Leading driver IC OSAT company Chipbond and major foundry UMC announced on September 3 that the two companies established a strategic partnership via a stock swap, through which UMC (and its subsidiary UMC Capital) will hold 9.09% of Chipbond’s equity, while Chipbond will hold 0.62% of UMC’s equity. TrendForce believes that this strategic partnership will not only strengthen the two companies’ presence throughout all parts of the driver IC supply chain, but also kick-start a business model that involves the simultaneous development of RF front-end ICs and power devices in the third-generation semiconductor industry. …
The analog IC industry is one with a long history of development and product adoption across various applications. Annual analog IC revenue reached US$53.9 billion in 2020. As the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is gradually brought under control in China and the US this year, their domestic demand for telecom, automotive, industrial, and consumer electronics products has also kept growing, in turn generating strong demand for analog ICs. TrendForce therefore expects IC revenue for 2021 to reach US67.9 billion, a 22.1% YoY increase.
More specifically, analog IC demand from the automotive market is expected to undergo remarkable growth this year, primarily due to the recovery of the global automotive market and the continued trend towards automotive electrification as commercial opportunities from ADAS, EV, and automotive electronics enter a period of rapid growth. In response to demand from automakers and the auto market, various major IDMs have been placing a heavy emphasis on automotive analog IC development. Led by Infineon, NXP, Renesas, TI, and STM, the automotive IC market is expected to experience a 24.6% growth in 2021.
What is an analog IC?
The analog IC is an indispensable component in electronic devices. These chips can be divided into two categories according to their functions: general purpose analog IC and application specific analog IC. The former category encompasses amplifiers/comparators (signal conditioning), signal conversion, interface, and power management (general purpose). In sum, general purpose analog ICs are characterized by their low costs, single purpose, and universal compatibility.
Application specific analog ICs, on the other hand, encompass such use cases as consumer, computer, communications, automotive, and industrial/others. This product category refers to analog ICs that are designed and manufactured in accordance with electrical systems specified by the client. Compared to digital ICs, analog ICs are much more diverse in terms of product type, less costly, and more stable, while also having longer lifecycles.
The current state of the top three analog IC manufacturers
Almost all major analog IC suppliers are IDMs with long histories. In particular, longtime market leader Texas Instruments once against took pole position in the ranking of analog IC suppliers by revenue last year. With a range of analog ICs that includes more than 80,000 products, Texas Instruments possessed a 19% market share. The company is expected to maintain its dominance in 2021 thanks to its diverse product lines, high market acceptance, and high volume of client orders.
Infineon, which took second place on the ranking, registered a 19% YoY revenue growth on the back of its expansion into automotive and power management markets. Third-ranked STMicroelectronics benefitted from rising sales of its analog, MEMS, and sensor product portfolios. TrendForce expects Infineon and STMicroelectronics to continue their upward trajectories throughout 2021.
Whereas China is the largest market for analog ICs, the analog IC industry will see the highest growth in the US
China is expected to account for 42% of analog IC sales, the highest among all regions in 2021, with the consumer electronics segment comprising most of these transactions. However, the US is expected to undergo the highest growth in terms of analog IC sales with a US$10.6 billion revenue in 2021, a 25% YoY growth. This performance can mostly be attributed to the fact that the US economy has been recovering in the post-pandemic era owing to increasing purchases in the consumer electronics, telecom, and automotive markets.
Furthermore, the US government has been pushing for infrastructure developments with a focus on transportation, networking, and electricity generation, leading to expanded procurement of analog ICs used in these applications. As the markets welcomes the arrival of the traditional peak season for analog IC procurement in 2H21, growth in the US market will likely persist as well.
TrendForce’s latest investigations indicate that China has recently announced two additional investments funded via phase two of the CICF (China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund, better known as the “Big Fund”). The first of these investments was announced on June 8, 2021 and totaled CN¥1.65 billion, which has been used to establish a joint venture called Runxi Microelectronics, co-funded with CR Micro and the Xiyong Micro-Electronics Industrial Park.
Runxi will operate a semiconductor fab specializing in 12-inch wafer fabrication, with a production capacity of 30K/M (that is, 30,000 wafer starts per month). The second investment, announced on July 2, 2021, will total about CN¥2.5 billion and be put towards AMEC’s efforts to raise capital for establishing an industrial center, a headquarter located in the Shanghai Lin-Gang Special Area, and an R&D headquarter.
Now that the Big Fund Phase 2 has invested in semiconductor equipment for the first time, more equipment suppliers are expected to receive investment capital from Big Fund Phase 2 going forward
Established in October 2019, Phase 2 of the Big Fund consists of CN¥204.15 billion in capital, some of which was subsequently invested into 12 companies across the IC design, IC fabrication, package testing, and equipment sectors, as of July 5, 2021. In terms of funding allocation, IC fabrication take the lion’s share with 78.2% of the aforementioned investment, followed by IC design at 11.6%, equipment at 7.7%, and package testing at 2.6%. To date, about CN¥36.6 billion of the Big Fund Phase 2 has been invested.
Investment in AMEC marks the first time that the Big Fund Phase 2 has purchased shares in domestic suppliers of semiconductor fabrication equipment. As fabrication equipment is the key determinant of whether China can achieve its goal of semiconductor independence, suppliers that previously received Phase 1 funding (including Naura, ACM Research, Piotech, Sky Technology Development, and Shanghai Wanye Enterprises), as well as those that have yet to receive investment from the Big Fund (including SMEE and Hwatsing), are likely to receive Phase 2 funding for their expansion projects going forward.
