A group of chip makers led by IBM has agreed to jointly develop 32nm (nanometre) semiconductor production technology, a sign that the alliance will continue to move forward.

Research alliances in the chip industry suffered a blow earlier this year when NXP Semiconductors, one of Europe's largest chip makers, decided to drop out of a group that it had been part of since 2000 known as the Crolles Alliance. The announcement left other alliance members, including Freescale Semiconductor and STMicroelectronics, in a bind. Their partnership will dissolve after completing its work on 45nm production technology. NXP plans to work more closely with its contract manufacturing partner, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing.

Freescale quickly moved in with the IBM group, a vote of confidence for its collaboration, which also includes Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing, Infineon Technologies and Samsung.

Such chip alliances were originally formed because companies were concerned about the rising cost of chip development.

The announcement by the IBM-led group reaffirms the commitment by its members to stay the course together. The partners will pool their combined expertise and R&D prowess to design, develop and manufacture advanced technology chips through 2010, they said in a statement. The alliance started out by working on 90nm, then moved on to 65nm and cutting-edge 45nm. The latest agreement is for 32nm chip production technology.

The nanometre term describes the size of the smallest feature that can be manufactured on a single chip. There are about three to six atoms in a nanometre, depending on the type of atom, and there are a billion nanometres in a metre. Reducing the size of the features on a chip enables companies to create smaller, more energy-efficient and powerful chips.

Members of the alliance noted in a statement that the 32nm technology will pose a major challenge to chip makers, a key reason for continuing to work together with partners instead of going it alone.

Three members of the group, IBM, Chartered and Samsung, will use the jointly developed 32nm process technology and design kits to align their factories so that any of the three could manufacture chips made to the specifications of the group's 32nm process.

All development activities for 32nm technology will be done at IBM's 12in (300mm) chip factory in East Fishkill, New York.