Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Investment Company (Atic) has chosen Germany’s M+W Group to start design work for its microchip plant in the emirate.

A source close to the project says both parties are currently working on finalising the contract.

Speaking on 18 May at press briefing Sami Issa, executive director of Abu Dhabi ecosystem development unit, said: “The bid is out, we have chosen, but we haven’t announced who we have chosen yet.”

The cost of building the fabrication plant, or fab, is $6bn. This could be revised at a later date in light of advancements in technology and ensuring it has the flexibility and capacity to meet market demands when it goes online in 2015. 

The facility will be run and managed by Atic subsidiary Globalfoundries, of which Atic currently owns 87 per cent. The investment company is looking to increase its stake to 90 per cent by the end of this year and will continue to increase its ownership stake until it becomes a wholly-owned subsidiary. Globalfoundries already manages eight fabs in Singapore, Dresden and one in New York, which is still under construction.

The German firm is one of the market leaders in clean-room design-and-build projects and has built all of Globalfoundries’ previous facilities, including the New York plant.

As for the civil works, steel erecting, clean-room assembling, equipment installation and utilities contracts, several high-profile engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractors are believed to be interested in bidding.

“The South Koreans will be lining up for this one,” a contracting source says. “Many of the [South Korean EPC contractors] are part of a conglomerate that manufactures electronic goods, so has experience in assembling similar facilities.

“You will also see bidders with good pharmaceutical experience as these facilities are very similar,” he adds.

As well as the South Koreans, many other international EPC contracting companies have experience in the construction of facilities with cleans rooms. This will be a factor and despite it being a subcontract the budgets involved will still be extremely significant.  

“The budget tells you that building this type of plant is not cheap and many will be hoping to secure a first-mover advantage by working on the first plant of its type in the region.”  

EPC contractors believed to be interested in bidding for subcontracting work at the facility include:

  • Chiyoda (Japan)
  • Daewoo Engineering and Construction (South Korea)
  • GS Engineering and Construction (South Korea)
  • JGC Corporation (Japan)
  • Samsung Engineering (South Korea)
  • Samsung Construction & Trading (South Korea)  

Regarding the actual construction of the plant, both M+W Group and the winning EPC contractor will have to be able to flexible to cater for new developments in technology.

Both Atic and Globalfoundries are unsure how advanced the technology will be by the time the Abu Dhabi factory is built and ready to go online so may need to make minor adjustments to ensure the latest technology is included.

Current technology enables chip makers to provide 32 nanometres (nm) of transistors on a single silicon chip. The company anticipates the Abu Dhabi plant to produce silicon chips with 32nm and potentially 28nm of transistors, depending on how advanced the technology becomes. The chips will be used to power devices such as smartphones and laptops.

Globalfoundries plants
Plant Location Capacity (wafers/month)
Fab 1 Dresden, Germany 80,000x300mm
Fab 2 Singapore 50,000x200mm
Fab 3/5 Singapore 54,000x200mm
Fab 3E Singapore 34,000x200mm
Fab 6 Singapore 45,000x200mm
Fab 7 Singapore 50,000x300mm
Fab 8 New York, USA 60,000x300mm
Source Globalfoundries

 “The GDP [gross domestic product] of countries with technological innovation is higher. This is why Mubadala and Atic are investing, we are contributing to the transformation of Abu Dhabi,” says Issa.

Atic is owned by the Abu-Dhabi government through Mubadala. The initiative is part of the government’s plans to diversify its economy away from oil. About $10bn has been invested in Atic and the expansion of Globalfoundries.

The aim is to drive innovation and place Abu Dhabi as the centre for advanced technology in the region. The facility is expected to create up to 2,000 jobs with another 3,000-4,000 jobs created for work outside the facility. Atic has partnered with the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) to establish a series of educational initiatives to develop local talent to meet the human capital needs.

Issa has described the skills shortage in the country as Atic’s most significant challenge.

Atic declined comment on M+W Group’s selection as contractor for the scheme.