Contract prices of NAND Flash products are expected to undergo a marginal drop of 0-5% QoQ in 4Q21 as demand slows, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Hence, the current cyclical upturn in NAND Flash prices will have lasted for only two consecutive quarters. Looking ahead, NAND Flash suppliers’ capacity expansion plans will be affected by the outlook on future trends and the supply of other non-memory components. At the same time, attention will have to be paid to the demand projection. At the moment, NAND Flash suppliers appear likely to downsize their capacity expansion activities for 2022, resulting in a 31.8% YoY increase in NAND Flash bit supply next year. Annual bit demand, on the other hand, is projected to increase by 30.8% YoY. With demand being outpaced by supply and competition intensifying among suppliers for higher-layer products, the NAND Flash market will likely experience a cyclical downturn in prices in 2022.
YoY Growth of bit supply for 2022 is projected to reach 31.8% as competition for higher-layer NAND Flash remains fierce
With demand surging for a significant part of this year, customers have accelerated their adoption of higher-layer NAND technologies. Suppliers have also revised their production plans several times so as to raise output, reaching a YoY growth of nearly 40% in total NAND Flash bit supply in 2021. In light of the somewhat high base for comparison and the relatively weak demand outlook next year, TrendForce expects annual NAND Flash bit supply to increase by only about 31.8% YoY in 2022.
NAND Flash bit demand will grow by just 30.8% due to high base for comparison and factors related to arrival of post-pandemic era
The analysis of the demand side of the NAND Flash market finds that the shipment volumes of smartphones, notebook computers, and servers have been undergoing robust growths in 2021, resulting in a relatively high base period for comparison against next year’s figures. Hence, substantial YoY increases in device production or shipment in 2022 will be difficult. In addition, the procurement side still suffers from mismatched availability of components. With NAND Flash supply being relatively healthy and device manufacturers carrying a growing NAND Flash inventory, NAND Flash procurement for the upcoming period will likely be limited. TrendForce expects NAND Flash bit demand to increase by 30.8% YoY in 2022, which represents a slower growth compared with the increase in NAND Flash bit supply.
Regarding the smartphone market, the persistent shortage of components, including chipsets and driver ICs, is expected to exacerbate the decline in smartphone shipment during the traditional off-season of the first quarter. As for the average storage capacity of handsets, one driver of growth is the iPhone series, which is adopting a 1TB solution for the first time with this year’s line-up (i.e., iPhone 13 Pro/Pro Max). This will encourage brands in the Android camp to follow suit and have a 1TB solution featured in the future flagship models that are released in 2022, thus slightly increasing the shipment share of high-density solutions. Furthermore, brands in the Android camp will be focusing on pushing models with 256GB or 512GB in response to Apple’s storage upgrade for this year’s iPhone lineup. TrendForce forecasts that the NAND Flash bit demand related to smartphones will rise by around 28.5% YoY in 2022, which is noticeably lower than the growth rates that approached almost 30% for the years prior to 2021.
Regarding the notebook market, orders for notebook computers will enter a period of downward correction in 2022 compared to the peak growth that took place in 2021 as increasingly widespread vaccinations lead to a gradual easing of border restrictions. Although the workforce’s return to physical offices has now generated some upside demand for commercial notebooks, the demand for consumer notebooks and Chromebooks, which are highly contingent on the education sector, will undergo a sharp decline. Taking these factors into account, TrendForce forecasts a modest 23.2% YoY growth in client SSD bit demand in 2022, which falls short of the growth in 2021 by a considerable margin.
Regarding the server market, CSPs’ continued procurement of servers in 2022 is expected to drive up annual server shipment by about 4.5% YoY. In particular, the average storage capacity of enterprise SSDs is expected to experience a more significant growth next year compared to previous years due to the gradual release of new server CPU platforms with PCIe Gen 4 support, which features more PCIe lanes allocated to SSD data transfer. These new CPUs will also come with substantial upgrades in terms of both core count and processing power. Adoption of large-capacity enterprise SSDs enables servers equipped with such CPUs to achieve improved computing performance and in turn allows CSPs to cut down on the number of server nodes required, thereby optimizing the cost of data center build-out. In terms of applications, computing demand from AI and big data will continue growing, and this growth will also contribute to the increase in the average storage capacity of enterprise SSDs next year. In addition to the aforementioned developments, the release of Intel’s Sapphire Rapids platform, which supports PCIe Gen 5, will bring about a further bump in enterprise SSD data transfer speed, as well as average storage capacity, which is expected to increase by 33.5% YoY in 2022.
