foundry


2021-06-28

What Is the Global Significance of the Taiwanese Semiconductor Industry’s Advanced Processes?

As UMC and GlobalFoundries successively end their respective developments of advanced processes, the advanced process market has now become an oligopoly, with TSMC and Samsung as the only remaining suppliers (excluding SMIC, which is currently affected by geopolitical tensions between China and the US). According to TrendForce’s latest investigations, TSMC holds a 70% market share in advanced processes below – and including – the 1Xnm node, while Samsung’s market share is about 30%.

As electronic products demand faster data transmission speeds and better performance in response to IoT and 5G applications, the chips contained in these products also need to shrink in size and consume less power. Hence, process technologies need to evolve in order to enable the production of increasingly advanced chips. In this light, suppliers of such chips as smartphone AP, CPU, and GPU primarily rely on Taiwan for its semiconductor industry’s advanced process technologies.

Why is Taiwan able to hold key manufacturing competencies, market shares, and unsurpassed technologies in the global foundry industry?

After TSMC pioneered its pure-play foundry services more than 30 years ago, UMC also subsequently transitioned to a foundry business model. However, the build-out and maintenance of wafer fabs require enormous human resources, capital expenditures, and environmental support, all of which have been skyrocketing since the industry progressed below the 40nm node into the EUV era. Factors including governmental support, human resource development, utility services, and long-term amortization and depreciation are all indispensable for foundries to keep up their fab operations. TrendForce’s findings indicate that Taiwan possesses about 50% of the global foundry capacity, and this figure will likely continue growing due to the persistent demand for advanced processes.

Taiwanese foundries led by TSMC and UMC operate based on a pure-play foundry model, which means they do not compete with their clients outside of foundry operations. Foundries are able to maximize the profitability of the semiconductor ecosystem in Taiwan thanks to Taiwan’s comprehensive PC, ICT, and consumer electronics industries.

In addition, not only are they able to deliver PPA(performance, power, and area) advantages to their clients through technology scaling and node shrinking, they are also unsurpassed in their comprehensive silicon IP cores and longstanding product development services. Other competing foundries are unlikely to make breakthroughs in these fields and catch up to Taiwanese foundries in the short run.

On the whole, the Taiwanese foundry industry is able to maintain its leadership thanks to competencies in human capital, client strategies, process technologies, capital intensify, economies of scale, and superior production capacities.

Furthermore, not only do advancements in semiconductor fabrication technology require developmental efforts from foundries, but they also need support throughout the entire supply chain, including upstream wafer suppliers and downstream client feedbacks, both of which can serve to eliminate yield detractors and raise yield rates. Therefore, the Taiwanese semiconductor industry derives its advantage from foundries(TSMC, UMC, PSMC, and VIS), as well as from the cross-industrial support across silicon wafer suppliers(SAS and GlobalWafers), fabless IC design clients, and packaging and testing operators(ASE, etc.)

(Cover image source: TSMC

2021-06-25

An Overview of China’s Third-Generation Semiconductor Industry in a Global Context

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).

(Cover image source: TSMC

2021-06-16

Supply of Large-Sized Panel DDI Likely to Remain Tight, with Shortage Also Expected for TCON Due to Limited Backend Packaging/Testing Capacities, Says TrendForce

The stay-at-home economy generated by the COVID-19 pandemic has galvanized a rising demand for IT products this year, with a corresponding increase in DDI demand as well, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. More specifically, large-sized DDI demand is expected to increase by as much as 7.4% YoY in 2021, although the availability of 8-inch foundry capacity in the upstream supply chain is expected to increase by a mere 2.5% YoY due to other chips with relatively higher margins occupying much of this capacity. Foundries such as NexChip and SMIC are still continuing to install production capacities this year, and the supply of large-sized DDI will undergo a slight increase as a result. However, these newly installed capacities will be unable to fully alleviate the scarcity of large-sized DDI, which may potentially persist until the end of 2021.

While the supply of TCON similarly faces the issue of shortage, high-end TCON models bear the brunt of the impact

In addition to the tight supply of large-sized DDI, the recent shortage of TCON (timing controllers) has also adversely affected the shipment volume of large-sized panels, especially for high-end TCON models. The shortage of TCON can primarily be attributed to the fact that high-end TCON is mainly manufactured in 12-inch fabs, where various chips compete over limited wafer capacities. In addition, backend logic IC packaging and testing capacities are similarly in short supply, thereby adding further risk to the supply of TCON. In particular, manufacturing high-end TCON requires longer wire bonding time compared with mainstream TCON, meaning the current shortage of wire bonding capacity will lead to a widening shortage of high-end TCON. While the expanding capacity of packaging and testing services for logic chips is yet to catch up to the surging demand for various end products, the shortage of high-end TCON will unlikely be alleviated in the short run.

