Saratoga County

Semiconductors to keep changing world, leader says

GlobalFoundries' Fab 8 executive delivers lecture
Thomas Caulfield, General manager at Globalfoundries' Fab 8, speaks
Thomas Caulfield, General manager at Globalfoundries' Fab 8, speaks

When the semiconductor industry has evolved from the transistor radio of 50 years ago to the the ubiquitous smart phone that puts the world’s knowledge at one’s fingertips, it’s not hard to argue that the industry has changed the world.

Semiconductors — the microscopically small electrical circuits inside computers — are going to keep changing the world in ways that can’t yet even be imagined, said Thomas Caulfield, GlobalFoundries senior vice president and general manager of Fab 8.

“How many people have heard of the internet of things? It’s about putting smart technology in about every device you can imagine,” Caulfield said Monday evening at Skidmore College. “The only thing that limits this is my imagination, to think of things that can be done.”

Caulfield delivered the 33rd annual F. William Harder Lecture in Business Administration in the college’s Gannett Auditorium. He highlighted the work being done at the GlobalFoundries plant in Malta, one of just a handful of places in the world where the most powerful computer chips are being built. The lecture series brings business leaders to campus to discuss the challenges of changing business environments.

With 7-nanometer circuits now being put on chips at Fab 8, Caulfield said the industry again is confronting whether there are limits to Moore’s law — the principle first stated by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 that the number of circuits that can be fitted onto a computer chip can be doubled every two years.

“The semiconductor industry is at  crossroads,” Caulfield said. “Moore’s Law is being challenged by complexity. And that’s being done 12 miles away from here.”

Fab 8, where more than $12 billion has been invested, produced its first commercial chips in 2012. It has about 3,000 employees in Malta, making chips that go into products built by such major computer and electronics companies as AMD, Samsung and Apple. There is the likelihood of more job growth in the future. “Clearly the technologies we will be adding down the road will lead to job growth,” Caulfield said.

At 7-nanometers — a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter — Caulfield said 10 million circuits can be fitted onto a surface the width of a human hair. There are billions of circuits on a modern computer chip.

As the chip-making process has become more complex and costly, he said the number of chip makers has shrunk since the year 2000 from about 15 to just four large companiesr: Intel, Samsung, Taiwan Semiconductor and GlobalFoundries. GlobalFoundries shortly after its 2009 founding bought Chartered Semiconductor in Singapore and then in 2012 bought IBM’s two chip-making plants, building the scale to manufacture efficiently, Caulfield said.

He said GlobalFoundries spends $1 billion per year on research and development, and that diversity and a world-wide research network are important parts of achieving new technologies. GlobalFoundries has researchers in India working on problems while their counterparts in the United States are sleeping, he noted.

“This happens every 10 years or so in the industry. We think we’ve outlived Moore’s Law, but we always find ways to innovate beyond it,” Caulfield told an audience of students, facultyand local business leaders. “When you hire talent, you’re hiring it for critical thinking and problem-solving.”

Diversity is essential to the process, he said. About 140 different cultures are represented within Fab 8’s workforce.

“You need cultural diversity, you need gender diversity, you need experiential diversity,” Caulfield said. “It’s about perspective, bringing a variety of perspectives to a problem. A variety of perspectives challenges conformity in decision-making.”

During a question-and-answer period after the lecture, Caulfield acknowledged that GlobalFoundries and the semiconductor industry generally need to do a better job of recruiting and integrating women into scientific and engineering roles. Women hold only about 17 percent of those jobs in the industry, a statistic Caulfield said is reflected at Fab 8.

The lecture was co-sponsored by the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, one of Saratoga County’s business development organizations.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Categories: Business, News, Schenectady County

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