July 24, 2012

Chip power opens gates

By: Larry Rulison

Source: Times Union

Building firm's admission into consortium expected to help specialty suppliers

ALBANY — It's not just the big computer chip companies like Intel and Samsung that are going to benefit from the new Global 450 Consortium based in Albany.

The high-powered group — which will develop the next generation of computer chip manufacturing at the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in a five-year, $1 billion program — is planning to make the global construction firm M+W Group an associate member.

The move to invite M+W into the exclusive club — also known as the G450C — would have a huge impact on the Capital Region and New York state's construction and manufacturing supply industry.

The G450C — whose five founding members are Intel, Samsung, IBM, GlobalFoundries and Taiwan Semiconductor Corp. — is working on developing a new manufacturing process for the industry that would use 18-inch, or 450-millimeter, silicon wafers to make chips. The cutting-edge factory today uses 12-inch, or 300 mm, wafers. Companies like IBM and GlobalFoundries also still operate factories that use a previous technology which uses 200 mm wafers.

The larger wafers will not only double output while slashing operating costs by as much as 40 percent; the typical factory would double in price to $10 billion — providing a windfall for companies that build them.

M+W, which recently moved its U.S. headquarters from Plano, Texas, to Watervliet, built GlobalFoundries' new $4.6 billion computer chip factory called Fab 8 in Saratoga County. Subcontractors from all across the state have earned millions of dollars over the past three years at the GlobalFoundries site, employing roughly 2,000 laborers earning union wages and benefits.

M+W is also building the NanoCollege's new $365 million NanoFab X building that will house G450C.

M+W will be the first non-chip maker to officially join the G450C, which was announced last fall by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of a larger, $4.8 billion computer chip research program. But it will also be put in charge of a new group of specialty chemical, electrical, mechanical and other suppliers called the FS450C that will essentially get a leg up on the world in how to build and outfit the new mega-fabs that would be required to house 450 mm manufacturing equipment.

M+W U.S. CEO Rick Whitney declined comment when reached by phone on Tuesday, saying it was too early to talk about the subject. The plan to bring M+W into the fold was first revealed at an industry conference on the West Coast earlier this month.

Chip fab clean rooms typically house hundreds of pieces of manufacturing equipment connected to a complex system of gas, water and chemical pipes, along with powerful air filters and electrical systems.

The wafers move around the factory in cases that travel on a maze of tracks attached to the ceiling. Almost everything in the factory is automated, requiring high-end design and construction skills.

Alain Kaloyeros, CEO of the NanoCollege, said when Cuomo put together the G450C last year, he insisted that suppliers and contractors in the state receive $400 million in business from the effort.

"This (inviting M+W) builds on that," Kaloyeros said. "It takes it even a step further. It opens the floodgates for the construction companies, the mechanical companies, the gas companies."

The computer chip industry is dominated by a few large players like Intel, and the move to 450 mm is expected to be so expensive — costing the industry tens of billions of dollars — that it should consolidate even more.

Those companies that get involved in 450 mm research at the NanoCollege will be first in line for winning bids for 450 mm factories of the future. Kaloyeros said that Cuomo will also insist that the supply companies from out-of-state that want to participate will have to establish operations — and create jobs — here.

"What the governor wants to do is bring them to New York," Kaloyeros said.