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One of the keynotes at the imec technology forum last month was by Gary Patton, the CTO of GLOBALFOUNDRIES. I reminded him in the evening event at the Magritte museum that he'd done an interview with me last year that had gone viral inside GLOBALFOUNDRIES. It was titled How the CTO of GLOBALFOUNDRIES Nearly Became a Lawyer...Called Funkhauser. It's true, too. First, the lawyer bit. Gary grew up in southern California and went to UCLA, originally studying Pre-Law. But he didn't really like the way everyone involved seemed to be Marxists (hey, it was the '70s) and since he was good at math he switched to engineering. He had to scramble to catch up since he'd done a lot of humanities courses and no engineering courses. Eventually he specialized in electrical engineering. After UCLA, he stayed in California but moved north and did his PhD at Stanford.
His grandfather's name was Funkhauser, but his step-grandfather's name was Patton. His father decided to go with Patton (if your name was Funkhauser, maybe you would, too). Gary actually tried to dig into the ancestry, Funkhauser is obviously German, but it turns out there are none in Germany, only in Indiana.
Anyway, he is now the CTO of GLOBALFOUNDRIES, having joined them with the acquisition of the IBM semiconductor business where he previously worked. Funnily enough I interviewed An Steegen of imec the following day, and she told me that her last boss at IBM before returning from the US to Belgium was...Gary Patton.
Gary's keynote was titled Moving the Electronics Industry Forward: Technology Enablers for the Next Wave of Growth. The two historical growth drivers for semiconductor have been the PC and smartphones. These are increasingly mature markets. The PC market is shrinking and the smartphone market is growing, but not as such astronomical rates. So the big question is where will future growth come from? What's the next big thing?
There are two big changes going on right now. One is that devices other than computers (counting smartphones, they are more powerful than a Cray-1, after all) are being attached to the internet. This is generically called the Internet of Things or IoT. It is not really a single market, like the PC or mobile, but all the expectations are that a lot of "things" will be created combining sensors, networking, computing, and, perhaps, actuators. Of course, the opportunity goes way beyond the things themselves, there is all the cloud backend, and all the network infrastructure, too. Smart homes, smart buildings, smart cities, and so on will take time to arrive, but the direction is clear.
The other big change is the move towards autonomous driving. Automotive chips used to be small parts built in old processes and connected through slow networks. The requirements for multiple video, lidar, and radar feeds mean that huge amounts of silicon will be required. The automotive market today is about 100M vehicles per year but an increasing percentage of the cost of each vehicle is in the electronics.
The engine behind all of this is semiconductor innovation:
But atoms don't scale. So scaling can still drive down cost but it is getting exponentially more costly to develop the process, the chips and build the fabs.
The major areas of research are:
One of the solutions that Gary thinks is important, obviously, is FD-SOI, currently at 22nm. This is attractive to both the IoT and automotive markets due to reliability, thermal stability, easier analog integration, RF, and low power. The back-bias capability means that it can run at very lower power when needed, and high performance when required (although not as high as FinFET, which GLOBALFOUNDRIES also licensed from Samsung).
With the two fabs they gained through the IBM acquisition, GLOBALFOUNDRIES now has five manufacturing centers on three continents.
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