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A Global Tech Leader Rises in Upstate New York


GlobalFoundries’ Fab 8 in Malta will be the most advanced semiconductor manufacturing facility in the world, producing microchips with components as small as 22 nanometers.

The autumn leaves are in the midst of their annual burst of color, but changing foliage isn’t the most spectacular development in Upstate New York this year. That honor belongs to GlobalFoundries’ Fab 8 project. Taking shape on the 1,414-acre Luther Forest Technology Campus in scenic Saratoga County is the world’s most advanced semiconductor manufacturing facility.

At the heart of this $4.2-billion project in Malta, NY stands the emerging shell of a 300,000-square-foot cleanroom that soon will begin churning out 300-mm wide semiconductor wafers with microchip circuits as small as 28 nanometers (28nm). Shortly after manufacturing commences in mid-2012 at GlobalFoundries (GF), the microchip plant will take a great leap forward and become the world’s first facility to produce 300-mm microchips with components as small as 22 nanometers.

For those of us who wouldn’t know a nanometer from a thermometer, here are some mind-boggling numbers: a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter; a water molecule is one nanometer, a germ is about 1,000 nanometers; a human hair is 100,000-nm thick. If you want to view a 22-nm component on a microchip, you’ll have to swap your reading glasses for a powerful atomic microscope. Nanoscale semiconductor components are the new frontier in the never-ending quest to jam more circuitry onto the chips that govern our electronic cyberworld.

Ground was broken for the massive project in Malta in July 2009. GF will begin installing nearly $2 billion worth of highly sophisticated tooling at Fab 8 next summer and then take about 12 months to calibrate and qualify the tools. Initial manufacturing runs, utilizing 210,000 square feet of cleanroom space, are slated to begin in the middle of 2012. By late 2012, more than 1,400 people will be employed at Fab 8, a number that could increase significantly if the foundry decides in coming years to ramp up to full capacity—60,000 wafers per month utilizing the entire 300,000 square feet of the shell. After commercial production starts, the GF complex is expected to generate an annual payroll of more than $88 million; the project also will create an estimated 5,000 indirect jobs in the region, yielding a total annual payroll of nearly $300 million for all of the jobs associated with Fab 8. More than 2,700 construction jobs have been created during the $800-million construction phase of Fab 8.

The GF facility is being equipped with huge systems for water and air filtration/circulation. To create the super-clean environment required for semiconductor production, mammoth air handlers built into the third floor of the complex will completely recycle the air in the building every three minutes. The facility also will consume a staggering 3 million gallons of water per day for multiple rinses needed as solvents and other chemicals are used to etch tiny circuits onto silicon wafers.

“There are about 1,000 steps in the manufacturing process, and almost every one of those steps includes a rinse,” says Travis Bullard, GF’s public affairs and communications manager.

To ensure the water is pure enough for microchip production, standard city tap water (pumped from the Hudson River) will be filtered at the GF plant. After the rinsing process, the water will be filtered again before being discharged into the local wastewater system. “The water actually will be cleaner when we discharge it then it was when we got it as tap water,” says Bullard.

The GF complex also will include an administrative building and special “gowning” rooms where technicians will doff grubby street clothes for surgically pure work duds as they are air-blasted clean of dust and dander.

The nearly 2-square-mile Luther Forest campus boasts a redundant electric and telecommunications infrastructure. Power for the GF semiconductor facility will be provided by National Grid, a major regional utility.

FROM ROCKET FUEL TO MICROCHIPS

The nanoscale semiconductors that GF will produce at the Malta fab are a far cry from previous incarnations of the Luther Forest site, which sits about a half-mile from I-87.

In the 1950s, a 165-acre tract of the unused forest was acquired by the federal government, with local officials granting a one-mile easement to create a “non-habitation zone” suitable for testing fuel for rocket engines. General Electric, then building rocket engines in Schenectady for the space program, operated what became known as the Malta Test Station. Although the rockets themselves were launched in White Sands, NM, Malta town fathers like to call Luther Forest “the birthplace of NASA.” An original gantry, still standing in the center of the property, is being designated a national historic preservation landmark.

