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Week In Review: Manufacturing, Test

ASE sells plants; ATE; Nvidia-Arm deal blocked; top foundries.

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Packaging and test
Taiwan’s ASE–the world’s largest OSAT–has announced the proposed sale and disposal of equity interests in its subsidiaries, GAPT Holding and ASE (Kun Shan), to Wise Road Capital, a private equity firm based in China. The deal has a value of $1.46 billion.

The announcement is related to four ASE assembly and test facilities in China, including Shanghai, Suzhou, Kunshan and Weihai, according to ASE. Under the plan, ASE will sell shares and equity interests in GAPT to Wise Road. GAPT directly or indirectly holds 100% equity interests in Global Advanced Packaging Test (Hong Kong), ASE (WeiHai), Inc., Suzhou ASEN Semiconductors Co., and ASE Advanced Semiconductor (Shanghai Ltd.). The deal also includes ASE (Kun Shan).

“Through the completion of the transaction, ASE will improve its overall competitive edge by optimizing its strategy and resource allocation in China, while further enhancing its investment in advanced technology development and expanding its leading-edge capacities within Taiwan,” according to ASE.

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Advantest has announced a new, high-volume memory tester in its T5800 product family. With a 5.4-Gbps operating speed, the new T5835 system is a wide-coverage test solution for current and next-generation DRAM and high-speed NAND devices. Separately, Advantest has introduced a new high-throughput memory tester for NAND flash devices that can perform functional testing of chips. With data-transfer speeds that are more than five times faster than its predecessor, the new T5221 system is designed to improve production efficiencies while reducing test costs. In addition, Advantest has also rolled out a system to test high-speed CMOS image sensor devices.

Hprobe, a provider of automatic test equipment (ATE) for magnetic devices, has introduced a new test head. The new module, the H3DM-XL, is at the heart of the latest addition to Hprobe’s IBEX line, the IBEX-WS. The IBEX-WS test equipment integrates 3D magnetic field capabilities, while increasing field area and uniformity for wafer probing large MRAM arrays.

Chipmakers
Nvidia continues to pursue its acquisition of Arm, although the deal appears to be in limbo. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed suit to block Nvidia’s $40 billion acquisition of Arm. “The FTC is suing to block the largest semiconductor chip merger in history to prevent a chip conglomerate from stifling the innovation pipeline for next-generation technologies,” said FTC Bureau of Competition Director Holly Vedova. “This proposed deal would distort Arm’s incentives in chip markets and allow the combined firm to unfairly undermine Nvidia’s rivals.”

In case you missed it: Samsung has announced plans to build a new fab in Taylor, Texas. The estimated $17 billion investment in the United States will help boost production of advanced logic semiconductors. Analysts believe the fab will process chips down to 4nm. Groundbreaking will be in the first half of 2022 with the target of having the facility operational in the second half of 2024.

GlobalFoundries reported its first results since going public. For the third quarter ended Sept. 30, GF sales were $1.7 billion, up 5% sequentially. It posted a profit of $5 million, compared to a loss of $293 million a year ago. “GF’s first earnings results post-IPO kicked off positively as September quarter results and outlook came in above consensus forecasts. Strong customer wafer demand, expanding revenue backlog, and margin expansion bode well for solid earnings growth in CY22. Fab tool and materials supply chain logistics appear on track to support 18%+ revenue growth next year,” said Krish Sankar, an analyst at Cowen. “C3Q capex was $392 million (23% of sales) and 21/22 capex is estimated to be ~$1.9 billion/ $4.5 billion, respectively. With overall fab utilization at 100%+ and the Fab 7H module construction still underway, Fab 1 could be more than 50% of incremental capacity growth next year.”

UMC and Micron recently announced a settlement agreement between the two companies. The companies will withdraw their complaints against the other party, and UMC will make a one-time payment of an undisclosed amount to Micron. This week, Micron announced an expansion of its business relationship with UMC. The deal will provide Micron with opportunities to secure supply for automotive, mobile and critical customers into the future.

Pure Wafer, a supplier of reclaimed silicon wafers, has acquired Noel Technologies, a specialty foundry vendor.

