The Week In Review: Manufacturing

UMC expands in China; litho suits; NAND and DRAM shortages?

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Chipmakers
United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC) has expanded its process portfolio within its joint fab venture in China. The Taiwan government has approved UMC’s application to license its 28nm technology to its subsidiary company in China–United Semiconductor. The subsidiary has been ramping up 40nm technology. “This licensing approval will help Fab 12X to ramp its manufacturing scale, expand its process technology offerings and complements UMC’s overall growth strategy. The production ramp of Fab 12X will also help our customers diversify their foundry manufacturing and enhance UMC’s exposure to the Chinese semiconductor supply chain,” said Po-Wen Yen, chief executive of UMC.

UMC reported its results for the quarter. First quarter consolidated revenue was up 8.8% year-over-year. The company’s capital spending plan is budgeted for $2.0 billion in 2017. “Robust chip demand lifted overall capacity utilization to 96%, bringing wafer shipments to 1.68 million 8-inch equivalent wafers,” Yen said. “During the quarter, the utilization rates in 8-inch fabs as well as 12-inch advanced nodes approached near full capacity, driven by the strength in consumer and communication segments.”

The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS, a research and development center, will offer its dynamic biasing IPs for advanced SoC designs in GlobalFoundries’ 22nm FD-SOI technology. This new capability offers dynamic adaption of block-level performance versus power consumption ratio to customize and optimize SoC and ASIC designs.

Fab and test equipment
Nikon has filed suit against rival ASML Holding as well as its optics supplier, Carl Zeiss, in the immersion lithography arena. Nikon claims that ASML and Zeiss allegedly use Nikon’s patented technology, according to Nikon. “According to ASML’s publicly reported data for 2016, 76.3% of its sales in the year ended December 2016, or approximately €3.5 billion, was derived from immersion lithography systems sales. Nikon believes these systems use Nikon’s patented technology. The complaints seek injunctions barring ASML’s and Zeiss’s sale and distribution of these systems, as well as damages,” according to Nikon. ASML denied those claims.

Then, in response, ASML announced that it is filing initial legal claims against Nikon for infringement of more than 10 patents, related to a broad range of products in the fields of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, flat panel display manufacturing equipment and digital cameras. Zeiss filed a similar suit against Nikon.

The fab tool market continues to consolidate. As part of a complex business deal, investment firm KKR has acquired the semiconductor equipment business of Hitachi Kokusai Electric.

National Instruments (NI) has rolled out the WLAN Test Toolkit 17.0 with support for Draft 1.1 of the IEEE 802.11ax standard. Combined with NI’s second-generation Vector Signal Transceiver (VST), the WLAN Test Toolkit 17.0 supports 802.11ax waveform generation and analysis for characterization, validation and production test.

NI also reported revenue of $300 million in the first quarter, up 5% year-over-year with core revenue up 7% year-over-year. “Our growth has come from an improving industrial economy and a sharp focus on key growth areas within our markets,” said Alex Davern, NI president and CEO.

Market research
North America-based manufacturers of semiconductor equipment posted $2.03 billion in billings worldwide in March 2017, according to SEMI. The billings figure is 2.6% higher than the final February 2017 level of $1.97 billion, and is 69.2% higher than the March 2016 billings level of $1.20 billion.

The 3D NAND market continues to heat up. DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, anticipates that 3D NAND will formally become the mainstream architecture of NAND in the third quarter of 2017. By then, the share of 3D NAND in terms of bit output will exceed 50%. “Nonetheless, the overall NAND flash supply is expected to remain tight through the year due to Apple stocking up components for the next iPhone release and steady demand growth from SSD vendors,” according to the firm.

DRAMeXchange also reports that the average spot price of PC DRAM DDR4 chips has fallen by about 1.92% since April 20. Nonetheless, DRAMeXchange maintains the view that DRAM prices will generally stay on an uptrend during 2017. This is mainly attributed to tight supply, resulting from the lack of major fab expansion plans and yield issues with leading-edge processes.