TI's RFAB Exceeds Expectations and Inspires a Company
Ten years ago Paul Westbrook climbed out on a limb and brought in a group of broad thinkers in the field of energy and resources to work with Texas Instruments' experts on their next generation microchip manufacturing facility. The facility this team inspired was built in Richardson, TX back in 2006, and has been extensively covered by the media both within the semiconductor industry and by national outlets, most notably by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times article A green dream come true in Texas. We recently reconnected with Paul while developing the research behind The 3% Solution: Driving Profits Through Carbon Reduction for WWF and CDP. He related to us a story of a company invigorated by an iconic project that has also made TI into maybe the best case study of how smart, profitable and ambitious a corporate resource efficiency program can be.
Before its commissioning the design models for the Richardson Fabrication plant (RFAB) suggested that the facility should use about 20 percent less energy per "pattern" than TI's last built and previously best facility called DMOS6. Data collected from the first two years of production at RFAB show a 26 percent reduction compared to DMOS6, but this is really only the beginning of the story.
For those unfamiliar with the original media stories, a key challenge for the design team was to cut RFAB's building and energy systems' construction cost by 30 percent to be globally competitive. The special tools that make microchips would cost the same wherever they were installed but the building and support systems of a traditional design could be built for less outside the U.S. The energy savings that have been demonstrated at RFAB were accomplished with significantly lower capital cost through better design—a process we call Whole-Systems Design—and not with expensive new technologies. Paul said that they never "had to extend into technical risk" on RFAB and had only to better integrate well-known systems to deliver significant savings.
The improvements in RFAB were concentrated on the building systems leaving a large overhang of opportunity in the manufacturing tools that consume over half the energy in traditional microchip fabrication. TI has not let that opportunity sit idle; during the RFAB project they discovered that vacuum pumps selected and installed by sub-vendors to the tool companies were driving almost 20 percent of their total energy consumption. Better vacuum pumps and system designs are readily available but there was no incentive for vendors to see that these were part of the tool design (vendors don't typically pay facility energy bills). Working with an industry consortium TI was able to establish standards that drove improvements down to the sub-vendors for new tools and also implemented an internal retrofit program of their operating tools.
After the initial success of the RFAB project, and the media attention, TI employees took notice. Paul began to receive calls from folks around the company with ideas and asking how they could help. An informal ambassador program grew organically. The company established a separate funding process for energy retrofit projects, these previously were buried within overall capital budgets and usually unrecognized. Paul described it like a release of "pent up demand" where managers all over the company were able to implement project ideas that had languished.
The results of all this activity are impressive. From 2005 to 2010 TI cut its global energy consumption per chip an astounding 44 percent. It has since built two more facilities in the same vein as RFAB and now operates 2 million square feet of buildings certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard.
These successes have built confidence within the company to do much more. They have set a 2015 target for 45 percent reduction against the 2005 baseline, including the acquisition of 4 existing facilities bought for pennies on the dollar during the global financial crises. TI is confident that the techniques and capabilities it's developed since the RFAB project will allow it to retrofit these new facilities to their new global standard in only a few years.
Paul says "efficiency is still king" within TI. The current retrofit program is averaging 2.2 year payback on investments, a level very difficult for onsite renewables to compete. When employees come to him with ideas for solar panels he asks them show that they've really exhausted their efficiency opportunities. He also points out that volatility in energy prices across operating regions has the effect of keeping the program alive; though natural gas prices have fallen in the U.S. they have stayed high in Europe and electricity costs are rising in developing countries. TI has shown us what is possible when a company has the courage to "create an environment for step change"—and then follows through.
A history of RFAB, design overview, site features and related awards and recognitions are available in a summary fact sheet.
A more in-depth look into RFAB’s sustainable features, related costs savings, community impact and lessons learned are available in an overview presentation.