In 1964, the New York State Atomic and Space Development Authority (ASDA) acquired the test site and an adjacent 280 acres, renaming it the Saratoga Research and Development Center and leasing it to weapons contractors. In 1975, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) became the successor agency to ASDA; NYSERDA took ownership of the site and changed the site’s mission to energy research and development.

In 1984, NYSERDA sold off 81 acres in the core of the site to Wright-Malta Corp., a GE spin-off that continued to conduct federal weapons testing on the property (Wright-Malta eventually bought all 165 acres of the original Malta Test Station property). NYSERDA maintained its ownership of the adjacent 280 acres.

The rocket-fuel program and other weapons testing in Malta left a legacy of toxic debris, which earned the entire 445-acre site a Superfund designation in 1987. This initiated a 10-year cleanup focusing on ground water contamination. The federal EPA declared the property safe for development in 1998.

In the wake of the cleanup, NYSERDA, the Saratoga Economic Development Corp. (SEDC) and the University of Albany formed a joint effort to develop the Malta property as a technology park. This resulted in Saratoga Technology + Energy Park (STEP), the nation’s only tech park focused on clean energy and environmental technologies.

SEDC, meanwhile, created the non-profit Luther Forest Tech Campus and acquired an option to purchase 160 acres of Luther Forest. SEDC turned to local financial institutions for funding to build road, sewer and water infrastructure for the non-profit entity.

“Luther Forest Tech Campus came to us 10 years ago and said you need to come together and do something out of the box to help the region and move this project forward,” recalls Bryant Cassella, senior vice president of KeyBank. “They needed to build a tremendous amount of infrastructure for the site, but as a non-profit they didn’t have a cash flow and couldn’t take out a mortgage.”

The non-profit asked several banks to each pony up $5 million for a $25-million revolving credit line, but the banks were skeptical. Eventually, KeyBank acted on its own to create the $25 million credit line that today continues to service the tech campus infrastructure needs.

“As one the largest employers in the region and one of the leading financial services companies, we knew we needed to step up and be involved,” Cassella says.

In the late 1990s, New York State identified seven industry sectors that the state intended to target as central to its growth strategy, including semiconductor manufacturing. In 2000, as the University of Albany began to establish its leadership position in the emerging science of nanotechnology, the Hudson Valley region zeroed in on the semiconductor industry as a major driver of regional growth.

In 2004, SEDC exercised its option to purchase the 160-acre Luther Forest tract, eventually acquiring an additional 1,200 acres of the surrounding “managed forest” from two groups that had been involved in the rocket technology initiatives in Malta.

COLD CALL SPAWNS GLOBAL GIANT

In the fall of 2005, a “cold call” from SEDC to semiconductor giant Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) started a conversation that eventually resulted in the GF project. At the time, AMD was planning to expand its semiconductor manufacturing in Dresden, Germany by building a second fab, which also was expected to be placed in Dresden. The call from SEDC convinced AMD to take a site tour of Luther Forest, after which the site selection competition for AMD’s new fab kicked into high gear.

The site selection process was completed in June 2006, when AMD announced they preferred Upstate New York as the location for their new fab over competing sites in Dresden, Singapore and Israel. Three years later, shortly before ground was broken in Malta, the project’s mission was dramatically altered when AMD decided to spin off its semiconductor manufacturing operations —to go “asset light” in fiscal parlance—and focus strictly on microchip design.

AMD found a manufacturing partner in Advanced Technology Investment Corp. (ATIC), based in Abu Dhabi. In March 2009, AMD and ATIC formalized a joint venture to create the first truly global semiconductor “foundry” to produce microchips as an independent contractor. The new venture was officially branded GlobalFoundries, and the AMD fab in Dresden was folded into GF.

