Semiconductors


2022-01-14

Heterogeneous Integration Expected to Become Key Part of Packaging Technology Thanks to Development from EDA Companies

Although current semiconductor process technologies have evolved to the 3nm and 5nm nodes, SoC (system on a chip) architecture has yet to be manufactured at these nodes, as memory and RF front-end chiplets are yet to reach sufficient advancements in transistor gate length and data transmission performance. Fortunately, EDA companies are now attempting to leverage heterogeneous integration packaging technologies to link the upstream and downstream semiconductor supply chains as well as various IP cores. Thanks to this effort, advanced packaging technologies, including 2.5D/3D IC and SiP, will likely continue to push the limits of Moore’s Law.

While SoC development has encountered bottlenecks, EDA tools are the key to heterogeneous integration packaging

As semiconductor process technologies continue to evolve, the gate length of transistors have also progressed from μm (micrometer) nodes to nm (nanometer) nodes. However, the more advanced process technologies are not suited for manufacturing all semiconductor components, meaning the development of SoC architectures has been limited as a result. For instance, due to physical limitations, memory products such as DRAM and SRAM are mostly manufactured at the 16nm node at the moment. In addition, RF front-end chiplets, such as modems, PA (power amplifiers), and LNA (low noise amplifiers) are also primarily manufactured at the 16nm node or other μm nodes in consideration of their required stability with respect to signal reception/transmission.

On the whole, the aforementioned memory, and other semiconductor components cannot be easily manufactured with the same process technologies as those used for high-end processors (which are manufactured at the 5nm and 3nm nodes, among others). Hence, as the current crop of SoCs is not yet manufactured with advanced processes, EDA companies including Cadence, Synopsys, and Siemens (formerly Mentor) have released their own heterogeneous integration packaging technologies, such as 2.5D/3D IC and SiP (system in package), in order to address the demand for high-end AI, SoC architecture, HPC (high performance computing), and optical communication applications.

EDA companies drive forward heterogeneous integration packaging as core packaging architecture and integrate upstream/downstream supply chain

Although the current crop of high-end semiconductor process technologies is still incapable of integrating such components as memory, RF front-end, and processors through an SoC architecture, as EDA companies continue to adopt heterogeneous integration packaging technology, advanced packaging technologies, including 2.5D/3D IC and SiP, will likely extend the developmental limitations of Moore’s Law.

Information presented during Semicon Taiwan 2021 shows that EDA companies are basing their heterogeneous integration strategies mainly on the connection between upstream and downstream parts of the semiconductor supply chain, in addition to meeting their goals through chip packaging architectures. At the moment, significant breakthroughs in packaging technology design and architecture remain unfeasible through architectural improvements exclusively. Instead, companies must integrate their upstream chip design and power output with downstream substrate signal transmission and heat dissipation, as well as other factors such as system software and use case planning. Only by integrating the above factors and performing the necessary data analysis can EDA companies gradually evolve towards an optimal packaging architecture and in turn bridge the gap of SoC architectures.

With regards to automobiles (including ICE vehicles and EVs), their autonomous driving systems, electronic systems, and infotainment systems require numerous and diverse semiconductor key components that range from high-end computing chips to mid-range and entry-level MCUs. As such, automotive chip design companies must carefully evaluate their entire supply chain in designing automotive chip packages, from upstream manufacturers to downstream suppliers of substrates and system software, while also keeping a holistic perspective of various use cases. Only by taking these factors into account will chip design companies be able to respond the demands of the market with the appropriate package architectures.

(Image credit: Pexels)

2022-01-10

Impact of Components Shortage on Whole Device Shipments Continues, PCs and Notebooks Least Affected, Says TrendForce

Driven by forces such as the pandemic, geopolitics, and the digital transformation of everyday life, there has been a shortage of global foundry production capacity for nearly two years and shortages have been especially severe for mature 1Xnm~180nm nodes, according to TrendForce’s investigations. Although all foundries are furiously increasing capital expenditures to expand capacity, unrealized future expansion does not ease existing supply issues. In addition, the uneven distribution of supply chain resources that has exacerbated the shortage of parts and components has yet to be definitively alleviated. Circumstances as a whole will continue affecting shipments of related whole devices. Only the PC category is expected to emerge largely unscathed in 1Q22.

Moving into 1Q22, TrendForce states, due to the limited increase in production capacity, the market’s supply situation is expected to be approximately the same as in 4Q21. However, some end products have entered their traditional off-season cycle and the slowdown in demand momentum is expected to alleviate the immediate pressure on OEMs and ODMs regarding supply chain stocking.