Annual NAND Flash revenue is projected to increase by merely 7% YoY in 2022 while falling quotes offset growth in bit shipment
NAND Flash ASPs have not shown significant downturns for two consecutive years since 2020. At the same time, as the COVID-19 pandemic drives up the demand for electronic products and cloud services, the overall growth in NAND Flash bit demand has been remarkable, resulting in an annual NAND Flash revenue growth of more than 20% YoY in both 2020 and 2021. Looking ahead to 2022, the YoY increase in NAND Flash bit demand will diminish due to the high base for comparison this year. The NAND Flash market is projected to enter a period of price downturn, with an over 18% decline in NAND Flash ASP. While such a decline offsets the rise in bit shipment, annual NAND Flash revenue will likely increase by merely 7% in 2022, the lowest YoY growth in three years.
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Apple’s latest AirPods 3 still feature an optical in-ear detection mechanism, according to TrendForce’s 2021 Infrared Sensing Market Trend – 3D Sensing, LiDAR, SWIR LED report. Through the integration of PPG (photoplethysmography) technology, the AirPods 3 contain an improved in-ear detection mechanism based on skin-detect sensors that are equipped with four SWIR (short-wave infrared) LED chips that have two different wavelengths, as well as two InGaAs photodiodes. Industry insiders indicate that the AirPods 3’s skin-detect sensors may potentially detect the water content in the wearer’s skin, giving them the ability to differentiate between human skin and other surfaces. TrendForce expects annual AirPods shipment for 2022 to reach 85 million sets, a 3.7% YoY increase.
While the demand for these end-products rises, the relevant suppliers will stand to benefit as a result. Such companies include SWIR LED chip suppliers Epistar and DOWA; InGaAs photodiode suppliers DOWA and II-VI/Finisar; and module assembler USI.
SWIR wavelengths range from 1,050-2,500 nm, which encompasses the optical properties of compounds such as water, sugar, and alcohol. While SWIR technologies gradually mature, and prices begin to reach feasible levels, wearables manufacturers are expected to officially integrate SWIR technologies into their products in 2H21. With improvements in their algorithm, wearables are increasingly likely to feature PPG-based biosensing functions, which can measure not only heart rate and blood oxygen levels, but also other variables including body hydration as well as blood glucose, blood lipid, and blood alcohol levels in the future.
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Having experienced in worldwide lockdown caused by COVID-19 and rising geopolitical worries in recent years, governments of various countries hope to have wafer manufacturing plants in their own territories to reduce the possible impact of supply chain disconnection; however, building and operating a semiconductor wafer manufacturing factory is not an easy task. In addition to the extremely high cost, high labor demand, and environmental conditions are also a threshold. Therefore, TSMC, the leader in foundries, has naturally become the target of active invitations by governments to set up factories. In addition to Japan, after evaluating customer needs, cost, and environmental resources (including water, electricity, land) and other conditions, TSMC doesn’t rule out the possibility of setting up factories in other countries if it is cost-effective.
Japan, once the world’s largest semiconductor cluster, still occupies a very important position in some semiconductor equipment, raw materials and packaging materials, and technologies. TSMC has previously announced the establishment of a 3DIC material R&D center in Japan, and this time it announced the establishment of a wafer manufacturing plant. In addition to deepening the streamlined process of customer products from manufacturing to packaging, it can also cooperate closely with upstream equipment vendors, chemical raw materials factories, such as TEL, SCREEN, SUMCO, Shinetsu, etc.
