When I joined the semiconductor industry, more than 24 years ago (please don’t calculate my age) many acronyms and buzzwords in the semiconductor world did not exist or did not have any real meaning (e.g. COT, SOC, Foundry, IDM, Fab, Fabless, etc.). In the mid eighties, semiconductor companies had an R&D group (or more) and an in-house manufacturing division with silicon production capabilities.
At that time, companies such as Intel, Motorola, and Texas Instruments designed, manufactured, packaged, tested and delivered their own Integrated Circuits (ICs) to customers.
In 1986 Dr. Morris Chang, whom worked for Texas Instruments for about 25 years, founded a pure silicon fabrication site (fab) and called it Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, Ltd. (TSMC). This new company was spun off from the Industrial Technology & Research Institute (ITRI) in Taiwan with the finance support of the Taiwanese government and the technical backup of Philips Ltd.
This fab became the first silicon production site that started working using the “foundry” model, focusing in the silicon wafers production only, without ANY design capabilities.
This was the green light for a new approach in the semiconductor market called the fabless company. Meaning, semiconductor companies focused in design, testing, verification but without the headache of running the very expensive silicon manufacturing process, keeping the production line up and running at good yields and at the maximum utilization possible.
The growth of the fabless approach worldwide since then was amazing, according to the GSA (The Global Semiconductor Association – Former FSA) the number of fabless companies worldwide grew in the last 10 years as follows:
· 1999 = ~500
· 2000 = ~750
· 2001 = ~850
· 2002 = ~950
· 2003 = ~1,100
· 2004 = ~1,250
· 2005 = ~1,300
· 2006 = ~1,350
· 2007 = ~1,300
· 2008 = ~1,300
Although we see that in the last years 5 years the total number of fabless companies is not increasing, still the number is around 81% of the total number of semiconductor companies worldwide.
According to the GSA, the world spread of Fabless companies out Semiconductor companies today is around:
· North America = 86%
· Europe = 75%
· Asia = 77%
· Middle East = 100%
So now that we understand the fabless industry is huge, although the biggest fabless company (Qualcomm) is only #7 in semiconductor revenue, I’ll focus in this area in my next topics.
There are many issues related to the semiconductor fabless approach and I’ll try my best to touch most of them in this blog mainly from the perspective of the operation activities:
1. The fabless supply chain.
2. From spec to production.
3. Foundries technical information.
4. Choosing the right process for your product.
5. Vendors communication.
6. Suppliers auditing.
7. Quality and Reliability aspects. (Who is responsible and accountable for your product quality?)
8. Review of fabless suppliers (Foundries, Assembly and test houses, etc.)
9. Inside the fabless ops activities (technical and SCM).
10. Is it possible to run a fabless company from Israel?