November 8, 2007 – Sony plans to withdraw from its basic R&D project with IBM and Toshiba targeting 32nm and below semiconductor manufacturing, and will cancel all capital investments in production of 45nm and later Cell chips, according to the Nikkei daily.
The project, which began in late 2005 and is slated to end in 2010, involves work at IBM’s facility in East Fishkill, NY; Sony is currently negotiating exactly when its engineers will leave the IBM camp, according to the report. IBM and Toshiba are expected to continue with the joint venture.
Instead of pursuing sub-45nm work, Sony is moving to strengthen its work in CCD and CMOS image sensors, including a 60B-yen (US $500M) investment to expand output at a facility in Kikuyo, Kumamoto Prefecture.
Sony previously said (April 2007) that it would not continue joint 45nm work with technology partners NEC and Toshiba, after a yearlong project to codevelop 45nm LSI mass-production platform.
In an interview with the Nikkei Business Daily, Sony executive deputy president Yutaka Nakagawa explained that the move is part of Sony’s “asset light” strategy to end chip manufacturing investments after the 65nm node. The increased number of chips produced at 45nm would be offset by the fact that Sony’s PlayStation3 gaming platform doesn’t need that many chips, and the comparatively tiny demand for non-PlayStation applications (e.g., home electronics) would require Cell redesigns for each new use, he noted.
Instead, the company is shifting its chip focus from manufacturing to design. “We plan to minimize the investment that is required to make packaged IC chips smaller,” Nakagawa said. “Manufacturing cutting-edge packaged IC chips is not considered as important as it once was. The most important thing is what type of chip a company decides to produce, so we will increase the number of designers depending on the chip’s purpose. The fact that we will stop operating an advanced chip plant does not mean that we are downgrading the importance of the chip business.”
Sony is also shifting resources to non-CMOS chip areas. “About 100 employees who worked on designing the Cell and other advanced microprocessors have already been reassigned to divisions where manufacturing technologies for image sensors and analog IC chips are being developed,” he told the paper.