MRAM startup has China wafer fab plans

MRAM startup has China wafer fab plans

Business news |
By Peter Clarke

Originally founded in New York state in May 2017, HFC (Albany, New York) now has staff in the US, Taiwan and China and claims to be developing its technology in collaboration with IBM. In some of the recently posted job adverts, the company is described as being focused on “14nm logic, MRAM and other technologies.”

HFC’s website indicates that the company has a perpendicular magnetic tunnel junction (pMTJ) device and describes its spin-torque transfer MRAM as being performance optimized and able to bring storage closer to compute. “The integration of MRAM in CMOS back-end-of-line can be achieved with adding as few as three masks, providing low-cost fabrication,” the website observes.

On the LinkedIn website HFC Semiconductor states it plans, “to build full MRAM production capacity within the next couple of years.” Job adverts elsewhere indicate that HFC Semiconductor has a rapidly expanding R&D centre in Taiwan and is planning to build or acquire a 300mm wafer fab in China.

The center-of-gravity for HFC’s design work appears to be in the United States. Adverts state that HFC has multiple memory circuit and product design positions open for both junior and senior full-time mixed signal circuit designers in its MRAM technology group in New York state.

However, on a Taiwanese job site HFC has posted 35 positions in the last three months. Most of these are for process-related and in-fab positions. For example, the position of senior etch process engineer is described as being responsible for developing a leading-edge FinFET process in Albany, New York, and transferring that process to a “new fab in China for high volume manufacturing.”

Elsewhere the company says it plans to provide an embedded MRAM solution for 55n and below processes. Over two years it says it plans to work with a well-known – but unnamed – industrial institute to develop a 55nm standard memory and use it as vehicle for developing embedded memory technology. In the next five years, the company states it will develop a process somewhere between 20nm and 29nm in which to implement products.

Next: Funding?

There is no indication on any of the public websites where the funds are coming to equip an MRAM-capable wafer fab or for current overheads and for the recruitment drive.

One enabling factor for the formation of HFC may have come from engineers leaving IBM as it disengaged from semiconductors in the middle of the decade. IBM’s 300mm wafer fab at East Fishkill was sold to Globalfoundries Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.) in 2015 who then sold it on to On Semiconductor in April 2019 (see On Semi buys ex-IBM fab from Globalfoundries). IBM, listed as a partner in the HFC project, could also be a source of primary MRAM intellectual property and to have contributed in-kind by way of IP licensing to a semiconductor patent portfolio.

Some of the 33 employees currently listed on LinkedIn joined HFC in that year having previously been employed at IBM. However, Globalfoundries’ decision to cease pursuing leading-edge process development and lay-offs announced in 2018 may also have helped provide a pool of potential employees (see Globalfoundries announces staff cuts). A number of engineers joined HFC in the last few months of 2018 and early in 2019 whose previous employer had been Globalfoundries in Malta, New York.

China is likely to be one of the sources of funding seeking to bring MRAM manufacturing capability into the country. There are wafer fab shells in China that have yet to be equipped as well as municipal authorities who wish to see a wafer fab and semiconductor industry established in their region. It is possible that one of these Chinese local authorities has already partnered with HFC Semiconductor.

eeNews Europe has written to HFC Semiconductor seeking more information about the company, but had received no reply by the time this story was posted.

Related links and articles:

News articles:

Globalfoundries announces staff cuts

On Semi buys ex-IBM fab from Globalfoundries

Analysis: Globalfoundries to stop developing for 7nm

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