Semiconductor process: to be small but also to be deep
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There are two major driving forces for the development of integrated circuits, one is the logic process driven by Moore's dividend, and the other is the characteristic process driven by market segmentation. At the beginning of this year, the first batch of power device products of Hua Hong Wuxi Project Phase I (Hua Hong No. 7 Factory) under Hua Hong Group was delivered, marking the successful mass production of the advanced 12-inch power device platform in mainland China. Previously, Jita Semiconductor's characteristic process production line officially moved into the first lithography machine, and Xiamen Silan's 12-inch characteristic process production line was capped and put into production. On the one hand, the top ten wafer foundries in the world have all laid out their special processes, and the competitive pressure cannot be underestimated; on the other hand, the long tail effect of characteristic processes is obvious, the market is fragmented and the capacity is large, which brings development to my country's semiconductor enterprises. opportunity.

There are many strong players and there is no lack of competition

Compared with the logic process based on line width, the competitiveness of characteristic processes is more comprehensive, including processes, products, services, platforms and other dimensions. Lv Penghao, an analyst at CCID Consulting, said that the competition points of characteristic processes lie in the maturity and stability of the process, the diversity of process platforms, and the richness of product types. Industry insider Wang Xiaolong said that the characteristic process mainly competes with manufacturers' technical experience, service capabilities and specialized development capabilities.

Veteran IDM manufacturers often dominate in product design capabilities. For example, Infineon's IGBTs have reached 650V and are used in power grids, high-speed rail vehicles and other fields, with higher voltage blocking capability and stability. However, many domestic IGBT manufacturers are difficult to achieve the same voltage blocking capability, focusing on the consumer electronics field below 650V but with low added value. Similarly, for wafer foundries, whether they can make components with the same performance at lower line widths determines the process capabilities of the manufacturers. Although the characteristic process does not pursue the line width, the lower the line width, the more control the mass production cost.

Among the top 10 foundries in the world in 2019 released by the Top 10 Industrial Research Institute, TSMC and Samsung, which ranked 12th, have all laid out their special processes; GF and UMC, which ranked 3rd and 4th, were unable to To catch up with the pace of advanced manufacturing process, the further development of the manufacturing process node was suspended at the 7nm node and the 12nm node respectively, and the main energy was turned to the characteristic process. High tower, eastern high-tech, and world advanced focus on characteristic processes. At present, high tower RF-SOI, RF-CMOS and other radio frequency components, as well as BCD and CIS have progressed to the 65nm process.

'Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd. and other big manufacturers also attach great importance to characteristic craftsmanship. Due to its huge size, even if a relatively small proportion of resources are invested in characteristic craftsmanship, it should not be underestimated. Domestic manufacturers have never lacked competition in making characteristic craftsmanship.' Wang Xiaolong said.

8 inches to 12 inches

From 6 inches to 8 inches, from 8 inches to 12 inches, is the general direction of foundry. In 2019, the second plant of SK Hynix in Wuxi was completed and put into operation, and it is expected to produce 180,000 12-inch wafers per month after full production. The monthly production capacity of the 12-inch production line of Hua Hong No. 7 Plant is planned to be 40,000 pieces, which is suitable for the needs of mid-to-high-end chips in emerging application fields such as mobile communication, Internet of Things, smart home, artificial intelligence, and new energy vehicles. Yuexin Semiconductor's 12-inch chip production line was put into production, using 130nm~180nm platform technology, focusing on 'product differentiation process', locking in high-end analog chips, automotive electronics, biomedical testing, 5G front-end modules and other product directions.

In addition to investing in factories, there are also manufacturers who have acquired 12-inch production capacity through acquisitions. UMC has been approved to acquire the entire equity of Mie Fujitsu, a joint venture with Fujitsu Semiconductor, a 12-inch fab. It is expected that UMC's 12-inch monthly production will increase by more than 20%.

Mo Dakang, an expert in the semiconductor industry, told reporters that at this stage, the characteristic process is mainly 8 inches, and 12 inches is a minority. Most of them are mature processes, and they are divided into foundry, IDM and non-silicon materials. However, IDM's competitors are all established international manufacturers, and their advantages are difficult to break through. In terms of non-silicon materials, Chinese manufacturers started late.

As the process reaches 90nm~55nm, 12-inch is more efficient than 8-inch, but the challenge is not small. Wang Xiaolong said that starting from the 90nm process, 12-inch wafers entered the market. Compared with 8 inches, the production efficiency of 12 inches is higher, and the production cost can be effectively reduced when the product volume is large. However, the 12-inch production line has higher requirements for process indicators and higher requirements for raw materials. Lv Penghao also said that the overall cost of the 12-inch special process is about 80% of that of the 8-inch, but most of the 12-inch equipment is new, and the initial investment is very large. If the production capacity does not climb smoothly, it may fall into long-term losses.

At this stage, the advantage of 8 inches is still obvious, and will coexist with 12 inches for a long time. Mo Dakang said that the 8-inch has the advantages that the equipment depreciation period has passed, the process is relatively mature and stable, and the equipment software upgrade is less controlled by the original factory. At the same time, the line width of the 8-inch feature process has also begun to step below 90nm. For example, Samsung's 8-inch solution includes 65nm eFlash and 70nm display driver IC. In the future, the production capacity of 12 inches and 8 inches will continue to increase and coexist for a long time.

The long tail effect brings market opportunities

The data shows that the driving force of the featured processes in 2020 is mixed-signal chips, RF ICs, automotive electronics, MEMS sensors, MCUs, image sensors and smart card ICs. It is reported that eNVM is Hua Hong Grace's major revenue source in 2018, mainly including two categories of applications: smart card chips and MCUs. At the same time, the deployment of 5G cellular networks will greatly increase the demand for RF technology.

New technologies and new terminals such as 5G, Internet of Things, and multi-camera mobile phones will continue to inject momentum into the featured craft market. Wang Xiaolong said that in recent years, the major change in the market demand for characteristic processes is that the demand has continued to skyrocket, and the demand for wafers for products such as radio frequency communication, power devices, MEMS, CIS, fingerprints and facial recognition has continued to grow. Silicon carbide high-power devices are an important breakout point in the characteristic process market. The technology is basically mature, and the market is rapidly rising to a critical point. Lv Penghao said that the commercial demand of 5G for radio frequency chips, the demand for sensors and Bluetooth chips for the Internet of Things, the demand for power devices and sensors for new energy vehicles, and the demand for image sensors for smartphones and machine vision will all be future market explosions.

'The technical and product aspects of the characteristic process are wider, there are many long-tailed and fragmented markets, and there is no absolute standard for the process. No fab can take all the products of the characteristic process. Therefore, there is room for domestic manufacturers to gain a foothold. 'Wang Xiaolong said.

In recent years, domestic production capacity construction has also formed advantages in factory facilities and equipment. 'Due to the long history of foreign factories and outdated equipment, many new factories in China have advantages in the competition of emerging characteristic processes.' Mo Dakang said.

As the world's largest semiconductor market, China provides market opportunities for the development of characteristic processes. Lv Penghao said that most of the characteristic processes of domestic enterprises focus on the low-end, resulting in serious product homogeneity.

However, my country is a large global integrated circuit market, and characteristic process products are closely integrated with market applications. Application enterprises should interact closely with characteristic process enterprises in the early stage of product development, and strengthen the collaborative innovation of the whole machine and characteristic process enterprises.

Source of information: Global Semiconductor Watch official website (

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