GF’s trajectory took another turn in January of this year when the venture acquired Chartered Semiconductor, a manufacturer with five fabs based in Singapore. So what began as a relatively modest expansion for AMD will become, by the time the GF Malta fab opens in 2012, a global powerhouse operating eight fabs on three continents (with a ninth production unit planned for Abu Dhabi).

According to SEDC President Dennis Brobston, a combination of creative incentives coupled with the site’s proximity to a bevy of high-tech R&D facilities and a wealth of higher education programs geared to the workforce needs of semiconductor manufacturing were key factors that propelled Luther Forest to the front ranks of candidate sites for the AMD fab that eventually became GF.

“[AMD] took an extensive look at what they considered their key criteria for workforce and [found] our area was very well stocked. What really put Saratoga and the Luther Forest site on the map was the ability to be close to the ongoing R&D,” Brobston says. “We’ve had an awful lot of R&D going on in our area ever since GE came to Schenectady.”

The SEDC president also notes that the initial influx of tech muscle from GE was amplified by government research, including a nuclear reactor that made Saratoga County a national center for the training of skippers for the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet.

NANOTECH CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

The capital region of Upstate New York has attracted so many first-class research facilities that Albany, NY is now billing itself as the “Nanotech Capital of the World.” At the heart of this burgeoning nanotech empire is the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE), a University of Albany research hub that is part of the SUNY system.

The $6.5-billion CNSE complex is a public-private facility unlike anything that can be found elsewhere in the academic world. It’s unique 80,000-square-foot cleanroom is a hive of activity for more than 250 leading semiconductor players as well as students honing their high-tech skills. CNSE contracts out the use of its cleanroom to a bevy of semiconductor industry giants, including Intel, Sematech and AMD, who test prototype tooling and chip design at the complex. About 20 GF technicians currently are working at CNSE, validating the equipment that will eventually be deployed at Fab 8.

Unlike other high-tech initiatives, in which major advances are guarded by individual companies like state secrets until they are commercialized, semiconductor design is a collaborative enterprise in which major players have formed research alliances to move the technology to the next level. This is evidenced not only by the dozens of top industry players working shoulder-to-shoulder in the CNSE cleanroom in Albany, but also by the IBM Technology Alliance that pioneered 28nm microchip technology.

Just a few months after industry leader Intel unveiled its 32nm technology in early 2009, the IBM Tech Alliance took the wraps off its development of the technology for 28nm transistors. As with Intel and IBM’s 32nm chip designs, the 28nm chips use low-leakage high-k metal gate technology. IBM says the 28nm chips can provide up to a 40-percent performance improvement over 45nm chips, with a 20-percent reduction in power consumption. The technology also enabled the production of SRAM cells that measure just 0.12 square microns. A major target market for the 28nm technology is mobile Internet devices, offering lower power consumption in standby mode and extending battery life.

The partners jointly developing the 28nm technology include Samsung Electronics, Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing, Infineon Technologies and STMicroelectronics. These industry leaders were joined at the 28nm announcement by a new team member—GlobalFoundries.

A few months before the April 2009 IBM Alliance announcement, a group calling itself the Common Platform Alliance (Chartered Semiconductor and Samsung Electronics) announced that it had teamed up with ARM to design a system-on-chip platform that used both 32nm and 28nm technology. The platform’s 32nm ARM Cortex processor was revealed at the Mobile World Congress in February 2009.

GlobalFoundries has made clear its intention to leapfrog the design competition with its plans to have the Malta facility capable of producing microchips with 22nm components soon after commencing manufacturing next summer. Hundreds of specialized tools, some costing as much as $50 million each, are being installed at Fab 8.

“We will start at 28nm and then we will quickly ramp to a more advanced 22nm, so we will actually be two generations ahead of what we are doing right now,” Bullard says.

However, since GF has positioned itself as a foundry, the most advanced chips it produces will be manufactured under contract to leading semiconductor manufacturers around the world as well as AMD.

“We’ve added more than 150 different customers over the past 18 months, mostly through the process of acquiring Chartered,” Bullard says.

