Will SUNY Polytechnic Institute continue to support semiconductor R&D in upstate New York? This question hangs over after the resignation and arrest of the university’s CEO last fall, and the disintegration of two high-profile projects.

Last month, AMS withdrew from a $2 billion fab project in upstate New York. That fab was to be built with and leased from the state of New York, with SUNY Polytechnic slated to work with AMS to build, staff and operate the facility.

Groundbreaking SUNY Poly Marcy chip (cr) Figure 1: Groundbreaking for SUNY Poly's Marcy chip fab project  

AMS said in a statement issued last month that it would withdraw from the fab project in Marcy amid delays outside of the company’s control.

Alexander Everke, CEO of AMS, said in the statement that the company’s relationship with the Empire State Development agency—a public-private partnership that has funded many of SUNY Poly’s partnerships with semiconductor companies, including the planned fab in Marcy—remains strong and the company is open to future cooperation opportunities.

“However, this decision was taken after thorough evaluation of the wafer fabrication project and its current status,” Everke said.

Earlier this month, a SUNY Polytechnic faculty member confirmed that a $500 million R&D project with Globalfoundries to accelerate the introduction of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, “never really got off the ground.”

Another SUNY Polytechnic chip project, the Global 450 Consortium, quietly wound down operations recently at the conclusion of its five-year charter after participants concluded that the semiconductor industry is not in immediate need of 450mm wafers.

Choice of leaders

Alain Kaloyeros, the former CEO of SUNY Polytechnic, resigned in October after being charged with rigging state contract bidding. Kaloyeros has reportedly denied any wrongdoing.

The State of New York appointed a new interim leader for SUNY Polytechnic, Bahgat Sammakia, last November. But the departure of Kaloyeros has in some circles cast doubt on SUNY Polytechnic’s commitment to funding semiconductor industry research that has in recent years been seen as a linchpin for drawing semiconductor industry activity to upstate New York.

G. Dan Hutcheson, a veteran semiconductor equipment analyst who is chairman and CEO of VLSI Research, told EE Times in an interview that SUNY Polytechnic’s semiconductor research centre in Albany and nearby support resources are "in jeopardy."

Hutcheson added that the State of New York needs to tap a leader with “unimpeachable” credibility to head SUNY Polytechnic. “Right now it’s rudderless,” Hutcheson said.

Representatives from SUNY Poly refuted Hutcheson's comments and defended the choice of Sammakia as interim president. A spokesman for SUNY Poly said that, in selecting Sammakia, the SUNY Board of Trustees identified the need for the research university to be led by someone “with a deep understanding, experience and reputation in the semiconductor industry, in addition to having significant experience in both the private and public sectors.”

Sammakia was the founding director of the Small Scale Systems Integration and Packing Centre, and is also considered an innovator in the field, the spokesman said. Since being named interim president in November, Sammakia “is already moving the institute in a positive direction through his collaboration with Empire State Development and connections with industry partners,” the spokesman said.

Hutcheson said his concerns apply specifically to SUNY Polytechnic’s campus in Albany and that Globalfoundry’s campus and fabs in upstate New York, as well as the SUNY Polytechnic campus in Marcy, are not affected.

Finding ways

Paul Kelly, associate vice president for consortia and initiatives at SUNY Poly, told EE Times in an interview that the research institute remains committed to the semiconductor industry.

”We want to lay to rest the belief that we are moving away from semiconductors,” Kelly said. “SUNY Poly was built on industrial partnerships in semiconductor R&D. We continue to look for ways to foster new R&D programmes with our partners.”

But Kelly acknowledged that the $500 million Advanced Patterning and Productivity Centre (APPC)—the joint EUV research project with Globalfoundries that was announced last year—“never really got off the ground as announced.”

Instead, Kelly said Globalfoundries decided to continue its EUV development internally. "While SUNY Poly and Globalfoundries continue to enjoy an R&D relationship, but that it was best for Globalfoundries to focus on EUV R&D directly," he said.

A spokeswoman for Globalfoundries confirmed that the APPC never came together as planned.

”We aren't commenting on the specific details of our R&D partnerships, at this time,” the spokeswoman said. “But what I can share, is that we are continuing to drive innovation in EUV lithography to ensure we can take advantage of EUV in manufacturing when it’s ready. We maintain our longstanding collaboration with SUNY Poly at the Albany campus focused on a range of research initiatives.”

Kelly added that SUNY Poly maintains other semiconductor industry related research projects, including participation in the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics), an R&D centre operated with semiconductor equipment supplier Applied Materials.

”Semiconductors will remain a main focus on this site,” Kelly said.

Hutcheson believes the State of New York should consider appointing a retired semiconductor industry executive to head SUNY Polytechnic. “If they get someone that’s really someone unimpeachable, they might be able to pick it back up,” he said.

A spokesman for Empire State Development said the agency would continue to invest in semiconductor industry projects. “We are committed to supporting the semiconductor industry and continue to work closely with major partners like GlobalFoundries, IBM and others, on research and development and manufacturing in New York State,” the spokesman said.

EE Times Europe reportedly recently that it is unknown who the State of New York might find to take over the fab project, which had been tailored to AMS requirements. A spokesperson for Mohawk Valley EDGE told EE Times Europe there is no news on a potential replacement.

First published by EE Times Europe.