Prices of large-sized DDI will undergo an increase once again in 3Q21 due to persistently tight supply

TrendForce’s investigations indicate that, as 8-inch foundry capacities fall short of market demand, production capacities allocated to large-sized DDI have accordingly been crowded out by other chips. Foundry quotes are also expected to undergo an increase once again in 3Q21. Hence, IC suppliers will accordingly raise their large-sized DDI quotes for clients in the panel manufacturing industry as well. It should be pointed out that the demand for IT products is expected to slow down in response to increased vaccinations in Europe and the US, where governments have been gradually easing lockdown measures and border restrictions. Therefore, demand for panels, which has remained in an upward trajectory since last year, will likely experience a gradual downward correction in 4Q21, thus narrowing the gap between supply and demand of large-sized DDI. However, IC suppliers will not be able to address the tight supply of backend packaging and testing capacity in the short run, so panel suppliers will still need to contend with a shortage of TCON going forward.

On the whole, IC suppliers are unlikely to obtain sufficient 8-inch foundry capacities for manufacturing large-sized DDI, since 8-inch fabs will continue to operate at maximum capacity utilization rates for the next year. IC suppliers must therefore flexibly adjust their large-sized DDI procurement in accordance with cyclical downturns of foundry demand. In other words, the supply and demand situation of large-sized DDI and TCON will remain key to the supply and demand of panels in 2022.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department o Display Research, please click here, or email Ms. Vivie Liu from the Sales Department at vivieliu@trendforce.com

2021-06-01

Monitor Panel Shipment for 1Q21 Declines by 8.6% QoQ to 39.9 Million Units Due to IC Shortage and Samsung’s Exit, Says TrendForce

Owing to the stay-at-home economy brought about by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for IT products has been sky-high since 2Q20. However, monitor panel shipment for 1Q21 declined by 8.6% QoQ to 39.9 million units due to the shortage of components such as ICs in the upstream supply chain, as well as SDC’s (Samsung Display Co.) decision to shutter its monitor panel manufacturing operations, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations.

Regarding the two aforementioned factors constraining the shipment performances of monitor panel suppliers, TrendForce indicates that SDC will exit the monitor LCD panel manufacturing business after it reaches its shipment target of 1.2 million panels in 1H21. This figure represents a staggering 93.8% decline compared to the 19.3 million units of LCD panels that SDC shipped throughout last year. Aside from SDC’s decision, the other detractor of monitor panel shipment in 1Q21 was the tight supply of semiconductor production capacity, which resulted in a shortage of such components as ICs and TCON (timing controllers) in the upstream panel supply chain. Panel suppliers were hence constrained in their ability to manufacture panels, thereby leading to a shortage of monitor panels. In addition, since TV and notebook (laptop) panels have higher profit margins compared to monitor panels, panel suppliers generally allocate less of their production capacities for manufacturing monitor panels relative to the other products.

Monitor panel shipment for 2021 is still likely to experience a YoY growth as material shortage becomes alleviated going forward

Nonetheless, as demand for TV and notebook computers gradually slows, and certain semiconductor foundries are expected to expand their production capacities in 2H21, TrendForce believes that panel suppliers will likely in turn allocate more production capacities to clients in the monitor segment in 4Q21. More specifically, the current shortage of components in the upstream supply chain, which has been exerting significant downward pressure on monitor panel shipment, will be gradually alleviated in 2H21. On the demand side, the persistent stay-at-home economy will continue to generate demand for IT products. Monitor brands will therefore ramp up procurement activities for components such as panels in order to maintain a healthy inventory level. In light of influences on the supply side and demand side, TrendForce expects monitor panel shipment for 2021 to reach 169 million units, a 4.2% YoY growth.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Display Research, please click here, or email Ms. Vivie Liu from the Sales Department at vivieliu@trendforce.com

2021-05-25

Does the Current Semiconductor Shortage Represent a Real Demand, or Is It an Illusion Caused by Overbooking?

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.

(Cover image source: Pixabay)

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