Bullard also notes that GF believes it will have a competitive advantage over semiconductor giants with production centered in Asia, including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., because the U.S. has stronger laws protecting intellectual property.

SEMATECH SETS UP SHOP IN ALBANY

Sematech, the global consortium of leading computer chip makers (including Intel, HP and Toshiba) has had a presence on the CNSE campus in Albany since 2003. Earlier this month, Sematech announced that it will move the bulk of its remaining operations from Austin, TX to CNSE in Albany in January, bringing at least 100 new jobs to the complex. Sematech CEO Dan Armbrust announced that Sematech’s manufacturing arm, known as International Sematech Manufacturing Initiative Inc. (ISMI), will relocate its headquarters to CNSE’s nanotech complex.

ISMI and private partners will invest a combined $80 million in the Albany operation, including $20 million in state money contributed through the Empire State Development Corp.

“New York State has put tremendous backing behind this initiative,” Armbrust said. “I think we’ve crossed the tipping point where there are enough entities that are investing here that we have to be here too.”

In 2008, another Sematech subsidiary, International Sematech, moved its headquarters from Austin to CNSE after receiving approval for a $300-million incentive package from New York State. Armbrust became the Sematech CEO last year after 25 years with another leading high-tech player in the Hudson Valley region, IBM in Fishkill, NY.

Sematech’s decision on the Albany relocation was seen as a blow to Austin’s ambitions to match Upstate New York stride-for-stride in the semiconductor field. The Texas capital scored a major triumph earlier this year when semiconductor manufacturer Samsung decided to invest $2.3 billion in an expansion of its semiconductor facility in Austin.

In addition to Albany’s CNSE, a cluster of higher-ed programs producing specialized degrees geared to math- and engineering-intensive studies critical for semiconductor manufacturing are within shouting distance of the GF facility in Malta. Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC), Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Schenectady County Community College and Fulton Montgomery Community College all have graduate programs that are producing qualified candidates with the technical skills to work at GlobalFoundries.

NYSERDA’s STEP campus, an incubator for start-ups and a venue for established companies working to commercialize R&D, operates next door to the GF fab site. In fact, GF has been leasing 40,000 square feet from NYSERDA and using it to house a temporary headquarters for GF until the venture can move into Fab 8.

In January, HVCC opened its TEC-SMART campus just down the road from GF’s Malta complex. The TEC-SMART campus is equipped with a 30,000-square-foot clean room where students can get hands-on training on semiconductor manufacturing equipment. The HVCC campus also has specialized classrooms for advanced alternative energy tech courses (solar/wind energy and battery technology). Meanwhile, RPI, one of the nation’s leading engineering schools, is churning out graduates at its Rensselaer Nanotechnology Center in Troy, NY that are ready to hit the ground running at GF’s fab.

A common thread linking the emerging GF cleanroom to cleanrooms at other semiconductor giants and the CNSE cleanroom in Albany is the general contractor now building the GF complex, M&W Group. Based in Stuttgart, Germany for nearly a century, M&W specializes in high-tech manufacturing projects. The contractor built AMD’s Dresden fab and the CNSE cleanroom, as well as several fabs for Intel, including Intel’s most recently completed fab in China.

The incredible universe of semiconductor-related resources in Upstate New York made the location choice for GF a slam-dunk, indicates GF’s Bullard. “When people ask us why we are building this facility in upstate New York, our answer is that it revolves around the three ‘Es’: economics, education and ecosystem,” Bullard says.

Regarding the first ‘E’—economics—Bullards notes that “incentives were the biggest piece of the puzzle.”

INCENTIVES LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD

SEDC and New York State gained the upper hand in the AMD site selection competition by tailoring a proposed incentives package to the semiconductor manufacturer’s most critical need: achieving the lowest possible cost per wafer start. SEDC began by interviewing experts in the semiconductor industry and developed a credible cost calculation that enabled the agency to compare the potential cost per wafer start at the Luther Forest site with competing locations in Dresden, Singapore, and Israel.

