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.
This year sees the continuation of the persistent chip shortage, which entails a shortage of production capacity for not only 12-inch wafers fabricated with mature process technologies but also 8-inch wafers in particular. The shortage of 8-inch wafer production capacity initially began gestating in 2H19, owing to emerging demand from structural changes in the semiconductor industry, with 5G smartphones and PMICs used in new energy vehicles as two examples of such demand. At the same time, the consumption of semiconductor production capacity has also increased multiplicatively in recent years as a result of the aforementioned structural changes. TrendForce expects demand for semiconductor capacity from emerging applications to continue rising in the coming years.
In response to this emerging demand, foundries such as TSMC, UMC, and SMIC are currently expanding their investment in mature process technologies. TrendForce expects the industry’s total 8-inch wafer capacity to grow at a 3-5% CAGR from 2019 to 2023, while 12-inch wafer capacity is expected to grow at an 11-13% CAGR across the same period. It should be pointed out that production capacities allocated to the 0.18-0.11µm process nodes（for 8-inch wafer fabrication） and 55nm-12nm nodes（for 12-inch wafer fabrication）represent the most severe shortage among all process nodes. Hence, certain foundries are expected to gradually install additional production capacities for mature process technologies in 2H22-1H23. These installations will likely help address the ongoing chip shortage.
In addition, several foundries are focusing on expanding their 28nm manufacturing capacity, primarily because transistor architecture below the 20nm node requires a transition to FinFET architecture, which is relatively costly. The 28nm node represents the sweet spot in terms of cost/benefit and is widely used for manufacturing such mainstream products as notebook Wi-Fi chips, smartphone OLED driver ICs, automotive MCUs, and image signal processors. Furthermore, chips used for IoT applications, including smart home appliances and set-top boxes, as well as other products currently manufactured at the 40nm node will likely be migrated to 28nm manufacturing, meaning the demand for 28nm capacity will continue to grow going forward.
Owing to an uncontrolled spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan has instituted Level 3 restrictions throughout the island. With employees from several tech companies testing positive for the virus, major foundries, including TSMC and VIS, are successively finding positive cases among their midst as well. Worries have therefore cropped up in the global semiconductor supply chain over whether the supply of chip can remain unaffected despite the infections in Taiwan.
Taking into account Taiwan’s share of foundry capacity within the global total, the aforementioned supply chain’s worries are not without merit. According to TrendForce’s investigations, Taiwanese foundries, including TSMC, UMC, VIS, and PSMC, collectively account for about 50% of the global foundry capacity, meaning about 50% of the global supply of chips is contingent on Taiwan.
However, TrendForce also finds that, despite the domestic spread of the pandemic, which forced various companies to institute WFH policies for their employees, most semiconductor fabs are operating without interruptions at the moment, indicating that the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to impact the production and supply of chips.
As well, both TSMC and VIS have immediately made public announcements stating that their operations remain unaffected by the positive cases. However, whether the pandemic can be sufficiently managed and whether it will hinder the supply of semiconductors going forward remains to be seen.
Now that the chip shortage has persisted for more than half a year, markets and industries are closely monitoring whether chip demand is as strong as expected, or whether the current shortage is a mere mirage caused by overbooked orders from clients in fear of insufficient components.
At any rate, analyzing the current chip shortage entails doing so on both the supply and the demand ends. First of all, with regards to the demand for automotive chips, which has been in the spotlight for the past two quarters, automakers first began suffering from a shortage of automotive chips last year. This took place because automotive electronics suppliers, which had historically maintained a relatively low inventory level, slashed their chip orders placed at foundries ahead of other foundry clients at the onset of the coronavirus crisis in early 2020.
Hence, once automotive demand saw a sudden upturn later on, these automotive electronics suppliers found themselves unable to place additional orders at foundries, whose production capacities had by this time become fully loaded. Automotive chips subsequently began experiencing a shortage as a result.
At the same time, demand for CIS, DDI, and PMICs skyrocketed owing to the global 5G rollout and to the spike in demand for PCs and TVs caused by the proliferation of WFH. Given that foundries had already been experiencing fully loaded capacities across their mature technologies required for fabricating these chips, most clients had no choice but to resort to upping their volume of chip orders in orders to ensure that they are allocated sufficient foundry capacities.
Brands’ order placement strategies
On the other hand, several brands of electronic devices have been overbooking their chips to mitigate the risk of the chip shortage that began last year as well as the increased shipping times. These brands span the notebook computer, TV, and smartphone industries.
Of these three industries, smartphone brands have been overbooking foundry capacities due to the aforementioned expectation of chip shortage and most smartphone brands’ ongoing attempt to seize market shares left in Huawei’s wake. It should be pointed out that, however, in response to lackluster sales during the May 1st Labor Day in China, most brands have now lowered their production targets.
Foundries, on the other hand, had already been experiencing fully loaded capacities due to high demand from various end devices. Hence, they were unable to reach the volume of orders that were overbooked by smartphone brands despite adjusting their product mixes and reallocating production capacities. As such, although smartphone brands have lowered their production targets, capacities across the foundry industry remain fully loaded.
“Brands are responding to the market situation by strategically procuring components. Even if they were to adjust their production targets, they could still adjust their purchases of raw materials and consumables. Actors in the supply chain are unlikely to rigorously examine the inventory levels of brands before any unexpected changes occur in either demand or material shortages”
Conversely, with regards to the notebook and TV industries, they had mostly experienced bullish demand in the past few quarters, meaning sales performances are mostly a non-issue. Their procurement efforts have thus been focused on taking stock of the supply of raw materials and consumables, and these efforts have been guided by a principle of stocking up on demand. This is in accordance with both the bullish sales and the expectations of the companies themselves.
Generally speaking, TV and notebook use the term of strategic stocking as an excuse to mitigate any doubts of rising inventory levels from market observers. For the supply chains of these industries, the current state of the market is primarily dictated by the demand side. Actors in the supply chain are unlikely to rigorously examine the inventory levels of brands before any unexpected changes occur in either demand or material shortages.
Taken together, the supply and demand situations of the notebook, smartphone, and TV markets, in addition to the capacity utilization rate of foundries, would seem to indicate that the inventory adjustments caused by overbooking is unlikely to taken place in the short run, contrary to the market’s fears. TrendForce currently expects the shortage of foundry capacities to persist at least until 1H22, only after which is the supply and demand situation in the semiconductor market like to gradually return to an equilibrium.