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Week In Review: Manufacturing, Test

U.S.-China talks; Apple in EU; QP name change; FPD etch; rare earths.

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Government policy
For the last four years, the U.S. and China have been embroiled in a trade war, especially on the technology front. The U.S. has implemented a number of export control measures and tariffs in the arena. But there might be a thawing in the tense relationship between the two superpowers. “Reports surfaced Thursday indicating the China Semiconductor Industry Association (CSIA), a state-backed association of 774 Chinese companies in the semi industry, has set up a working group with the United States technology companies to create an avenue for communication on issues such as ‘export controls (and) supply chain security.’ The working group, which will include 10 experts from both sides, will reportedly conduct meetings every 6 months to keep each side updated about technology and trade restrictions policies and to work out policy proposals,” according to Gary Mobley, an analyst with Wells Fargo Securities, in a research note.

OEMs and chipmakers
Apple will invest over 1 billion euros to develop a new European Silicon Design Center in Munich, Germany. The new facility will be home to Apple’s growing cellular unit. The group is developing 5G and future technologies. Munich is already Apple’s largest engineering hub in Europe, with close to 1,500 engineers from 40 countries working in a variety of areas, including power management design, application processors, and wireless technologies.

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NXP has resumed initial operations at its manufacturing facilities in Austin, Texas. This follows a severe winter storm and corresponding widespread disruption of gas, electricity and water recently experienced across Texas. The storm and subsequent loss of utilities damaged NXP’s two wafer manufacturing facilities in Austin and caused a full shutdown that began on February 15. The current expectation is for an impact of approximately $100 million of revenue in the second quarter.

Still other chipmakers, including Samsung, have not resumed production in their fabs in Texas for the fourth consecutive week due to the outages, according to reports. “TrendForce’s latest investigations indicate that the capacity utilization rate for the entire fab is not expected to climb back to over 90% until the end of March. In particular, Samsung manufactures several products that are highly important for the production of smartphones, including the Qualcomm 5G RFIC, Samsung LSI OLED DDIC, and Samsung LSI CIS Logic IC,” according to TrendForce.

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Sensirion and UMC have collaborated to produce medical-related ICs used to address the Covid-19 pandemic. UMC has allocated capacity for the production of Sensirion’s temperature sensor ICs for Covid-19 vaccine transport and flow-sensors for medical ventilators.

GlobalFoundries and Bosch will partner to develop and manufacture next-generation automotive radar technologies using GF’s 22nm FD-SOI technology. Separately, Compound Photonics US Corp. (CP Display), a developer of microdisplay solutions for augmented/mixed-reality, and GlobalFoundries have announced a strategic partnership. GF will manufacture IntelliPix, which enables a real-time holographic consumer experience by enabling smaller and lighter AR glasses. CP’s IntelliPix technology is realized on GF’s 22nm FD-SOI technology.

HEICO’s Electronic Technologies Group has acquired Pyramid Semiconductor for an undisclosed price. Pyramid is a specialty semiconductor designer of processors, SRAM and EPROM.

SkyWater Technology has announced the appointment of Steven Kosier as the company’s chief technology officer, and Brad Ferguson as chief government affairs officer and senior vice president and general manager of SkyWater’s advanced packaging facility in Florida. During the past two years, Ferguson served in the role of the company’s CTO. Previously, Kosier served as vice president of R&D at Polar Semiconductor as well as adjunct professor of electrical engineering at Vanderbilt University.

Packaging and test
Quik-Pak, a manufacturer and supplier of chip packages, has changed its name to QP Technologies.

This change is an outgrowth of the company’s evolution, including relocating earlier this year to its new 20,000-square-foot facility in Escondido. Also expanded is QP Technologies’ wafer preparation services, including backgrinding, dicing, die sort and inspection.

“We have strategically evolved the company through acquisitions, buildup of engineering expertise and partnerships, and the steady broadening of our product and service portfolio,” said Ken Molitor, QP Technologies’ chief operating officer.

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Siemens Digital Industries Software and Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASE) have collaborated on the development of two new enablement solutions to help customers develop multiple chip-packaging technologies. The new high-density advanced packaging (HDAP) enablement solutions stem from ASE’s participation in the Siemens OSAT Alliance – a program designed to drive faster adoption of new technologies like 2.5D, 3D IC and fan-out.

