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SkyWater CEO Expands ‘Know-how Foundry’ Mannequin


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SkyWater Know-how CEO Thomas Sonderman is constructing a brand new sort of chip foundry that shifts onerous multi-billion–greenback fab investments to clients who bear many of the price.

The one 100% U.S.-owned foundry was created in 2017 after personal fairness investor Oxbow Industries acquired Cypress Foundry Options, a subsidiary of now-defunct Cypress Semiconductor, and put in former AMD govt Sonderman on the helm of the brand new firm.

By making a “technology-foundry mannequin, we went after this candy spot of the customization/quantity hole that required loads of innovation,” Sonderman informed EE Occasions in an unique interview. “It additionally allowed us to market ourselves as completely different than simply one other specialty foundry.”

Sonderman stated he’s pursuing startup clients which are ignored by massive Asian foundries like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) and Samsung Foundry. SkyWater additionally works with massive gamers like Google, which is growing a brand new open-source strategy to chip design.

“Nearly all of SkyWater’s income has been from ‘expertise as a service’ or from shoppers with excessive R&D budgets,” Gartner Analysis VP Sam Wang informed EE Occasions. “Lately, SkyWater has provided an open-source PDK

and MPW [multi-product wafer] companies, and they’re now engaging to many new shoppers with small R&D budgets.”

SkyWater additionally has a key buyer within the U.S. Division of Protection (DoD), which has made the corporate a trusted provider as a part of the Protection effort to create a safe provide chain throughout the U.S.

Following the Minnesota fab that SkyWater acquired with the Cypress acquisition, the corporate added an present Florida facility in 2021 and this yr introduced a brand new $1.8 billion fab in Indiana. The primary two fabs make 200-mm wafers, and the Indiana facility could make each 200-mm and 300-mm wafers.

SkyWater goals to fill the hole between ideation of an answer to an issue and the conclusion of that concept in a bodily product, TechInsights vice chair Dan Hutcheson informed EE Occasions.

“They’re doing it with a novel set of expertise that had been already there in Minnesota at a scale sufficiently small to offer higher service and be more cost effective than a large-scale foundry,” he stated.

Within the subsequent two years, SkyWater goals to turn into one of some foundries offering clients start-to-finish wafer fabrication and chip meeting within the U.S.

“The purpose is to deliver essentially the most superior, heterogeneous-integration expertise to the U.S., beginning on a 200-mm platform,” Sonderman stated. “We’re engaged on wafer fan-out packaging. There’s additionally a wafer-bonding expertise with hybrid bonding expertise that we license.”

As Covid locked the world down, SkyWater began a sophisticated packaging operation in Florida, TechInsights’ Hutcheson famous. “They realized a brand new expertise from concept to silicon and onto a packaged machine prepared for insertion.”

The concept a chip foundry ought to take all the chance of investing billions of {dollars} in manufacturing has been an issue for firms that compete with the likes of TSMC or Samsung, Sonderman stated. As an alternative of shouldering the funding alone, SkyWater expects clients to bear growth prices for bringing their applied sciences to market.

“What you get is the advantage of co-optimization,” he stated. “You get to develop your product whereas we’re growing the method,” leading to a differentiated product that will get to market quicker “since you’re making that funding, and we’re going to ramp your product to quantity all inside the identical fab.”

SkyWater competes by combining a low-margin wafer enterprise within the mature course of nodes with high-margin superior expertise companies (ATS).

“Two-thirds of our income come from this ATS portion of the enterprise, and it solely consumes 5% of the whole actions within the fab,” Sonderman stated.

Removed from the forefront

Whereas high foundries TSMC and Samsung are beginning manufacturing of 3-nm chips with the world’s highest transistor density, SkyWater does most of its manufacturing at 90 nm.

“The U.S. authorities mockingly remains to be primarily centered at 90 nm,” Sonderman stated, including that SkyWater makes the world’s most superior radiation-hardened ASICs at that node.

The corporate makes use of the expertise to make read-out ICs that course of thermal data in night-vision goggles or imaginative and prescient methods on an F-35 fighter jet.

SkyWater will compete for the DoD enterprise with Tower Semiconductor of Israel and shortly the corporate buying Tower, Intel Foundry Providers (IFS). Sonderman expects IFS will provide the DoD 45-nm manufacturing, whereas one other rival, GlobalFoundries, will probably be competing on the 28-nm node.

“In some ways, the smaller you make the transistors, the leakier they’re,” he stated. “If you concentrate on issues that go up in house, you need to preserve energy as a lot as doable. If you can also make the tradeoff for efficiency, you don’t essentially want that very superior node.”

SkyWater is working with the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how (MIT) and the Protection Superior Analysis Tasks Company (DARPA) on a 3D SoC program. SkyWater is including carbon nanotube layers to its 90-nm CMOS course of to make FETs coupled with resistive RAM.