In terms of the whole servers, the FPGA delivery cycle is currently at over 50 weeks at most, while the delivery cycle of Lan chips has improved significantly, from the original 50+ weeks to approximately 40 weeks. However, escalating purchase order activity caused by the uncertainty of the pandemic combined with an accumulated backlog of demand (Back order/backlog) have pushed the SMT capacity of ODMs to full load in general. The aforementioned phenomenon have not only accelerated the consumption of ICs such as FPGA and PMIC, but the demand for additional purchase orders of FPGA, PMIC and MOSFET is still compelling. The overall market remains tight and the production of server motherboards in the future may face hidden issues. TrendForce has ascertained a more crucial matter. Taking the L6 server as an example, its production scale in 1Q22 will be roughly the same as the previous quarter. However, whole server shipments will show a seasonal decline with a decrease of approximately 8% QoQ.

In terms of mobile phones, material shortages have gradually eased from the second half of 2021 partly due to the discretionary adjustment of mobile phone specifications. Mobile phone brands can adjust their specifications and configurations based on available materials. Currently, the supply of four components remains relatively tight. Among them, 4G SoC (30-40 weeks) and OLED DDIC/Touch IC (20-22 weeks) have a significant impact on the market. The former will affect brands that focus on selling 4G mobile phones. The latter is affected by oligopolistic market structure and the adjustment of foundry capacity. Thus, there are rumblings of insufficient supply. Though the supply of the remaining two items, PMIC and A+G Sensor, remains tight, material shortage risk can be largely mitigated through alternative material replacements or the adjustment of specifications and configurations. In terms of production, the 1Q22 supply chain will essentially carry on its performance from the previous quarter. However, due to disappointing holiday demand at the end of 2021, mobile phone brands must adjust the distributed inventory level of finished products in a timely manner. Combined with uncertainty caused by disruptions stemming from a winter-time pandemic, 1Q22 production performance is estimated to fall by approximately 13% QoQ.

In terms of PCs and laptops, starting from November 2021, material shortages have been partially alleviated. Therefore, the shipment volume of PC ODMs in 4Q21 has been revised upwards. Compared with mobile phones and whole servers, the impact of under/oversupply of materials on end PCs and notebooks is relatively minor. Except for the SSD PCIe 3.0 controller, current tightness exhibited in component supply is due to delays in the transition of Intel’s new platform. This temporary shortfall has led to a delivery cycle of approximately 8-12 weeks while any tightness in the supply of Type C IC, WiFi, and PMIC is gradually abating. TrendForce expects that, as overall supply chain stability recuperates, notebook shipments from ODM brands in 1Q22 will only decrease by 5.1% QoQ. However, if the component shortage factor is discounted, subsequent sales originating from various distribution channels will be another major variable TrendForce must consider.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

2022-01-05

Fire at ASML’s Berlin Plant May Impact EUV Optical Component Supply, Says TrendForce

A fire occurred at ASML’s factory in Berlin, Germany on January 3, according to TrendForce’s investigations. ASML is the largest supplier of key equipment (including EUV and DUV) required for foundry and memory production. According to TrendForce’s preliminary inquiry, approximately 200m2 out of a factory floor covering 32,000m2 was affected by the fire. This factory primarily manufactures optical components used in lithography systems such as wafer tables, reticle chucks, and mirror blocks. Reticle chucks used for affixing photomasks are in short supply. Currently, the majority of components produced at this factory go towards supplying EUV machines while the lion’s share of demand for these products come from foundries. If the fire delays component delivery, it cannot be ruled out that ASML will prioritize the allocation of output towards fulfilling foundry orders.

Lead time for this exclusive supply of key EUV machines has been long and may affect the timeframe of advanced manufacturing process transition  

In terms of foundries, EUV is primarily used in advanced manufacturing processes smaller than the 7nm node. Currently, the only companies in the world using this equipment for manufacturing are TSMC and Samsung including TSMC’s 7nm, 5nm, 3nm nodes, Samsung’s EUV Line (7nm, 5nm and 4nm) built in Hwaseong, South Korea, and 3nm GAA node. However, due to factors such as the shortage of global foundry production capacity and the active expansion of manufacturing, semiconductor equipment lead times are also stretching further into the future.

In terms of DRAM, Samsung and SK Hynix are already using EUV in their 1Znm and 1alpha nm processes, while US manufacturer Micron is expected to introduce EUV to their 1gamma nm process in 2024. According to TrendForce’s current information, the lead time on ASML EUV equipment is approximately 12 to 18 months. Due to this long equipment lead time, ASML is at liberty to wait for the completion of replace components for those lost in the fire during the time necessary for equipment assembly.

