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Week In Review: Manufacturing, Test

China buys SiC fab; troubled Tsinghua Unigroup; auto IC shortages; 1nm metals; rare earths.

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Chipmakers and OEMs
China has been working on compound semiconductors, such as gallium-nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC). Now, a China-backed company has taken a big step in the SiC and related markets.

Chip supplier Nexperia, a subsidiary of China’s Wingtech Technology, has acquired Newport Wafer Fab (NWF), a U.K.-based manufacture of power and compound semiconductors, including SiC. NWF has a 200mm fab that provides foundry services. However, the U.K. government plans to review the deal, meaning it’s far from complete.

The Newport, Wales-based fab was first established in 1982 and was originally named INMOS. Nexperia is the former Standard Products business unit of NXP. In 2016, NXP divested the group, selling it to a consortium of Chinese investors. NWF will support Nexperia’s $10 billion growth ambitions. The company plans to spend RMB12 billion ($1.85 billion) to build a new 300mm power semiconductor wafer fab in Lingang, Shanghai. This factory, which will move into production in 2022, will have an estimated annual output of 400,000 wafers.

Separately, ITEC, the semiconductor equipment manufacturer founded in 1991 by Philips (now Nexperia), has become a separate independent entity. ITEC remains part of the Nexperia group. ITEC sells back-end manufacturing equipment.

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China’s Tsinghua Unigroup is in trouble. The group is the parent company of China’s YMTC, a 3D NAND supplier. “One of its creditors has asked a court to begin bankruptcy proceedings for the group, in the latest setback to China’s goal of building a self-reliant semiconductor industry,” according to reports from Nikkei as well as Reuters.

Cirrus Logic has entered into an agreement to acquire Lion Semiconductor for $335 million in cash. Lion Semiconductor’s switched-capacitor architecture enables wired and wireless fast-charging capabilities for smartphones.

Winbond has announced that its HyperRAM and SpiStack (NOR+NAND) can be operated with Renesas’ Arm-based microprocessors (MPUs). HyperRAM provides a compact alternative to traditional pseudo-SRAM in IoT and consumer devices, automotive and industrial equipment. SpiStack is formed by stacking a NOR die and a NAND die into one package.

For some time, the automotive industry has suffered due to chip shortages. Ford, GM, Honda, Toyota, VW and others have been hit by chip shortages. Mercedes-Benz this week announced it has shipped 1,182,724 passenger cars in the first half of 2021, up 25.1% over the like period a year ago. Sales in China were strong. The company saw strong growth in electric vehicles. “Global sales partners face very high customer demand across the Mercedes-Benz model portfolio,” according to the company. “Nevertheless, the worldwide supply shortage of certain semiconductor components affected global deliveries to customers in Q2, especially in the month of June. The shortage is expected to continue to impact the upcoming two quarters in terms of sales.”

Stellantis plans to invest more than €30 billion through 2025 in electric vehicles and software development. The company has also announced preliminary expectations regarding its 2021 first half trading performance. Stellantis has been impacted by volume constraints caused by semiconductor shortages. Not long ago, Fiat Chrysler and the French PSA Group merged. The merged entity is called Stellantis.

Jaguar Land Rover says retail sales for the first quarter were up year-on-year. “However, wholesales in particular were lower than demand would have permitted due to semiconductor supply issues affecting the global auto industry,” according to the firm.

Fab tools
The back-end-of-line (BEOL) is a bottleneck in logic scaling. The 1nm and beyond node will require new conductor materials for the most critical layers in the BEOL. Of interest are binary and ternary intermetallic compounds with lower resistivity than conventional elemental metals. At the 2021 International Interconnect Technology Conference (IITC 2021), Imec presented an experimental study of aluminum-based binary compounds, with focus on their resistivity behavior, beyond the 1nm node.

II‐VI has announced the introduction of a heated ion implantation foundry service for 150mm SiC wafers.

DuPont has completed the acquisition of Laird Performance Materials, a supplier in high-performance electromagnetic shielding and thermal management solutions.

In a video presented by the eBeam Initiative, Thomas Cecil of Synopsys explained the benefits of curvilinear inverse lithography technology (ILT) mask synthesis. This addresses the new lithography requirements associated with denser and increasingly curvilinear designs.

In a blog, Dasha Negri, recently appointed leader of the Optical Metrology Division’s Advanced Development Team at KLA, discusses a career in the field of optics. Meanwhile, Brewer Science has rolled out the Virtual Learning Lab, a series of short videos with experts introducing STEAM and other educational topics.

Packaging and test
JCET Group has launched XDFOI, an ultra-high-density fan-out packaging technology. XDFOI enables multiple redistribution layers (RDL) with line width and line spacing down to 2um. In addition, the narrow bump pitch interconnect technology and large package size allow for the integration of multiple chips or chiplets, high bandwidth memories, and passive components. Customer trials of the JCET XDFOI solution portfolio will begin soon and mass production is expected to begin in the second half of 2022.

After a comparative analysis of various competitors, Microart selected CyberOptics’ QX250i 2D AOI system. Microart required an automated solution for post-solder inspection on a variety of boards with a range of applications.

Advantest has announced that its Hadatomo Z photoacoustic microscope received a Laser Industry Encouragement Award at the 13th Industry Awards sponsored by the Laser Society of Japan.

Government policy and trade
The Purdue Research Foundation has launched the Center for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue (CTDP), a new think tank that will address the intersection of technology and U.S. foreign policy. CTDP’s primary focus will be on technologies that are critical to American foreign policy, such as 5G, artificial intelligence, semiconductors, energy, digital health, digital currency, cybersecurity, autonomy, and global supply chains.

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Not long ago, Japan restricted exports of chemicals used for photoresists and etch to Korea. The two are arch-rivals in technology. They also have a long history of geopolitical hostilities.

South Korean chipmakers require a huge amount of these chemicals, namely high-purity electronic-grade hydrofluoric acid (HF). South Korean imports of HF from Japan remained low through the first half of 2021. Now, Korea is relying more on HF materials from China and Taiwan. “However, China is thought to have limited capacity for electronic-grade HF,” said Suzanne Shaw, an analysts at Roskill, in a research note. “Instead, South Korean manufacturers have reacted by increasing their imports of lower grade HF from China for domestic up-grading, with South Korean HF producers such as SoulBrain and SK Materials becoming important players.”

Market research
In early June, Roskill attended the 14th standing council rare earths (RE) conference in Xiamen, China. “The conference raised a series of issues and concerns within the rare earth industry and China’s domestic market,” said Leslie Liang, an analyst at Roskill. “The market has witnessed overdrawn orders in the upward price trend in Q1 2021, though there have been fewer new orders since April. The downward trajectory in prices for certain rare earths, specifically Pr and Nd oxides, since late April is expected to continue with magnet producers in China expecting RE prices and order volumes to fall further. One factor impacting this is orders for wind-turbine manufacturers in China, which needed to be accomplished prior to June and the withdrawal of subsidies. Demand for NdFeB magnets has also been impacted by the shortage of chips, impacting consumption in end-user applications across various sectors.”


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