“By creating further performance and extra interconnectivity, you can also make that 90-nm machine run at sub-10-nm power-consumption ranges,” Sonderman stated. “You find yourself getting the efficiency profit with out all the associated fee. It’s actually a heterogeneous-integration resolution since you’re constructing a skyscraper on high of the foundational CMOS machine.”

Google open-source venture

In September, SkyWater grew to become the foundry for a venture with the Division of Commerce’s Nationwide Institute of Requirements and Know-how (NIST) and Google. NIST and Google are offering funding for researchers to develop chips.

Google can pay the preliminary price of establishing manufacturing and can subsidize the primary manufacturing run. NIST will design the circuitry for the chips. The circuit designs will probably be open-source.

The venture has been scaling up since early this yr, Sonderman stated.

SkyWater CEO Thomas Sonderman with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo at a Purdue College occasion in September (Supply: SkyWater Know-how)

Google and SkyWater a number of months in the past partnered on a 90-nm course of transferred from MIT Lincoln Labs.

“Consider it as 90-nm expertise with out the rad-hard parts,” he stated.

Safe provide chain

Inside a number of years, SkyWater expects to offer front-end chip fabrication, in addition to back-end meeting and check, from its Florida facility as a trusted provider.

“A part of the technique for Florida was to do exactly that,” Sonderman stated. “The DoD was clearly a supporter. The urge for food throughout the product group to having all this within the U.S. is as excessive as I’ve ever seen. The argument is, ‘Why do I need to make the wafer within the U.S. if I’ve to ship it to Asia to get it singulated?’”

This month, SkyWater and BRIDG, a public-private partnership, accomplished Section 1 of a DoD-funded program to develop a baseline fabrication move for silicon bridge interposers, that are more and more utilized in heterogeneous-integration functions.

CHIPS Act serving to with U.S. safety

The just lately handed CHIPS and Science Act has helped to handle vulnerabilities in U.S. nationwide safety, Sonderman stated.

“Impulsively, the DoD acquired themselves in a scenario the place all of the chips had been coming from locations that weren’t managed by the USA. [Now] they’ve a seat on the desk for the choice making, for the place issues are going to be funded. It’s essential to maintain that in thoughts, as that’s the final goal of loads of this funding — to ensure we have now a safe provide chain throughout the U.S. for issues which are crucial to the financial system and nationwide safety.”

Sonderman expects that by 2024, SkyWater can have a number of examples of “full provide chains all the way down to the package deal die stage.”

SkyWater expects to win a few of the $52 billion in CHIPS Act subsidies when the U.S. authorities begins to disburse the cash subsequent yr.

The DoD will allocate about $2 billion as a part of its just lately introduced Microelectronics Commons program, Sonderman stated in a Nov. 7 convention name with traders and journalists. “We’re actively concerned with that. That is to create innovation facilities across the lab-to-fab idea.

“There’s $11 billion for R&D and innovation. That is the Nationwide Semiconductor Know-how Middle idea, of which $5 billion is tied to superior packaging and heterogeneous integration. I imagine we’re well-positioned for these.”

Tech combine

SkyWater has greater than 50 clients, to which it provides eight platforms of specialised applied sciences, together with radiation hardening and microelectromechanical methods (MEMS) on normal CMOS chips, in addition to combined sign.

The corporate’s essential mixed-signal buyer is Infineon.

Infineon is utilizing programmable SoC expertise embedded with power-management capabilities to create microcontrollers and different units that go into new merchandise like Fitbit smartwatches. Parade Applied sciences of Taiwan can be utilizing SkyWater’s mixed-signal tech in show units.

SkyWater’s key MEMS buyer is Rockley Photonics, which makes photonics ICs for multi-application, health-related sensing and monitoring functions.

DARPA is SkyWater’s essential buyer for carbon-nanotube expertise, Sonderman stated.

“They need to have the ability to have excessive ranges of computation on edge units so that you don’t want a cloud while you’re in the course of a battle. You don’t must ship information to the cloud.”

Development constraints

On this yr’s third quarter, SkyWater’s income rose to $52 million, or 49% from the identical interval final yr. The corporate got here nearer to profitability after its internet loss narrowed to $7 million from the identical interval final yr.

As 2022 attracts to an in depth after a multi-year chip-industry surge, SkyWater finds itself constrained by shortages of manufacturing gear and engineers.

“That may be a massive challenge, getting gear,” he stated. “Now we have gear that we’ve ordered that we’re being informed may take as much as two years for us to get. A variety of stuff we’re shopping for is extra geared towards growth at this level. I don’t envision our instruments getting canceled, however I positive want to get them so much quicker.

“Engineers are nonetheless very troublesome to search out. We had a novel enjoying discipline earlier than all people acquired excited concerning the CHIPS Act as a result of we had been the one guys hiring for a fab within the U.S. Now, you’ve acquired TSMC constructing a fab, you’ve acquired Intel wanting to construct a fab in Ohio. The market is simply much more aggressive.”



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