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2022-02-16

Intel Kills Two Birds with One Stone as Tower Acquisition Strengthens Mature Process Platforms and Regional Production Capabilities, Says TrendForce

Intel officially confirmed on February 15 that it will acquire Israeli foundry Tower Semiconductor for nearly US$6 billion, and the deal will likely contribute to the growth of Intel’s foundry business if it reaches a successful conclusion, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Tower was 9th place in the global ranking of foundries by revenue for 4Q21 and operates a total of seven production sites across Israel, the US, and Japan. Tower’s foundry capacity in 12-inch wafer equivalents accounts for about 3% of the global total. The majority share of Tower’s foundry capacity is for 8-inch wafers, and Tower’s share of the global 8-inch wafer foundry capacity is around 6.2%. Regarding manufacturing process platforms, Tower offers nodes ranging from 0.8µm to 65nm. It has a diverse range of specialty process technologies for manufacturing products in relatively small quantities. Products that Tower has been contracted to manufacture are mostly RF-SOI components, PMICs, CMOS sensors, discretes, etc. As such, the Tower acquisition is expected to help Intel expand its presence in the smartphone, industrial equipment, and automotive electronics markets.

Although Intel undertook a series of business strategies to compete with TSMC and Samsung, IFS (Intel Foundry Services) has historically manufactured with platform technologies for processors such as CPUs and GPUs. Furthermore, competition still persists between Intel and certain foundry clients that require advanced processes below the 10nm node, such as AMD and Nvidia, which have long histories of developing server products, PC CPUs, GPUs, or other HPC-related chips. Intel’s preexisting competitive relationship with these companies may become a barrier to IFS’ future expansion because IFS will be relatively unlikely to attract them as customers.

Taking the aforementioned factors into account, TrendForce believes that the Tower acquisition will likely expand IFS’ business presence in the foundry industry through two considerations. First of all, the acquisition will help Intel both diversify its mature process technologies and expand its clientele. Thanks to advancements in communication technologies and an increase in demand for new energy vehicles, there has been a recent surge in demand for RF-SOI components and PMICs. Tower’s long-term focus on the diverse mature process technologies used to manufacture these products means it also possesses a long-term collaborative relationship with clients in such markets. By acquiring Tower, Intel is therefore able to address IFS’ limited foundry capabilities and limited clientele. The second consideration pertains to the indigenization of semiconductor manufacturing and supply allocations, which have become increasingly important issues in light of current geopolitical situations. As Tower operates fabs in Asia, EMEA, and North America, the acquisition is in line with Intel’s current strategic aim to reduce the disproportionate concentration of the foundry industry’s supply chain in Asia. As well, Intel holds long-term investments and operates fabs in both the US and Israel, so the Tower acquisition will give Intel more flexibility in allocating production capacities, thereby further mitigating risks of potential supply chain disruptions arising from geopolitical conflicts.

In addition to the aforementioned synergy derived from acquiring Tower, it should also be pointed out that Intel is set to welcome an upcoming partnership with Nuvoton. Tower’s three Japan-based fabs were previously operated under TowerJazz Panasonic Semiconductor, a joint venture created by Tower and Panasonic in 2014, with Tower and Panasonic each possessing 51% and 49% ownership, respectively. After Nuvoton acquired PSCS (Panasonic Semiconductor Solutions Co.) in 2020, Panasonic’s 49% ownership of the three fabs was subsequently transferred to Nuvoton. Following Intel’s Tower acquisition, Intel will now possess the 51% majority ownership of the fabs and jointly operate their production lines for industrial MCUs, automotive MCUs, and PMICs along with Nuvoton. Notably, these production lines also span the range of CIS, MCU, and MOSFET technologies previously developed by Panasonic.

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

2022-02-15

[Russia-Ukraine] The Conflict Affects Semiconductor Gas Supply and May Cause Rise in Chip Production Costs, Says TrendForce

Ukraine is a major supplier of raw material gases for semiconductors including neon, argon, krypton, and xenon, according to TrendForce’s investigations. Ukraine supplies nearly 70% of the world’s neon gas capacity. Although the proportion of neon gas used in semiconductor processes is not as high as in other industries, it is still a necessary resource. If the supply of materials is cut off, there will be an impact on the industry. TrendForce believes that, although the Ukrainian-Russian conflict may affect the supply of inert gas regionally, semiconductor factories and gas suppliers are stocked and there are still supplies from other regions. Thus, gas production line interruptions in Ukraine will not halt semiconductor production lines in the short term. However, the reduction in gas supply will likely lead to higher prices which may increase the cost of wafer production.

