CEO interview: SkyWater foundry hits its stride; looks to Europe

January 27, 2021 // By Peter Clarke
CEO interview: SkyWater foundry hits its stride; looks to Europe
Two years after we last conducted an interview with Tom Sonderman, CEO of foundry SkyWater Technology Inc., we find there has been plenty of activity with more on the horizon.

SkyWater provides volume manufacturing, mainly on a 130nm mixed-signal process, as well as process development facilities from its 200mm wafer fab in Bloomington, Minnesota. And like most fabs, SkyWater is seeing strong demand. However, SkyWater's business model is nuanced and it has a particular set of manufacturing processes. "The company divides into technology as a service and wafer services. The wafer services keep costs down for advanced technology services, which keep the margins up for the business as a whole," said Sonderman.

Tom Sonderman, CEO of SkyWater Technology Inc.

In Fall 2019 SkyWater invested $170 million for cleanroom expansion and by July 2020 had moved equipment in. The expansion is partly for a US government backed rad-hard program (see SkyWater funded to expand, develop next rad-hard process). "We brought in a 90nm rad-hard process with dual-damascene copper interconnect. That will provide us with more advanced interconnect capability and additional lithography to help us move from 65nm to 45nm. We are the only pure-play foundry offering 65nm with dual-damascene copper on 200mm-diameter wafers," Sonderman said.

Meanwhile as part of its advanced technology services business the company has moved into carbon nanotube FETs, photonics, MEMS and advanced packaging.

Has the investment resulted in increased capacity? Does SkyWater have extra capacity at this time of high demand for almost all forms of chip manufacturing?

"Yes, but it depends on how you measure it. A 200mm wafer with 30 mask layers takes a lot longer in the fab than a power wafer with just 3 mask layers." SkyWater made an agreement with Steifpower Technology design and manufacture power MOSFETs and IGBTs and related power discrete devices to automotive standards (see Fabless power startup teams with SkyWater for automotive).

Next: More cleanroom

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