TI takes two approaches to IC manufacturing

Mark LaPedus reports in his article in EETimes about TI’s approach towards IC manufacturing – while bolstering its in-house effort in analog production, TI is shifting more of its logic based work & process flow to foundries.

TI is adopting a 3 pronged approach based on its product categories - At the 65-nm node, TI has three foundry partners for its wireless chips: Chartered, TSMC and UMC. For wireless chips at 45 nm, TI will continue to use UMC and TSMC. For DSPs, TI develops the processes & makes its own 65nm DSP. However it will rope in TSMC too for the next node. TI has been manufacturing Sparc processors for Sun; a foundry, probably UMC, will take over production at 45nm.

Shifting the responsibility of digital processes to outside foundries, while focusing on analog processes for in-house manufacturing does seem to be the right direction, especially now when the production costs & risks are escalating. However, this is not an all together new approach. If I recollect well, STMicroelectronics had followed this approach along with TSMC. While the base/digital process was same across the two companies, STM developed its own spin-offs e.g. analog, high power, RF for and based on its market requirements.
The advantages are: risk sharing (in certain cases, offloading) in base process, retaining its niche in customized or spin-off processes and having the second source options when capacity is needed.

The article mentions that by using leading-edge foundries, fabless Qualcomm Inc. has been able to close the manufacturing gap with rival TI. I would say that it wasn’t just using leading edge foundries; it was close co-operation with multiple leading edge foundries coupled with the adoption of what it termed as Integrated Fabless Manufacturing Strategy (IFM) that helped Qualcomm. As I noted in my earlier post, “Fabless Qualcomm zooms to next node“, (incidentally a comment on another article by the same author!) Qualcomm developed its own virtual manufacturing organization.

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