Qualcomm acquired Corum’s Client Clay AIR technology, an AI-powered hand tracking and gesture recognition vendor. Separately, Alphawave IP has agreed to acquire Precise-ITC, a supplier of Ethernet and networking communications connectivity IP.

Jochen Hanebeck will take over as the new chief executive of Infineon Technologies on April 1, 2022. He has been a member of the management board and chief operations officer since 2016. He succeeds Reinhard Ploss, who has led the company as CEO since 2012. Separately, Infineon has acquired Syntronixs. The company specializes in electroplating, a key process in the assembly process of semiconductors.

Fab tools
In a blog, Tim Archer, president and chief executive of Lam Research, talks about an ongoing challenge in the semiconductor and equipment industries–the global talent shortage. “With millions of job openings available globally across the tech and advanced manufacturing sectors, the semiconductor industry faces stiff competition to not only attract and retain, but also source, new talent,” Archer said.

Bruker has acquired MOLECUBES, a supplier of benchtop preclinical nuclear molecular imaging (NMI) systems. This acquisition strengthens Bruker’s position as a NMI solutions provider in preclinical and translational imaging research.

Atomera has announced the availability of its Mears Silicon Technology Smart Profile (MST-SP) technology. MST-SP is designed for use in 5V power and analog electronics. This includes chips using bipolar CMOS-DMOS (BCD) processes ranging from 40nm to 180nm. Power management ICs (PMICs) are one chip type based on BCD. MST-SP enables PMIC manufacturers to get up to 20% more die per wafer, enabling them to improve the profitability of existing fabs and/or improve the return on their investments in new processes and capacity.

Government policy
Here’s the latest report from Nikkei: Mark Liu, chairman of TSMC, “said the $52 billion package that Washington is preparing in order to boost the semiconductor industry under the CHIPS Act should be used to support both foreign and domestic players.”

TSMC is building a fab in Arizona. His comments “came the day after Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger urged the American government to prioritize U.S.-based companies over foreign chipmakers like Samsung and TSMC,” according to Nikkei.

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The U.S. Commerce Department has established a high-level committee to advise the United States government on matters related to microelectronics research, development, manufacturing and policy. It is also seeking to recruit top-level candidates to serve on the committee. “Microelectronics are enabling technologies for industries of the future, like artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, 5G and quantum computing,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “With President Biden’s commitment to ensuring that the United States remains a global leader in microelectronics manufacturing and research, we are at a pivotal moment with the opportunity to bolster our economic strength, security and technological standing. This committee will provide the necessary practical, expert advice from industry, academia and government to help us get this right.”

The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has issued a final rule adding 27 foreign entities and individuals to the “entity list” for engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States. Eight entities based in China are being added to the list to prevent U.S. technologies from being used for the PRC’s quantum computing efforts that support military applications, such as counter-stealth and counter-submarine applications, and the ability to break encryption or develop unbreakable encryption.

Japan has approved $6.8 billion in funding in an effort to bolster the nation’s semiconductor manufacturing capabilities, according to a report from the Asahi Shimbun. Separately, Canada’s Semiconductor Council has released an action plan to propel Canada’s semiconductor industry.

Market research
In the latest foundry rankings, TSMC remains in first place in terms of sales for the third quarter of 2021, followed by Samsung, UMC and GlobalFoundries, according to a report from TrendForce. Amid robust demand, new production capacity, and rising wafer prices, the quarterly total foundry revenue rose by 11.8% to reach a new record high of $27.28 billion for the third quarter of 2021, according to TrendForce.

Global semiconductor equipment billings increased a robust 38% year-over-year to $26.8 billion in the third quarter of 2021, according to SEMI. “Strong secular demand for chips across a wide range of markets, including communications, computing, healthcare, online services and automotive, has fueled this tremendous run of record quarterly growth for semiconductor equipment,” said Ajit Manocha, SEMI president and CEO.

According to the Dell’Oro Group, Wi-Fi 6 orders were ”through the roof” but the Wireless LAN market is “out of stock”, as supply constraints hampered 3Q 2021 sales of several US-based wireless LAN manufacturers. Meanwhile revenues for the mobile core network (MCN) market poised for growth in 2022. The outlook has turned positive, starting in 4Q 2021, as 5G standalone (SA) commercial launches begin to accelerate, according to the research firm.



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