Advantest has been named the preferred supplier for its T2000 test platform by Elmos Semiconductor, a mixed-signal semiconductor manufacturer in the automotive industry.

Fab tools
TEL has launched the Impressio 1800 PICP Pro and Betelex 1800 PICP Pro, the company’s latest plasma etch systems for use in sixth-generation (G6: 1,500 mm x 1,850 mm) glass substrates.

The G6 display segment involves smartphones. There is a wide adoption of high-resolution OLED displays in the arena. These technologies require densely packed circuit patterns, which calls for more rigorous control capabilities in manufacturing equipment than ever before.

“PICP Pro is TEL’s original development considering our customers’ true needs in their mass-production lines,” said Hiroshi Ishida, FPD business unit general manager at TEL. “PICP Pro offers superior etch precision and higher yield in the advanced display segment.”

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CyberOptics recently received an order valued at $1.4 million for its 3D SQ3000 Multi-Function systems for inspection applications. These systems are expected to be recognized as revenue in 2021, mainly during the second through fourth quarters.

Data analytics specialist proteanTecs has announced that Peter Mertens has joined its board of directors. Mertens is an automotive industry veteran, previously holding senior management and board positions at leading OEMs.

Materials
For some time, the U.S. has been trying to get its rare earths industry off the ground. The U.S. hopes to reduce its reliance on China, which controls around 80% of the world’s rare earths.

In the latest move, Energy Fuels has announced that the first shipments of natural monazite ore arrived at its White Mesa Mill in Blanding, Utah. This material was separated by Chemours at its Offerman Mineral Sand Plant in Georgia. Energy Fuels expects to ramp up production of an intermediate rare earth element product, called a “mixed REE carbonate.” Monazite is one of the highest-value REE-bearing minerals in the world.

Separately, Neo Performance Materials and Energy Fuels have announced a new rare earth production initiative spanning European and North American critical material supply chains. The initiative will produce rare earth products from natural monazite sands, a byproduct of heavy mineral sands mined in the southeastern United States. Energy Fuels will process the monazite sands into a mixed rare earth carbonate in Utah for use as feed material for Neo’s separated rare earth production plant in Europe. Energy Fuels is also continuing to evaluate developing additional value-added U.S rare earth production capabilities in Utah in the future.

Market research
Applied Materials, ASML, Lam Research, TEL, and KLA were the top suppliers of semiconductor equipment in 2020, according to the rankings from VLSI Research. “COVID-19 turned out to be a strong driver as well as a huge logistical challenge for semiconductor manufacturing, resulting with the top 15 companies growing 18%,” according to the firm. “2020 was a great logic/foundry year for semiconductor capital equipment, with surging demand in 5G and datacenter chips as well as 7nm and 5nm processes driving strategic investments.”

IC Insights has raised its 2021 IC market growth forecast from 12% to 19%. “In 2020, the global pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of the worldwide economy, which led to an increase in sales of new electronic systems and a marked uptick in the IC market in the second half of the year. Moreover, this demand has continued in full force in 1Q21. While the Covid-19 situation is still very fluid, many semiconductor companies have released strong 1Q21 guidance and expect healthy demand to continue throughout this year,” according to the firm.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the global smartphone applications processor market grew 25% year-on-year to $25 billion in 2020, according to Strategy Analytics. Qualcomm maintained its lead in the smartphone application processor (AP) market with a 31% revenue share, followed by Apple with 23% and HiSilicon with 18%, according to the firm. “The US-China trade war affected HiSilicon in 2020. HiSilicon saw its smartphone AP shipments drop 20% in 2020. Strategy Analytics predicts that Apple, MediaTek, Qualcomm and Samsung LSI will capture the market share left by HiSilicon in 2021. We believe Qualcomm is well-situated to capture HiSilicon’s premium-tier share with its Snapdragon 888 and 870 offerings,” said Stephen Entwistle, vice president of Strategy Analytics.

The advanced packaging market is expected to grow at 6.6% CAGR 2019-2025, reaching $42 billion in 2025. according to Yole. “By technology platform: the highest revenue CAGRs is expected from 2.5D / 3D stacking IC , embedded die, and fan-out. Yole announces 21%, 18% and 16% of the total market, respectively.”



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