China’s Big Fund provides the domestic semiconductor industry considerable leverage against US sanctions as AMEC receives financing unaffected by US blacklist
As a major supplier of semiconductor etching equipment in domestic China, AMEC specializes in substrate etching technologies. The company provides products which are used for 8-inch/12-inch wafer fabrication and are compatible with 65nm-5nm process technologies. In addition, AMEC has also been actively developing CVD (chemical vapor deposition) equipment, making it an indispensable part of the Chinese semiconductor supply chain.
AMEC effectively had its overseas financing sources cut off after being blacklisted by the US Department of Defense in January 2021. Now that the Big Fund Phase 2 has infused AMEC with CN¥8.207 billion of investment capital, the company is no longer threatened by its inclusion on the economic blacklist. Hence, the substantial Big Fund Phase 2 has also become an important instrument in China’s fight against US sanctions amidst a persistent trade war currently taking place between the two countries.
Some of the advantages of third-generation semiconductors SiC and GaN include their ability to operate under high voltages, high temperatures （for SiC）, and high frequencies（for GaN）. Not only do these advantages allow manufacturers to significantly reduce the physical sizes of chips, but peripheral circuit designs can also be simplified as a result, thereby further reducing the sizes of modules, peripheral components, and cooling systems. That is why SiC and GaN have become important strategic focuses of the global semiconductor industry.
As part of its ongoing goal of semiconductor independence, China has been accelerating the development of third-generation semiconductors in recent years
From the perspective of substrate development, countries find it difficult to procure SiC substrates due to the lack of production capacities worldwide. Hence, the ability to control the supply of SiC substrates equals having more influence in the semiconductor industry. The current ranking of geographical regions that control the supply of SiC substrates is, in order, the US （Cree and II-VI）, Japan （Rohm）, and Europe （STM）.
It should be pointed out that China’s overall standing in the third-generation semiconductor industry is hindered by its insufficient supply of substrates. Hence, Chinese companies are slightly lagging behind other global companies in this industry. At the moment, both TankeBlue and Shanxi Shuoke have successfully developed 8-inch SiC wafers, though their scale of mass production is yet to catch up to global leader Cree.
Despite the vast majority of GaN substrate suppliers being Japanese and European companies, Chinese companies have been making an aggressive push to enter this market. Regarding substrates, Nanowin, Sino Nitride, and Eta Research are all currently investing in R&D and mass production, though their current focuses are limited to 2-inch and 4-inch wafers. Regarding epitaxy, Enkris, GLC, and Genettice have been similarly making progress on R&D and mass production.
Furthermore, Chinese companies are farther ahead in the development and manufacturing strategies for GaN substrates compared to SiC substrates. For the GaN RF segment, Chinese companies span the entire supply chain, including IDM（CETC, Aofengyuan, Chengchang, Dynax, Innoscience, Bofang Jiaxin）, foundries（HiWafer and San’an）, and fabless IC design companies（GaXtrem）.
In recent years, China has been aggressively pursuing the build-out of an independent semiconductor supply chain as it attempts to eschew dependence on foreign suppliers. The key to China’s success is whether it can establish domestic suppliers of semiconductor equipment.
Looking at the current state of China’s semiconductor independence, it should be pointed out that Chinese suppliers of semiconductor equipment have been making the greatest progress on the CMP, etching, and cleaning fronts, while lagging behind in terms of deposition, ion implantation, and photolithography.
CMP equipment is used for polishing silicon wafers and metallic/non-metallic thin films. TrendForce estimates that about 26% of all such equipment procured by Chinese foundries in 2020 was sourced from domestic companies. CMP equipment manufactured by Chinese brands can support process technologies as advanced as the 14nm node, which is sufficient for meeting the current demand of Chinese foundries.
An indispensable aspect of silicon or dielectric etch applications, about 24% of all etching equipment procured by Chinese foundries in 2020 was sourced from domestic companies. Chinese-manufactured etching equipment can currently support process technologies as advanced as the 5nm node.
Used for cleaning wafers after the deposition process, CMP process, etching process, and ion implantation process, about 23% of all cleaning equipment procured by Chinese foundries in 2020 was sourced from domestic companies.
Cleaning equipment manufactured by Chinese brands can support process technologies as advanced as the 14nm node. Remarkably, more Chinese companies have been entering this market segment compared to other semiconductor equipment, while some Chinese suppliers are already able to compete with major foreign suppliers in terms of market shares.
Used for PVD, CVD, and ALD processes, about 10% of all deposition equipment procured by Chinese foundries in 2020 was domestically sourced. Chinese-manufactured deposition equipment can support process technologies as advanced as the 14nm node. However, as the technological barrier for manufacturing these products is relatively high, Chinese suppliers are still in the process of catching up to their global competitors in terms of technology. Hence, it remains difficult for Chinese suppliers to continue raising their market shares in the short run.
Likewise, as the technological barrier for manufacturing ion implantation and photolithography equipment is relatively high, equipment from Chinese suppliers is unlikely to support advanced process technologies in the short run despite these suppliers’ aggressive R&D efforts. In terms of self-sufficiency, about 5% and 1% of all ion implantation equipment and photolithography equipment, respectively, procured by Chinese foundries in 2020 was domestically manufactured.