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Week In Review: Manufacturing, Test

IC data pushback; China’s power woes; 2nm; SiC/GaN boom.

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Government policy
Hoping to resolve the ongoing worldwide chip shortage situation, the U.S. Department of Commerce late last month launched a “request for information (RFI)” initiative, which involved sending questionnaires to various semiconductor companies. The U.S. government is asking all parts of the supply chain – producers, consumers, and intermediaries – to voluntarily share information about inventories, demand, and delivery dynamics. The goal of the RFI is to understand and quantify where bottlenecks may exist in the semiconductor supply chain.

TSMC, Samsung and others apparently received questionnaires. But the move caused an uproar in Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere. Chipmakers are reluctant to share sensitive data with the government or anyone else, according to a report from Bloomberg. For example, TSMC has no plans to provide confidential customer information, according to a report from the Taipei Times.

For some time, there has been an acute chip shortage in the industry, especially in the automotive sector. Car makers have been forced to shutter their lines because they can’t get enough chips. In response, chipmakers are adding more fab capacity, but they are simply not moving fast enough.

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China has recently deployed a strict electricity usage policy that will impact the entire country. “Many publicly listed companies have had to shut down their plants partially or fully. The constraints in electricity usage not only affect manufacturers, but also extend to electricity for residents in some areas. The electricity constraints are likely to continue for the rest of 2021,” said Chase Li, an analyst from DSCC, in a recent blog. “Cloth, fiber and leather fabrication, construction (glass, concrete and steel) and petrochemical refineries are the areas with the most direct impact. Display production plants are not yet affected.”

Many areas may extend the electricity constraints to the end of 2021. The first indirect impact may be an increase in the price of metals. Chemicals and other products may get impacted. Hi-tech companies have also been impacted. Here’s more on the problem from CNN. And here’s another article from the BBC.

Chipmakers
For some time, Samsung has been developing a 3nm transistor based on a next-generation technology called gate-all-around (GAA). At its annual foundry forum this week, Samsung disclosed plans to develop a 2nm GAA transistor. Samsung’s first 3nm chip designs are slated for the first half of 2022, while its second-generation 3nm technology is expected in 2023. 2nm is due out in 2025.

In addition, Samsung also rolled out a 17nm finFET process. Samsung’s 17nm finFET provides up to 43% decrease in area, 39% higher performance, or a 49% increase in power efficiency compared to the 28nm process.

“We will increase our overall production capacity and lead the most advanced technologies while taking silicon scaling a step further and continuing technological innovation by application,” said Siyoung Choi, president and head of the Foundry Business at Samsung. Still to be seen, however, is when Samsung will officially announce its new U.S. fab. That fab is expected to be located in Texas.

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GlobalFoundries has filed a registration statement on Form F-1 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) relating to the proposed initial public offering of its ordinary shares. The number of ordinary shares to be offered and the price range for the proposed offering have not yet been determined. GF has applied to list its ordinary shares on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the ticker symbol “GFS.”

Qualcomm and SSW Partners, an investment partnership, have reached a definitive agreement to acquire Veoneer for $37.00 per share, representing a total equity value of $4.5 billion. Veoneer, a supplier of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) hardware and software, has terminated its prior acquisition agreement with Magna.

General Motors and Wolfspeed have announced a strategic supplier agreement to develop and provide silicon carbide (SiC) power device solutions for GM’s future electric vehicle (EV) programs. Wolfspeed’s SiC devices will enable GM to install more efficient EV propulsion systems. In addition, Cree has officially changed its corporate name to Wolfspeed.

Navitas Semiconductor, a supplier of gallium-nitride (GaN) power integrated circuits, and its partner Live Oak Acquisition, a publicly-traded special-purpose acquisition company, provided certain updates related to their proposed business combination, which values the combined entity at a pro forma equity value of $1.04 billion.

