Intel officially confirmed on February 15 that it will acquire Israeli foundry Tower Semiconductor for nearly US$6 billion, and the deal will likely contribute to the growth of Intel’s foundry business if it reaches a successful conclusion, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Tower was 9th place in the global ranking of foundries by revenue for 4Q21 and operates a total of seven production sites across Israel, the US, and Japan. Tower’s foundry capacity in 12-inch wafer equivalents accounts for about 3% of the global total. The majority share of Tower’s foundry capacity is for 8-inch wafers, and Tower’s share of the global 8-inch wafer foundry capacity is around 6.2%. Regarding manufacturing process platforms, Tower offers nodes ranging from 0.8µm to 65nm. It has a diverse range of specialty process technologies for manufacturing products in relatively small quantities. Products that Tower has been contracted to manufacture are mostly RF-SOI components, PMICs, CMOS sensors, discretes, etc. As such, the Tower acquisition is expected to help Intel expand its presence in the smartphone, industrial equipment, and automotive electronics markets.
Although Intel undertook a series of business strategies to compete with TSMC and Samsung, IFS (Intel Foundry Services) has historically manufactured with platform technologies for processors such as CPUs and GPUs. Furthermore, competition still persists between Intel and certain foundry clients that require advanced processes below the 10nm node, such as AMD and Nvidia, which have long histories of developing server products, PC CPUs, GPUs, or other HPC-related chips. Intel’s preexisting competitive relationship with these companies may become a barrier to IFS’ future expansion because IFS will be relatively unlikely to attract them as customers.
Taking the aforementioned factors into account, TrendForce believes that the Tower acquisition will likely expand IFS’ business presence in the foundry industry through two considerations. First of all, the acquisition will help Intel both diversify its mature process technologies and expand its clientele. Thanks to advancements in communication technologies and an increase in demand for new energy vehicles, there has been a recent surge in demand for RF-SOI components and PMICs. Tower’s long-term focus on the diverse mature process technologies used to manufacture these products means it also possesses a long-term collaborative relationship with clients in such markets. By acquiring Tower, Intel is therefore able to address IFS’ limited foundry capabilities and limited clientele. The second consideration pertains to the indigenization of semiconductor manufacturing and supply allocations, which have become increasingly important issues in light of current geopolitical situations. As Tower operates fabs in Asia, EMEA, and North America, the acquisition is in line with Intel’s current strategic aim to reduce the disproportionate concentration of the foundry industry’s supply chain in Asia. As well, Intel holds long-term investments and operates fabs in both the US and Israel, so the Tower acquisition will give Intel more flexibility in allocating production capacities, thereby further mitigating risks of potential supply chain disruptions arising from geopolitical conflicts.
In addition to the aforementioned synergy derived from acquiring Tower, it should also be pointed out that Intel is set to welcome an upcoming partnership with Nuvoton. Tower’s three Japan-based fabs were previously operated under TowerJazz Panasonic Semiconductor, a joint venture created by Tower and Panasonic in 2014, with Tower and Panasonic each possessing 51% and 49% ownership, respectively. After Nuvoton acquired PSCS (Panasonic Semiconductor Solutions Co.) in 2020, Panasonic’s 49% ownership of the three fabs was subsequently transferred to Nuvoton. Following Intel’s Tower acquisition, Intel will now possess the 51% majority ownership of the fabs and jointly operate their production lines for industrial MCUs, automotive MCUs, and PMICs along with Nuvoton. Notably, these production lines also span the range of CIS, MCU, and MOSFET technologies previously developed by Panasonic.
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