Intel is planning a massive expansion to its D1X research and manufacturing site in Oregon as it sets the pieces in the place for a transition to 7-nanometer production. The project is expected to take at least 18 months and cost billions of dollars, and represents a long term outlook for a market that Intel estimates is worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
"We are now competing to win in an estimated $300 billion total addressable market for silicon—making a more diverse array of products at ever-higher volumes for a broader set of customers. Intel is not just the CPU inside your personal computer," Intel stated last month when announcing plans to expand its D1X facility
Intel said it is transforming from a PC-centric company to a data-centric company, the latter of which takes into account a broader market. It still intends to churn out chips for personal computers, but is also cranking out silicon to power intelligence in the cloud, wireless connections in smartphones, safety features in automobiles, and so forth.
"With the biggest market opportunity in Intel’s history ahead of us, we will take the necessary steps to prepare our global manufacturing network for flexibility and responsiveness to changes in demand...Having additional fab space at-the-ready will help us respond more quickly to upticks in the market and enables us to reduce our time to increased supply by up to roughly 60 percent," Intel said.
Intel's DX1 factory is already a massive site, spanning 2.2 million square feet. It currently consists of two adjoining sections, along with several support buildings, among them a seven-story office building adjacent to the fab. This next phase is expected to be around 1.1 million square feet, roughly the size of the first two phases.
"Having that big anchor company locally, where they do their highest and most productive [research]…is hugely beneficial for our region,” Josh Lehner with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis toid Oregon Live.
D1X is where Intel conducts its most advanced research and develops new chip technologies. It's also an exceptionally clean facility, as is required for these kinds of fabs. According to Intel, the inside of a fab is "cleaner than about any other place you can visit on Earth," even hospitals. To avoid contaminating chips, the air in an Intel fab clean room is "filtered to 1,000 times fewer airborne particles than a sterile hospital operating room," the chip maker says.
The expansion of its D1X site will in large part be to accommodate new and expensive equipment for its extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) manufacturing technology. These are large tools (about that size of a bus) that cost $120 million each, and they are key to transitioning production to 7nm without the same hiccups that have plagued Intel's 10nm volume roll out.
Interestingly, Intel is making this significant investment without a permanent CEO in place. Former CEO Brian Krzanich resigned last June after admitting to a "past consensual relationship" with an employee, which violated the company's non-fraternization policy.
However, it's possible that Intel will announce a new CEO later this week when the company posts its earnings report for 2018.