Infineon joins AMD, UMC chip development project

Infineon Technologies AG has jumped on board a semiconductor manufacturing process development project formed earlier this year by Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) and Taiwan’s United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC), the three said today.

Infineon of Munich, Germany, will take part in the development of advanced chip production technology, a project that is part of a larger agreement between AMD and contract chip maker UMC to jointly construct a semiconductor wafer fabrication plant (fab) in Singapore. In addition to Infineon’s participation, the three announced further details of the development work, which they had previously said would focus on 65 nanometer semiconductor production technology. The companies now say they will work on both 65 nanometer and 45 nanometer technology.

The dimension represents the width of the thinnest track that can be etched onto a wafer surface; a smaller number means a more advanced technology. As the minimum track width falls, engineers are able to cram more circuits into a given space, or reduce the size of chips leading to smaller, more powerful and energy-efficient semiconductors.

Each company will provide engineers and know-how to the project, which aims to produce a common platform which each of the three companies can customize. For AMD and UMC, some of the fruits of the work will be used in their Singapore venture, AU Pte. Ltd., which is expected to begin commercial production at 65 nanometer in 2005.

Work between UMC and AMD has already begun at UMC’s fab in Hsinchu, Taiwan, and will later move to Singapore. The addition of Infineon, which will contribute about 40 engineers, is expected to accelerate the development of the production technology, said Alex Hinnawi, a spokesperson for UMC in Hsinchu.

The news comes on the heels of a May announcement by Infineon that it will work with rival Taiwanese chip maker Nanya Technology Corp. on development of 90 nanometer and 70 nanometer production technology and may jointly build a wafer fab with Nanya. That deal, which is due to begin in October, remains in place and is not affected by the new agreement with UMC for a more advanced production process, said Kaye Lim, a spokesperson for Infineon in Singapore.

“Our relationship with UMC is long-standing,” said Lim. “UMC has a relationship with AMD so I think this goes beyond technology. UMC works with a lot of partners and that synergy is important. They are already sending engineers from each company to work together and there are a lot of benefits.”

In the past, Infineon worked on a three-way project with UMC and IBM Corp. that looked at 130 nanometer and 100 nanometer production technology and more recently has collaborated with UMC on the construction of a wafer fab in Singapore, UMCi Corp. The fab, which is still under construction, is expected to be ready for equipment installation in January next year with small-scale production beginning in the fourth quarter of 2003.

In working together on chip production technologies, the three companies are far from alone. The increasing cost of developing production technology, especially as researchers approach smaller geometries, has driven almost all chip makers into ventures.

Earlier this year, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), Motorola Inc., Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV and ST Microelectronics NV said they would jointly develop a 90 nanometer production technology and in Japan the government chipped