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Week In Review: Manufacturing, Test

AI strategy report; L3 driving; China tool sales; dry resists; analytics.

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Government policy
The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) this week submitted its final report to Congress and the President. The goal is to develop a national strategy to maintain America’s AI advantages related to national security. As part of the long and complex report, the NSCAI came to a sobering conclusion: “The U.S. government is not prepared to defend the United States in the coming AI era. AI applications are transforming existing threats, creating new classes of threats, and further emboldening state and non-state adversaries to exploit vulnerabilities in our open society.”

The report also outlined some recommendations for the U.S. AI community. In just one example, U.S. leadership in microelectronics is critical for AI, but as reported, the U.S. is losing its edge here. In response, the commission made the following recommendations:
•Develop a national semiconductor strategy. The report recommends the development of a so-called “National Strategy on Microelectronics Research” strategy for the U.S..
•Build more U.S. fabs and fund a U.S.-based advanced packaging center. Congress should appropriate $1 billion for an Advanced Packaging National Manufacturing Program in fiscal year 2022.
•Ramp up microelectronics R&D. “The funding should be applied to developing infrastructure and pursuing breakthroughs in promising areas such as next-generation tools beyond extreme ultraviolet lithography, 3D chip stacking, photonics, carbon nanotubes, gallium nitride transistors, domain-specific hardware architectures, electronic design automation, and cryogenic computing,” according to the report.

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The European Union plans to produce its own advanced semiconductors by 2030. The goal is to reduce its dependency from companies in the U.S. and Asia, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Chipmakers and OEMs
Honda is leasing a new car with Level 3 automated driving. The new Legend is equipped with Honda SENSING Elite technology. The car includes a “Traffic Jam Pilot” function, which is said to qualify as Level 3. When the vehicle gets caught in traffic congestion under certain conditions, the system takes control of acceleration, braking and steering while monitoring the vehicle’s surroundings on behalf of the driver, according to Honda.

For some time, many automotive companies have been hit hard by shortages of select semiconductors in the market. This week, for example, GM has temporarily closed more auto production plants amid shortages of chips. GM previously announced downtime on all production shifts through mid-March at the following plants: Fairfax (Kansas); CAMI (Canada); and San Luis Potosi (Mexico). Now, GM is extending the downtime at San Luis Potosi through the end of March, and at Fairfax and CAMI to at least mid-April. Additionally, GM’s Gravatai plant in Brazil will take downtime in April and May.

Several chipmakers have not resumed production in their fabs in Texas for the third consecutive week. This follows power outages due to a major winter storm. As a result, electricity and natural gas providers have temporarily suspended service to Austin’s semiconductor manufacturers, including Infineon, NXP, and Samsung. Chipmakers will need a couple of weeks to resume production, according to a report from Reuters.

Wave Computing and its subsidiaries, including MIPS, have emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Fab tools and data analytics
China’s chipmakers are buying a slew of used equipment amid a push to build more homegrown chips, according to Nikkei. This in turn is driving up used equipment prices, according to the report.

There is demand for both mature and new fab tools in China, especially at SMIC, according to a new report. “The major suppliers of WFE (wafer fab equipment) in the U.S. are progressing smoothly in the application for licenses from the U.S. government for the exportation of equipment systems, equipment parts, and customer services for 14nm and above processes to Chinese foundry SMIC. The US-based equipment suppliers that are applying for the licenses include Applied Materials, Lam Research, KLA, and Axcelis,” according to TrendForce. “Keeping SMIC in operation will provide a bit of relief to the capacity crunch in the global foundry market, however, the tightening of the available production capacity will remain a challenge that is difficult to resolve for the foundry industry as a whole. Also, the U.S. government continues to prohibit SMIC from obtaining the equipment of the advanced nodes that are 10nm and below, and the particular restriction poses a potential risk for the long-term development of the Chinese foundry.”

China’s SMIC also disclosed that it has made a volume purchase agreement (VPA) order for lithography equipment from ASML. SMIC is still on the “entity list” in the U.S., meaning vendors require licenses to do business with SMIC. Meanwhile, ASML clarified the disclosure.

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Lam Research is developing a new technology called dry resist. In a blog, Rich Wise, vice president and product line head for dry photoresist at Lam Research, explained the technology.

In a blog, KLA talked about the PROLITH 2020b, the latest version of its virtual lithography and patterning system. In addition, John Robinson, senior principal scientist in the Industry and Customer Collaborations (ICC) group at KLA, has been elected a fellow of SPIE.

Melexis, a supplier of semiconductors, is utilizing PDF Solutions’ Exensio Fabless technology for cloud-based semiconductor analytics. This technology is used to generate product data across multiple sites worldwide. “Exensio Fabless, and specifically the Manufacturing Analytics capability, really helped to break down data barriers internally across Melexis,” said Gino Nys, quality improvement product manager at Melexis. “PDF Solutions was able to tailor Exensio Fabless with templates that provided the very specific analytics that we needed. It enabled us to find an efficient way more opportunities to lower the cost-of-yield and cost-of-test.”

Data analytics specialist proteanTecs has joined TSMC’s IP Alliance Program, a key component of TSMC’s Open Innovation Platform (OIP). The alliance includes major IP companies, providing the semiconductor industry’s largest catalog of silicon-verified and production-proven intellectual property (IP).

Materials
Brewer Science has announced the appointment of Ken Joyce as executive vice president. A former executive at Amkor, Joyce will lead Brewer Science’s efforts to identify, pursue and execute strategic growth markets to further accelerate Brewer Science’s long-term, global growth.

EMD Performance Materials has announced an expanded focus on the U.S. electronics business and a new name in the U.S.–EMD Electronics. EMD Electronics, a business of Germany’s Merck KGaA, includes a broad portfolio of semiconductor materials, systems and services, display, and surface solutions. Additionally, the company announced the relocation of the Silicon Valley Innovation Hub from Menlo Park to Intermolecular’s San Jose facilities. This combines the company’s efforts with Intermolecular’s services for materials and electronics. This announcement follows a $22 million investment at the EMD site in Tempe, Ariz. for its R&D and production of semiconductor materials.

CMC Materials has entered into an agreement to acquire International Test Solutions. ITS will become part of the company’s Electronic Materials business segment.

Market research
According to Jon Peddie Research, the growth of PC-based graphics processor unit (GPU) shipments of all types worldwide reached 20.5% in the fourth quarter of 2020 and 12.4% year over year. Overall, the installed base of GPUs will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 3.7% during 2020–2025 to reach a total of 419 million units at the end of the forecast period, according to the firm.



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