Since creating its Custom Foundry division around two years ago, Intel, the world's biggest maker of semiconductors, has kept developments at the site a closely-guarded secret. This sense of secrecy has, in fact, been extended to the firm's future plans as well as details of some of the firm's clients.
The official line from Intel is that it is merely learning how to make chips for other companies and according to the firm, the Custom Foundry division represents a long-term growth opportunity.
"We formed Intel Custom Foundry a couple of years ago," explained Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for Intel. "This is a nascent program that we are taking a slow and deliberate approach to building. We believe we have world-class manufacturing capabilities that have served us well over the years. Given that expertise we believe we there could be an opportunity for future growth for Intel."
Intel, as the biggest chipmaker, is under intense pressure to maintain its market dominance and therefore invests huge sums every year into research and development of new manufacturing processes. Similarly, the firm also commits a significant amount of time and money into building new manufacturing facilities. And this competitive edge is exacerbated by the fact that every new technology node costs more than the previous one.
But in order to maximize utilization of production facilities, Intel is compelled to make chips for other firms. The firm, though, despite its worldwide reputation and resources, does not boast experience in running a foundry business. It is, therefore, currently restricted to having to learn the features it must acquire to become a market leader in this area.
“We also understand that running a foundry business is can be quite different than being an integrated device manufacturer," Mr Mulloy conceded. "So we are taking a slow and steady approach to ensure that we can serve our foundry customers while taking advantage of our world class manufacturing processes."
Intel has confirmed that it currently has two foundry customers, Achronix and Tabula, though it claims to be working with other firms. "We have other agreements," Mr Mulloy said, adding that those customers have elected not to make themselves public.
The question remains, though, whether Intel's foundry business has a medium or long-term future?