Inert gases are primarily used in semiconductor lithography processes. When the circuit feature size is reduced to below 220nm, it begins to enter the territory of DUV (deep ultraviolet) light source excimer lasers. The wavelength of the DUV light generated by the energy beam advances circuit feature sizes to below 180nm. The inert gas mixture required in the DUV excimer laser contains neon gas. Neon gas is indispensable in this mixture and, thus, difficult to replace. The semiconductor lithography process that requires neon gas is primarily DUV exposure, and encompasses 8-inch wafer 180nm to 12-inch wafer 1Xnm nodes.

TrendForce research shows, in terms of foundries, global production capacity at the 180~1Xnm nodes accounts for approximately 75% of total capacity. Except for TSMC and Samsung, who provide advanced EUV processes, for most fabs, the proportion of revenue attributed to the 180~1Xnm nodes exceeds 90%. In addition, the manufacturing processes of components in extreme short supply since 2020, including PMIC, Wi-Fi, RFIC, and MCU all fall within the 180~1Xnm node range. In terms of DRAM, in addition to Micron, Korean manufacturers are gradually increasing the proportion of 1alpha nm nodes (using the EUV process) but more than 90% of production capacity still employs the DUV process.  In addition, all NAND Flash capacity utilizes DUV lithography technology.

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

2022-02-08

8-inch Wafer Capacity Remains Tight, Shortages Expected to Ease in 2H23, Says TrendForce

From 2020 to 2025, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12-inch equivalent wafer capacity at the world’s top ten foundries will be approximately 10% with the majority of these companies focusing on 12-inch capacity expansion, which will see a CAGR of approximately 13.2%, according to TrendForce’s research. In terms of 8-inch wafers, due to factors such as difficult to obtain equipment and whether capacity expansion is cost-effective, most fabs can only expand production slightly by means of capacity optimization, equating to a CAGR of only 3.3%. In terms of demand, the products primarily derived from 8-inch wafers, PMIC and Power Discrete, are driven by demand for electric vehicles, 5G smartphones, and servers. Stocking momentum has not fallen off, resulting in a serious shortage of 8-inch wafer production capacity that has festered since 2H19. Therefore, in order to mitigate competition for 8-inch capacity, a trend of shifting certain products to 12-inch production has gradually emerged. However, if shortages in overall 8-inch capacity is to be effectively alleviated, it is still necessary to wait for a large number of mainstream products to migrate to 12-inch production. The timeframe for this migration is estimated to be close to 2H23 into 2024.

PMIC and Audio Codec gradually transferred to 12-inch production, alleviating shortage of 8-inch production capacity

At present, mainstream products produced using 8-inch wafers include large-sized panel Driver IC, CIS, MCU, PMIC, Power Discrete (including MOSFET, IGBT), Fingerprint, Touch IC, and Audio Codec. Among them, there are plans to gradually migrate Audio Codec and some more severely backordered PMICs to the 12-inch process.

In terms of PMICs, other than certain PMICs used in Apple iPhones already manufactured at 12-inch 55nm, most mainstream PMIC processes are still at 8-inch 0.18-0.11μm. Burdened with the long-term supply shortage, IC design companies including Mediatek, Qualcomm, and Richtek have successively planned to transfer some PMICs to 12-inch 90/55nm production. However, since product process conversion requires time-consuming development and verification and total current production capacity of the 90/55nm BCD process is limited, short term relief to 8-inch production capacity remains small. Effective relief is expected in 2024 when large swathes of mainstream products migrate to 12-inch production.

In terms of Audio Codec, Audio Codecs for laptops are primarily manufactured on 8-inch wafers, and Realtek is the main supplier. In the 1H21, the squeeze on capacity delayed lead times which affected notebook computers shipments. Although the stocking efforts of certain tier1 customers proceeded smoothly in the second half of the year, these products remained difficult to obtain for some small and medium-sized customers. At present, Realtek has partnered with Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) to transfer the process development of laptop Audio Codecs from 8-inch to 12-inch 55nm. Mass production is forecast for mid-2022 and is expected to improve Audio Codec supply.

In addition to PMIC/Power Discrete, another mainstream product derived from 8-inch manufacturers is the large-sized panel Driver IC. Although most fabs still manufacture 8-inch wafers, Nexchip provides a 12-inch 0.11-0.15μm process technology used to produce large-sized Driver ICs. As production capacity at Nexchip grows rapidly, the supply of this product has been quite smooth. However, TrendForce believes that this is a special case. Mainstream large-sized Driver ICs are still manufactured on 8-inch wafers and there is no trend to switch to 12-inch wafers.

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

2022-01-14

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)

2022-01-04

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

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