last few years when we were still a part of AMD, the chip industry went through a big paradigm shift away from the original IDM model towards a model that saw the rise of fabless and fab-light companies and foundries. For a while, AMD Dresden continued to be an island of stability in a sea of change, and we were going about our work as always, only concerned with one customer, one technology and one product family at a time. But it had become very clear by the early 2000s that changes in our industry would eventually catch up with Dresden – and probably sooner rather than later.”
“Then, when we became part of GF, we found ourselves literally overnight in a completely different ball game. It was like going from playing volleyball to playing rugby. You can imagine that it took time and quite a few hard knocks before we adjusted to the rules of the new game,” he recalls.
For example, Jens mentioned the steep hiring ramp in 2009/10 that brought plenty of “new blood” from companies like Qimonda, Chartered Semiconductor and from the solar industry. They joined a fairly homogeneous team deeply steeped in the AMD culture. “Although this brought excitement and fresh outlooks, it still was a shock to the system because until then we had been a merry band of AMD brothers and sisters, so to speak, and we now had to cope with change everywhere you looked. For sure, we went through a period of growing pains,” he said.
But that was then, and now GF Dresden is a force to be reckoned with in the worldwide foundry industry. For example, GF’s innovative 22FDX® FD-SOI technology is ramping and is drawing more and more interest for some of the fastest-growing applications in the industry, and so are the 28, 40 and 55/65 nm platforms.
“Today, we have a long-term strategy in place that positions Dresden as a high-mix ‘More than Moore’ foundry fab with a focus on demanding markets such as automotive, security, 5G and AI. With that, we are now becoming part of key European industrial value chains such as automotive,” he said. Jens noted that the company’s pivot in 2018 dovetailed with the Dresden site’s strategic move away from straightforward scaling towards feature-rich platforms for new markets besides computing and communications.
“We have never seen better alignment between corporate and site strategies, which allows us to stay fully focused on serving the diverse needs of new and old customers and their exciting markets.”
His conclusion: “The future of Dresden looks bright, a ‘season of light’ as Charles Dickens would say. We have successfully redefined the value we bring to our customers and their markets. Our growth potential is real and we have learned, sometimes the hard way, what is expected of us: Strong platforms that make the difference for our customers’ customers, continued innovation, and of course solid execution with focus on quality, cost and the bottom line.”
A Focus on the Customer
If building a sense of shared purpose was the imperative at Fab 1, a world away at GF’s Fab 7 in Singapore keeping customers happy and generating solid financial returns have been the main goals. That’s according to Peter Benyon, Vice President & General Manager of Fab 7. Peter, a 20-year employee split equally between GF and Chartered Semiconductor, was recently named Vice President and General Manager of Fab 8 in Malta, NY, effective July 1.
GF’s Singapore fabs offer a number of mature 200mm and 300mm processes, and soon also will offer GF’s 8SW technology for RF applications, which will be moving there from Fab 10 in East Fishkill, NY. Fab 10 is being sold to ON Semiconductor. (GF’s East Fishkill-based 45RFSOI and silicon photonics technologies will be moved to Malta.)
From the outset, employees in Singapore have had a strong customer focus and a “first-time-right” mentality in the fab that has led to both customer satisfaction and good margins for GF.
“We’ve been a foundry from the beginning, and we’ve always had an intense focus on the customer because when it comes to mature technologies, the pricing and other deliverables offered by competing foundries are generally in the same ballpark. Therefore the question on the customer’s mind is always, “Why should I come to you?” Peter said.
“Our answer to that is to focus on their needs by giving priority to their work as required, offering flexibility our competitors usually don’t, and doing what we say we’ll do. As a result, we have built many strong, longstanding and mutually beneficial relationships,” he said.
Foundry Files asked how that mindset might be made to percolate throughout the entire company. “It would be wrong to try to accomplish that by force-fitting a culture onto other GF locations. That has been tried before and it didn’t work. But ensuring customer needs are a priority, always and everywhere, needs to be part of our DNA,” he said.
Peter will take up that challenge in his new role at Fab 8, where his customer focus and proven operational excellence will enhance GF’s ability to serve a rapidly expanding customer base, and will provide a competitive edge over and above the fab’s world-class technologies.
Taking Delight in New Ways to Innovate
“Innovation is what gets our people excited, but scaling isn’t the only kind of innovation. For people who want to do new and unique things, the opportunities are endless. Silicon photonics is an example. Today it’s a small market. However, tomorrow it may be a very large one, and we’re helping to define it,” said Neil Peruffo.
Neil is Vice President & General Manager of Fab 10 in East Fishkill, and has been with IBM and GF for more than 30 years in technology development, characterization and deployment roles.
IBM has had a long and illustrious history in semiconductors, with a list of notable accomplishments and individuals too long to mention here. But because the major focus of its semiconductor operations was to support IBM’s mainframe and server businesses, there was concern within the company’s chip unit over a “narrowing corridor of applicability,” as Neil puts it, for its most advanced and costly technology.
He said the concern turned into excitement when the announcement was made in 2015 that GF was acquiring IBM’s semiconductor operations, because it created a sense that new horizons were opening up.
“Even as we were ramping advanced 14nm SOI technology for IBM servers we saw that our fab loading was going down, and although we knew we were core to IBM it was clear that core was requiring less silicon,” he said. “We recognized that our survival depended on expanding into areas such as RF and silicon photonics to reverse the loading trend. So, we went through a pivot of our own to do exactly that even before the GF corporate pivot took place.”
Neil said that after the acquisition many team members felt proud and relieved. They felt that being part of a pure-play foundry enabled them to continue their careers in the semiconductor industry, while providing new opportunities for growth.
What about now, though, with GF’s pivot away from scaling and toward differentiated and derivative technologies? “When you’re scaling, it’s easy to see what’s next because there’s a roadmap and you basically know what the next steps are going to be. However, on this path of differentiation that GF is taking we have to create our own path forward, which means there’s some uncertainty and we have to think differently about what it means to innovate,” he said.
“What does AI become? What about the IoT? 5G? We have to think beyond the scaling roadmap because there simply is no roadmap to create solutions in these different spaces. For our people, who are curious by nature, who are excited by technology, and who want to do new and unique things, the future holds great opportunities.”
In the next installment in this series, Gregg Bartlett, GF’s Sr. VP of Strategy & Asset Management, tells journalist Dave Lammers about the ups, downs and unexpected twists in the evolution of GF’s corporate strategy over the years.