Overall, the ASML Berlin factory fire will have a greater impact on the manufacturing of EUV lithography equipment when it comes to foundries and memory. According to TrendForce’s information, it cannot be ruled out that ASML will obtain necessary components from other factory campuses. In addition, the current lead time for EUV equipment is quite long. Therefore, the actual impact on EUV supply remains to be seen.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

2022-01-04

Latest Assessment of Jan. 3 Earthquake in Taiwan Finds No Significant Impact on Local DRAM and Foundry Fabs, Says TrendForce

An earthquake that was around magnitude 6.0 on the Richter scale occurred off the east coast of Taiwan at 5:46PM local time on January 3, 2022. As most local DRAM and foundry fabs are located in the northern and central parts of the island, TrendForce’s latest investigations reveal no notable damages to the equipment from the fabs. Therefore, the production side is expected to continue normal operation, and the actual impact of the earthquake on the output of Taiwan’s DRAM and foundry industries will likely be limited. Taiwan’s memory fabs, including those operated by MTTW, Nanya, and other smaller semiconductor companies, collectively account for about 21% of the global DRAM production capacity. In the foundry industry, Taiwan’s fabs, including those operated by TSMC, UMC, Vanguard, PSMC, etc., together make up as much as 51% of the global production capacity.

Regarding the current state of the DRAM market, it is in midst of the conventional off-season. However, the recent easing of component gaps in the supply chain is generating some stock-up activities in different application segments and thus bolstering the overall demand. The headwinds of the off-season are not as strong as usual. Also, there are now concerns brewing in the wider memory market about the supply side being affected by the COVID-19 lockdown in the Chinese city of Xi’an. Consequently, memory spot prices have been registering daily hikes lately. It is worth noting that increases in DRAM spot prices have been more significant than the increases in NAND Flash spot prices. Regarding DRAM contract prices, TrendForce for now maintains its original forecast of QoQ drops in the 8-13% range for 1Q22. However, the latest earthquake that struck Taiwan could affect DRAM buyers’ behavior at any time. How contract prices will actually end up is something that requires further observation. As for DRAM spot trading, the memory spot market of Mainland China was still in midst of the year-end holiday on January 3. Hence, spot traders were passive for the most part. TrendForce will continue monitoring the spot market to see if the earthquake is going to be a positive driver going forward.

Turning to the current state of the foundry market, the chip demand related to some categories of end products has slowed down a bit recently because of seasonality. However, demand remains quite strong for chips that were previously in short supply, such as PMIC, Wi-Fi SoC, etc. Foundry fabs on the whole are still operating with a fully loaded capacity because demand continues to outstrip supply. The fabs of Taiwan-based foundries, including TSMC, UMC, PSMC, and Vanguard, are concentrated in Hsinchu, Taichung, and Tainan. In those places, an earthquake intensity scale of 3 or under was recorded. As such, no foundry fab in Taiwan has halted operation because of the earthquake, and all fabs are operating normally at the moment.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

2021-12-30

Xi’an Lockdown Update, Samsung to Adjust NAND Flash Production Manpower and Capacity Utilization, Says TrendForce

Currently, the consequences of Xi’an’s lockdown on Samsung is weighted most heavily towards the difficulty of scheduling shifts for personnel, according to TrendForce’s investigations. Due to restrictions on movement and other lockdown measures, Samsung must continue operations with limited manpower. Samsung is currently making active adjustments to reduce impact on output and the local government expects a return to normalcy within one to two weeks. However, if the pandemic is not properly controlled, short-term impact on the production utilization rate of the local factory campus cannot be ruled out, resulting in a slight decline in output. As for raw materials required for production such as water and power, supply seems to remain sufficient, though Samsung is still confirming the specific degree of any impact.

Production has not been interrupted at Samsung’s Xi’an plant, the company’s remedy is reduced operational scale which may affect utilization rate  

Following up on TrendForce’s previous press release, Samsung’s two major NAND Flash fabs in Xi’an are still manufacturing without experiencing significant disruptions at this moment. However, with the local authority enforcing even stricter restrictions on the movements of people, Samsung has been compelled to perform some temporary operational adjustments to the two fabs. With respect to end-products, facilities in the Xi’an region are primarily responsible for the assembly of consumer electronics such as UFS and client SSDs, meaning changes in the Xi’an fabs’ operations will have a direct impact on the procurement activities of smartphone and notebook computer manufacturers. However, as Samsung’s inventory level is still relatively high, the company should be able to keep supplying these products to buyers with no issues in the short run, although the decline in the these products’ prices may moderate somewhat.

Judging by the performance of the NAND Flash spot market on December 29, TrendForce further indicates that most suppliers have now stopped giving price quotes for NAND Flash products after Samsung released an official statement on the Xi’an matter. Regarding the forecast of NAND Flash contract prices for 1Q22, TrendForce will continue to closely monitor responses by Samsung as the pandemic progresses. If the lockdown continues, the decline in NAND Flash contract prices may potentially see a further tapering.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

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