Three Japanese chipmakers mulling scaled-down joint foundry

By Paula Doe, Contributing Editor

Hitachi, Toshiba, and Renesas have agreed to move forward with planning a considerably scaled-down version of the long rumored joint Japanese foundry. The three will put up some $860,000 (100 million yen) to fund a planning organization in January, and are considering putting a line into an existing Toshiba or Renesas fab to limit investment to about $860 million (100 billion yen). The partners would all use the line to produce their system chips.

The project got a push from the imminent departure of a key promoter, Hitachi president Etsuhiko Shoyama, noted SST partner Nikkei Microdevices online. “I want to have a decision [on the joint foundry project] before I leave to become chairman,” Shoyama told the press on the announcement of his stepping back from operations to the board position.

The initial participants will continue to try to recruit other chipmakers to join in, but there seems to be a remarkable lack of enthusiasm among most of the rest of the big Japanese companies — and they still have yet to work out all the controversial details on costs and technologies. Also notably missing from the limited version of the project is any support from the government, which had been one of the main promoters of sharing the investment burden to give a boost to Japan’s chip industry.

This version of a jointly owned independent foundry, instead of a shared joint fab, also means the partnership would sell its product on the open market in direct competition with the established foundries on cost and turnaround time. Starting up a new 65nm line, as seems the most likely technology choice, would put the new venture into direct competition with TSMC, which is already in pilot production of that technology. Indeed, Nikkei Microdevices suggested, this drastically reduced plan is actually a signal that the Japanese foundry idea is dead. — P.D.


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