The Week In Review: Manufacturing

GF asks EU to investigate TSMC; node wars; Toshiba saga; foundry drivers.

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Chipmakers
GlobalFoundries has asked European antitrust regulators to investigate TSMC over alleged unfair competition, according to a report from Reuters. Commenting on the report, a spokeswoman for GlobalFoundries said: “We are not surprised that the European Commission is looking into anti-competitive market practices and abusive conduct in the semiconductor sector. The semiconductor industry has a history of being dominated by a few firms. For example TSMC, a company currently larger than Intel in market cap, has a virtual lock on supply as IC Insights just pointed out. It’s prudent for the regulator to monitor behaviors more closely and GlobalFoundries will naturally support regulatory agencies as they take a closer look at this key industrial sector for Europe and the world.”

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In response, a spokeswoman from TSMC said: “The semiconductor industry is extremely competitive, and TSMC competes on merits and wins business by providing customers with value: robust and useful technology, operating efficiency, quality, time-to-market, reliable and flexible capacity, and cost. We are proud of our continued investment leadership in capacity building, pushing the boundaries of Moore’s Law, and diversifying our offerings into specialty technologies. Logic IC manufacturing is not a commodity business, and TSMC provides robust and useful technologies to support our customers’ highly differentiated products. We strive to build deep and enduring relationships with our customers, by collaborating closely with customers in developing technology and manufacturing capabilities that benefit our customers.

“Our customers always have the freedom to choose, which we respect greatly, and they choose us because of the value we deliver toward their long term success. Any accusation that TSMC threatens or harms customers is absolutely baseless, and we will vigorously defend our hard-earned trust and our most valued reputation. To the extent any regulatory agency requests information of TSMC, it is TSMC’s practice to respond cooperatively. As of now, TSMC has received no official request for information from any legal authority regarding the allegation.”

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GlobalFoundries has uncorked a 12nm finFET process, which the company said will provide a 15% increase in density and more than 10% improvement in performance over the foundry’s existing 14nm process.

During an event this week, GlobalFoundries also made the following other announcements:
*GlobalFoundries delivered a custom 14nm finFET technology to IBM.
*The company unveiled its roadmap for 5G. As part of that technology, it rolled out the industry’s first RF SOI foundry solution manufactured on 300mm wafers. In addition, it also announced the availability of its RF/analog solution.
*And not to be outdone, GlobalFoundries and Soitec entered into supply deal on FD-SOI wafers. Separately, Soitec is launching a pilot line to produce FD-SOI wafers in its Singapore wafer fab.

In the latest saga, Toshiba has agreed to sell its memory business to a Bain-led consortium. The group includes SK Hynix and Seagate, but not Western Digital (WDC). Toshiba’s fab partner is SanDisk, which is part of WDC. WDC will likely attempt to block the deal. “It is not clear whether this new arbitration action will be combined with the ongoing arbitrations surrounding Toshiba’s sale of memory assets without WDC’s consent,” said Amit Daryanani, an analyst with RBC, in a research report. “Post market close, WDC announced that it was initiating another arbitration action against Toshiba, seeking to stop it from unilaterally investing in the Fab 6 in Yokkaichi, Japan. As per WDC, the terms of the JV give it the right to continue to invest in facility expansions. The outcome would be critical for WDC achieving NAND bit growth.”

Toshiba’s move to sell its memory business will start to have a notable impact on the NAND flash market, according to DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce. The impact of this deal will become apparent later in the first half of 2018. “After the sale, TMC may be able to raise its 3D NAND flash capacity and yield rate to a level higher than initially expected,” said Alan Chen, senior research manager of DRAMeXchange. “Plus, there is a significant degree of uncertainty in NAND flash demand for the first half of 2018. Hence, the deal in the short term may actually cause supply-driven price decline in the NAND flash market during the first half of 2018.”

Fab tools and test
Tokyo Electron Ltd. (TEL) has announced a number of new organizations and personnel changes.

Head-mounted displays for virtual, augmented and mixed reality (VR, AR and MR) are in need of improvement, especially with the display technology, according to a blog from Applied Materials.

National Instruments has announced a technology collaboration with Innovari to help utility companies around the world improve system utilization, manage distributed energy resources and foster relationships between customers, local communities and regulators.

Market research
What’s driving the foundry market? “In 2017, the 7% increase in the total pure-play foundry market is forecast to be almost entirely due to an 18% jump in <40nm feature size device sales,” according to IC Insights. “Although expected to represent 60% of total pure-play foundry sales in 2017, the ≥40nm pure-play IC foundry market is forecast to be up only $0.2 billion this year. In contrast, the 2017 leading-edge <40nm pure-play foundry market is expected to surge by a hefty $3.3 billion.”

SEMI reports that the three-month average of worldwide billings of North American equipment manufacturers in August 2017 was $2.18 billion. The billings figure is 3.9%lower than the final July 2017 level of $2.27 billion, and is 27.7% higher than the August 2016 billings level of $1.71 billion. “Equipment billings in August declined relative to July, signaling a pause in this year’s extraordinary growth,” said Ajit Manocha, president and CEO of SEMI. “Nonetheless monthly billings remain well above last year’s monthly levels.”