Escalating trade tensions between the US and China, rising geopolitical issues, increased tariffs, and uncertainties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic’s emergence last year have compelled server ODMs to actively shift their operations closer to clients as well as engage in risk mitigation strategies, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Taiwanese ODMs, in particular, are shifting their production bases away from domestic China and accelerating the installation of additional overseas production lines. TrendForce expects the share of servers manufactured in domestic China by global server ODMs to undergo a 7% YoY decrease this year as these ODMs shift their production bases mainly to Taiwan. Furthermore, Taiwanese ODMs are expected to account for about 90% of total server production this year.
On the other hand, server assembly operations, which are closely related to motherboard manufacturing operations, are also dynamically reserving their L6 capacities. Server assembly facilities located in New Mexico and the Czech Republic are gradually installing new production lines for server motherboards there. Inventec, Wistron (including Wiwynn), and Foxconn all currently possess sufficient motherboard manufacturing capacities for allocation as needed.
While future changes in the overall server supply chain remains to be seen, it should be pointed out that the migration of production bases pertaining to US companies is of particular importance. For instance, North American CSPs have requested their server ODM partners to migrate L6 assembly lines to locations such as Taiwan and Southeast Asia in response to potential geopolitical factors going forward. However, servers to be shipped to non-US regions will still be manufactured in China in accordance with prior plans. Aside from Google and Facebook, both of which have production lines in Taiwan, AWS and Microsoft have also transitioned their production lines to Taiwan.
Regarding major server ODMs’ current progress, most of them have installed new production lines in Taiwan, with Inventec, Wistron, Quanta, and Foxconn making the most headway. For instance, after installing three additional production lines in Guishan, Taoyuan at the end of 2020, Inventec currently operate a total of eight production lines, while Wistron has not only installed several spare production lines in the Southern Taiwan Science Park, but also planned to expand production bases in Southeast Asia at the end of 2021 for capacity allocation purposes. Quanta is aiming to capitalize on demand from 5G-related applications and data center build-outs by continually adjusting its production capacity for motherboards in Taiwan and Thailand. Finally, by expanding the physical capacity of its Taoyuan facility, Foxconn is able to avoid incurring tariffs for its North American clients’ L6 assembly operations.
TrendForce’s investigations show that, among the three categories in the upstream semiconductor supply chain, which consist of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, materials, and EDA, China made the most progress regarding self-sufficiency in semiconductor equipment, followed by materials, with EDA coming in last, in 2020. In other words, Chinese companies are relatively slow to develop EDA solutions.
The EDA market is relatively oligopolistic and involves two US companies. That means once the US implements more stringent controls over the export of EDA technologies and products to China, China’s development of semiconductor self-sufficiency will most likely suffer dire consequences as a result. Even if Chinese domestic companies are able to supply semiconductor equipment for mature process nodes as well as technologies for chip design, manufacturing, and packaging/testing, these things are essentially inoperable without EDA software and technical support. That is to say, the EDA industry remains the final piece of the puzzle for China’s quest for semiconductor self-sufficiency. Since China’s new IC policies (termed the Policies for Promoting the High-Quality Development of the Integrated Circuit Industry and the Software Industry in the New Era) place more emphasis on semiconductor equipment, materials, and software, compared to past policies, EDA (for which China’s self-sufficiency rate is lower than 10%) will likely become the top developmental priority within the software category in the new IC policies.
Chinese EDA suppliers are likely to provide domestic substitute solutions for mature process nodes
As the Chinese semiconductor design and manufacturing industries continue to expand, the Chinese EDA software market is expected to grow at a 15.1% CAGR across 2020-2024, which is faster than the global average of 10.3%. Although Synopsys, Cadence, and Siemens still account for an approximately 80% share in the Chinese EDA market, domestic companies in China have been accelerating their pace of development in recent years. For instance, companies that have more than 10 years of experience developing EDA software, including S2C, Empyrean, Primarius, Xpeedic, NineCube, and Cellixsoft, are gradually making waves in the industry, while many other emerging companies, such as X-EPIC, Arcas, LEDA, and AMEDAC have also been attracting more attention in the EDA market recently. Now that China-US trade tensions have yet to be resolved, and China continues to proceed with its new IC policies, Chinese EDA suppliers will likely experience rapid growth going forward, especially in their attempt to create domestic substitutes for 28nm and other mature process technologies.