“We developed a matrix so that we knew the delta between us and those other places,” explains J. Shelby Schneider, director of marketing and economic development specialist at SEDC. “We were able to really help AMD understand that our incentives were based on their industry, so they could work out the kinks and tell us what they needed and what they didn’t need.”

What emerged from this interactive process was a $1.2-billion incentives package—the largest private-public investment in the history of New York State—including $650 million in Empire Zone tax credits for property tax abatement, $500 million in reimbursable cash for construction, and $150 million for research and development earmarked for three facilities in New York (CNSE, Luther Forest Tech Campus, and an R&D facility in East Fishkill, NY).

The importance of the cost per wafer metric was significantly magnified when AMD decided to spin off its global semiconductor manufacturing operations.

“Cost per wafer is a very important metric for us, especially as our manufacturing operations transition from a manufacturing group that was making wafers in-house for AMD to a company that’s a contract manufacturer,” explains GF’s Bullard. “Now we truly are a foundry, so cost is a huge concern for us as a contract manufacturer.”

According to Bullard, the New York team’s willingness to build in flexibility in the disbursement of its incentives was a major competitive advantage for the Luther Forest site in the location selection process.

“Semiconductor manufacturing is a very capital intensive business, and timing is really critical. You have to bring products to market at exactly the right time—if it’s too early or too late you can really cost your whole business,” says Bullard. “We told New York state that [in terms of timing] the new fab precisely to the market, we didn’t know exactly when we can start construction or exactly when we can bring it online. So the state agreed to give us a two-year window, which ran from July 2007 to July 2009, [to initiate the use of the incentives.]”

The state also provided quick approval to transfer the incentive benefits from AMD to GlobalFoundries when the joint venture was formed.

“The incentives package was vital to this project because it leveled the playing field,” SEDC’s Brobston declares. According to the SEDC president, New York state officials realized early on that they needed to put at least $1 billion in incentives on the table in order to compete with other locations, but they also had a good sense of the potentially huge return on their investment.

“They looked at what Dresden had done with the amount of money that was given for the fab there, and the money that Texas threw in for the Samsung semiconductor project,” Brobston says. “They also knew that the [German] state of Saxony had undertaken a study of what the payback would be and determined they would get between $3-4 billion in a short time frame.”

PRESIDENT OBAMA HAILS THE FUTURE

The high-tech hub that straddles the scenic Hudson River in Upstate NY has garnered recognition from the highest levels of the U.S. government as one of the nation’s leading centers of 21st-century research, development and commerce.

President Obama visited Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, NY last fall and hailed the cooperation between business and higher education that is making the region known as Tech Valley a global leader in high technology. Obama was introduced by Vice President Joseph Biden’s wife, Jill, who has been a teacher at community colleges for three decades.

“The ingredients are here for growth and success and a better future,” Obama said. “You are proving that here in Hudson Valley.”

In his speech at HVCC, the president recited a litany of recent joint undertakings between academia and leading high-tech companies:

“Students here are training full time while working part time at GE Energy in Schenectady, becoming a new generation of American leaders in a new generation of American manufacturing,” he said. “IBM has partnered with the University of Albany; their partnership in nanotechnology is helping students train in the industries in which America has the potential to lead. Rensselaer is partnering not only with this institution, but with businesses throughout the Tech Valley. And early next year, Hudson Valley Community College’s TEC-SMART training facility is set to open side-by-side with GlobalFoundries semiconductor plant.”

Obama remembered a quotation from the former U.S. Senator from New York, Robert F. Kennedy:

“The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.”

“We are a people with a seemingly limitless supply of ingenuity and daring and talent,” Obama said. “That is what led to the building of the Erie Canal which helped put cities like Troy on the map, that linked east and west and allowed commerce and competition to flow freely between. That is what led an inventor and shrewd businessman named Thomas Edison to come to Schenectady and open what is today a thriving mom-and-pop operation known as General Electric.”

“We know that Upstate New York can succeed,” Obama concluded. “And we know that in a global economy—where there is no room for error and certainly no room for wasted potential —America needs you to succeed.”

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