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Perspectives For The Future

Tom's Hardware Visits STMicroelectronics In Rennes, France
By , Matthieu Lamelot

Rennes has a promising future. Thanks to its innovations, the site hopes to double its current business volume in five years. STMicroelectronics plans to integrate its technologies for reducing power consumption and increasing chip performance into its high-reliability circuits. The other major future trend is MEMS. The company made a name for itself by building its systems into numerous consumer products, and development is underway to convert the chips for aerospace use. That will take a few more years.

The company’s growth will also require extending its geographic presence and its marketing activities. Rennes is driven largely by the aerospace market, but the chips used in satellites are also popular in the health and petroleum industries. Labs-on-a-Chip (LOCs) for implantation in the human body require reliable components, and drill heads working 20 km underground cost a fortune if they break down. The submarine-cable telecommunications market, which uses repeaters to transmit signals, also requires high-reliability chips in order to limit repairs on difficult-to-access cables.

STMicroelectronics has some presence on these markets, but the challenge in the coming years will be promoting its chips and its expertise to growth industries. The company is also struggling to improve its geographical penetration. The certifications it has are a major advantage, but they’re not always enough to convince certain companies who are wary of “foreigners.” So it needs to work on brand image and international relations.

Finally, the future of the Rennes site might also be tied to diversification of its business activities. STMicroelectronics is looking into the possibility of becoming a service provider, making its expertise and its certifications available to customers that will send their dies to be assembled at the French site. The advantage for the customer is not having to spend five years getting the necessary licenses. We know negotiations with certain partners are in progress, but the names of the players are still unknown.

Rennes Is Immune To Offshoring

We’ll end with an answer to the first question that came to mind as we prepared to write this piece: if the fab’s front end was sent offshore, isn’t there a risk that the back end will be too? The answer is no, and here’s why:

The Rennes site can’t be moved because of the knowledge and skills of its people, who are able to meet the requirements of three rigorous international certifications. Moving the plant without moving its teams couldn’t be done without major investments and without generating delays that remain incompatible with the customers’ needs, Vadrot and Galloy told us. Rennes is special enough that it’s hard to imagine relocating it.

Also, the cost imperatives that lead to offshoring are less pressing, since the Rennes plant’s products have high added value and so are less subject to the pressures of productivity and yield that affect fabs that make consumer-oriented chips. The customers pay for the expertise, the international qualifications, and the assurance that a chip will operate for two decades without the slightest problem. As a further added value, customers also get the data collected during the tests that make each chip fully traceable.

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  • 1 Hide
    Scionyde , June 20, 2014 9:48 AM
    "The poor overall economic picture and pessimistic approach newspapers like to take in speaking of the electronics industry in France would lead you to think that that scenario is utopian at best."

    Maybe I'm missing something obvious, but isn't 'utopian' the exact opposite of the word you were intending to use there?
  • 0 Hide
    vancedecker , June 20, 2014 12:49 PM
    This is really cool. A totally unexpected article in the swamp of cell phone reviews and press releases, on other sites...
  • 1 Hide
    blackmagnum , June 21, 2014 3:46 AM
    Vive la France !
  • 0 Hide
    army_ant7 , June 21, 2014 11:45 PM
    I'm thinking that "utopian" was used in a way to mean something highly unachievable, unlikely, or unfeasible. I'm not sure how that would apply though and I can't speak for the author. I'm not sure if this helps explain that...
  • 1 Hide
    jasonelmore , June 22, 2014 12:31 AM
    well written article. Keep more content like this coming.
  • 0 Hide
    vaughn2k , June 22, 2014 10:54 PM
    "Once the die is mounted in its case, the wires must be soldered to connect the chip and the pins. This operation can seem archaic compared with the processors used in PCs or smartphones, whose dies are connected via direct contact with bumps on their epoxy carriers." - The wire is not soldered to the pins but welded using an ultrasonic force + power - or Ultrasonic wirebonding. The head of the tool where the wire (either it is an Al or Au wire) comes out, generates this combination of ulrasonic energy to be able to connect the die pad and pins. If an Au wire is used, the process adds a thermal property, which is also called thermosonic bonding. CPU and smart phone chips (and virtually all chips) uses the same process. However, most assembly uses Au wire or Cu wire, instead of Al wire. Another process that is used o intorconnect chips to substrate is called flip-chip bonding, or soldering or ILB (inner lead bonding), and then going into the process of underfilling, to protect these interconnects.
  • 0 Hide
    vaughn2k , June 22, 2014 11:02 PM
    "The testing also checks for the presence of particles inside the packages" - It is called PIND test (Particle Impact Noise Detection). It is in MIL-STD 883E method 2020.8 -- ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    vaughn2k , June 23, 2014 1:11 AM
    damn this refesh button..... :(  sorry for the double post..
  • 0 Hide
    WyomingKnott , June 23, 2014 6:51 AM
    What double-post? I don't see one.

    More practically, you should be able to delete your own post by going to the forum version of the comments. Click on the blue icon with quotation marks, full-edit the duplicate post, and there should be a delete button.
  • 0 Hide
    gotrek , June 23, 2014 6:57 AM
    Hey, and what about Goodram? Isn't it the last european based manufacturer of ram, flash, ssd etc? Can you please make a small trip there as well?