NeuroBlade, a developer of data acceleration solutions, has secured $83 million in Series B funding, bringing the total invested capital to $110 million. The investment was led by Corner Ventures with contribution from Intel Capital, and supported by current investors StageOne Ventures, Grove Ventures and Marius Nacht. Additionally, technology companies, including MediaTek, Pegatron, PSMC, UMC and Marubeni, also provided funding during this round. NeuroBlade has developed a new data analytics architecture that eliminates major data movement bottlenecks by integrating the data processing function inside memory, better known as processing-in-memory (PIM).

Fab tools
Bruker has received orders for two 1.1 GHz NMR Avance Neo systems from U.S. academic institutions funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF awarded the funds to establish the Network for Advanced NMR (NAN), which is designed to propel nuclear magnetic resonance technology. NAN is a consortium with the goal to establish a distributed network of ultra-high field NMR spectrometers. These systems are designed to tackle important and diverse scientific problems.

SJ Semiconductor has announced the $300 million of series C funding from Walden CEL, CCB PE, CCB Trust, Growth, Country Garden Venture, HTPE and GP Capital, together with participation from existing investors Oriza Rivertown, CCIC Capital, and Oriza Hua Capital. This newest funding round brings SJSemi’s total amount raised to $630 million and valuation will be more than $1 billion SJSemi is China’s first 300mm MEOL (Middle-End-Of-Line) foundry specializing on advanced bumping and wafer-level packaging (WLP).

Hideyuki Tsutsumi, vice chairman of TEL Korea, has been named chairman of TEL Korea. Yoshiaki Horii, the former chairman of TEL Korea, has become a senior adviser of the unit.

Materials
The University of Arkansas has received $17.87 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build and operate a national silicon carbide R&D fabrication facility. The facility, to be located at the University of Arkansas, will provide opportunities for prototyping, proof-of-principle demonstrations and device design. It will be the only accessible fabrication facility of its kind in the U.S., meaning its facilities and services will be available to external researchers. The NSF funding will pay for infrastructure, equipment, technology installation and enhancements to current facilities to accommodate new equipment.

Taiwan’s ITRI and Oxford Instruments have signed a cooperative research project on the development of next-generation compound semiconductors. This agreement is expected to complement the R&D capacities of both sides and will help develop a new industry chain for compound semiconductors in Taiwan.

Rare Element Resources has announced the finalization of negotiations with the U.S. Department of Energy for providing approximately $21.9 million of government funds for the engineering, construction and operation of a rare earth separation and processing demonstration plant in Wyoming.

Market research
Total foundry sales are expected to hit $107.2 billion in 2021, a 23% increase that would match the record growth rate set in 2017, according to IC Insights. “Total foundry sales this year are forecast to surpass the $100-billion mark for the first time and continue increasing at a strong 11.6% average annual growth rate through 2025 when total foundry sales are expected to reach $151.2 billion,” according to IC Insights.

Worldwide telecom capex—the sum of wireless and wireline telecom investments—remains on track to advance 5% to 10% in 2021, according to the Dell’Oro Group. “Healthy end-user fundamental combined with the competitive dynamics and improving carrier revenue trends is spurring operators to ramp investments in multiple technologies and regions,” said Stefan Pongratz, vice president with the Dell’Oro Group.

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Here’s a worrisome sign: “Tensions have hit a new high between (Taiwan) and (China), and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft have repeatedly flown through Taiwan’s ADIZ,” according to a report from Reuters, referring to Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). “Over a four-day period beginning on Friday (Oct. 1), Taiwan said that nearly 150 PLA military aircraft entered its ADIZ, part of a pattern of what Taipei calls Beijing’s continued harassment of the nation.”

Taiwan is a self-governing entity with no political ties to China. However, China claims Taiwan is part of its territory, and one day hopes to re-unify with the island. And any outside interference with Taiwan’s political matters is seen as a threat to Beijing. And to make matters worse, the ongoing U.S.-China trade war is compounding tensions in Taiwan, where most of the leading process technology is located today. Any disruption would have a major impact on access to technology.



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