The PIC foundries are the enablers of a business sector that promises to become very large, even though it is difficult to quantify at this stage. Their business case must take a long term view, however.
They need to make large investments upfront in developing qualified, high-performance foundry processes. TSMC, the world’s largest microelectronics foundry, proves that foundries can be profitable, but they need large volumes to generate sufficient return on their investments.
In the starting phase of the foundry approach, which may take several years, it will be difficult for the foundries to survive on pure generic foundry business alone. Successful business models may include smaller pure-play foundries through to larger integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) offering a service to external users as is done in the electronic IC sector. The former offers an independence which may be valuable to some customers, while the latter has a proven path to volume production.
As open access foundries serve as a kind of public service infrastructure that supports an important business sector, it is logical that in the starting phase public support is also provided to make the business sufficiently robust through risk sharing and market stimulation. We will discuss this in more detail in the R&D investment roadmap.