Week In Review: Manufacturing, Test

Fan-out deal; 5G test; Huawei’s chip vendors.


Packaging and test
In a major deal that has some implications in the OSAT supply chain, South Korea’s Nepes has taken over Deca Technologies’ wafer-level packaging manufacturing line in the Philippines.

In addition, Nepes has also licensed Deca’s M-Series wafer-level packaging technology. This includes fan-in technology as well as wafer- and panel-level fan-out. It also includes an advanced lithography technology called Adaptive Patterning.

Today, Deca is producing wafer-level chip-scale packaging (CSP) technology in the Philippines. Nepes will assume control of that plant. The deal with Nepes will enable the company to expand the capacity in the facility. Nepes also plans to develop a production facility in Korea, which will produce the M-Series.

The deal also has some ramifications in the OSAT supply chain. ASE is an investor in Deca, and is one of Nepes’ competitors in the IC-packaging space. Besides the M-Series, Nepes has its own proprietary fan-out and panel-level technology.

In Taiwan, meanwhile, ASE is also ramping up the M-Series fan-in and fan-out lines, based on the technology from Deca. ASE is also developing a panel-level fan-out line based on Deca’s technology.

Officials from Deca said: “ASE will continue to run the M-Series in volume production. Obviously bringing up the M-Series in the Nepes Korea facility will take us some time, but it will mean there will be a third site capable of supporting the growing demand for this technology.”

So, in one form or another, the M-Series is produced in Taiwan (ASE), the Philippines (now Nepes), and eventually Korea (Nepes).

Yole and TechInsights have independently confirmed that Deca’s M-Series fan-out wafer-level packaging has been adopted by Qualcomm for power management integrated circuit (PMIC) devices in Samsung’s S10 handset, along with the Xiaomi Mi 9 and LG G8 handsets.


National Instruments (NI) has made a flurry of announcements. First, NI has launched a hardware-accelerated 5G mmWave OTA (over-the-air) Validation Test reference architecture for characterization and validation of 5G mmWave beamforming antenna-in-package (AiP) devices. NI’s test technology achieves fast speeds for OTA spatial sweeps in the 5G mmWave bands from 24GHz to 44GHz. This in turn helps users reduce OTA RF validation test times for AiP devices, compared to traditional point-by-point, software-controlled test systems.

NI has also rolled out a Wi-Fi 6 front-end test reference architecture for testing the latest Wi-Fi 6 power amplifiers and front-end modules operating in new frequency bands above 6GHz. In addition, NI has introduced a real-time sub-THz software defined radio (SDR) for 6G research built on NI’s technology.

Plus, NI has announced a solution to test the computing platform for autonomous vehicles (AVs). NI also announced the S.E.A. C-V2X Open Loop Test System for Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications.

Chipmakers and OEMs
Last month, GlobalFoundries filed suits in the U.S. and Germany against TSMC, alleging that semiconductor manufacturing technologies used by TSMC infringe upon 16 of GF’s patents. Now, TSMC has filed multiple countersuits against GlobalFoundries in the United States, Germany and Singapore for GF’s alleged infringement of 25 of TSMC’s patents. The patents involve TSMC’s 40nm, 28nm, 22nm, 14nm, and 12nm processes. In the complaints, TSMC demands injunctions to stop GF’s manufacture and sale of infringing semiconductor products. TSMC also seeks monetary damages from GF for its sale of infringing semiconductor products and unlawful use of TSMC’s patented semiconductor technologies.

Here’s some bad news for U.S. device makers. “We expect China to be the biggest 5G smartphone market next year, but the trade war is likely to exclude US RF suppliers,” according to a research note from KeyBanc. “Feedback from Asia indicates Huawei plans to ship 100M 5G smartphones in 2020, which would represent over one third of the company’s shipments. With the U.S. entity ban list, we believe Huawei has most aggressively moved to non-U.S. sources of supply for RF, while other OEMs such as Oppo/Vivo and Xiaomi have also taken measures to increasingly source from non U.S.-suppliers, but to a more moderate shift as compared to Huawei. On the modem front, Huawei will use its internal HiSilicon-based Kirin 5G modem, while other Chinese OEMs are expected to use Mediatek’s 5G modem, which is expected to be ready by the end of the year.”

The trade war is also accelerating Huawei’s push towards internal ASICs and away from third-party FPGAs, according to KeyBanc. “Feedback from Asia indicates Huawei has been able to redesign its 5G base station in the baseband and the radio head or active antenna unit (AAU) to minimize the use of FPGAs. In some instances, we believe Huawei will only require the use of one XLNX FPGA in its base station,” according to the firm. “Huawei (is) aggressively transitioning its 5G base station platforms away from XLNX and toward HiSilicon ASICs.”

Fab tools
Korean government officials from the Gyeonggi-do province and Lam Research have signed a memo of understanding to establish the Korea Technology Center (KTC). The R&D facility will focus on equipment for semiconductor manufacturing processes. The initial investment for the facility is $50 million.

ASM International has announced that Chuck del Prado, chief executive and chairman, will retire in May of 2020. A search to find a successor has started.

Bruker has acquired the Magnettech EPR business from Freiberg Instruments. Separately, Nabsys, a developer of high-definition genome mapping, has closed on a $21 million equity round led by Hitachi High-Technologies.

Market research
Here’s the latest semi CapEx forecast from KeyBanc: “TSMC is seeing very high demand for 5G-related chips as the China 5G industry grows, and we’re raising our 2019 TMSC capex estimate to $12B, up from $11.1B. We project overall fab equipment demand to fall 16% this year, and we project a 6% increase in 2020 as memory producers likely begin to recover from under-investment.”

Total wafer shipments in 2019 are expected to decline 6% from last year’s historic high, according to SEMI. Growth will resume in 2020 with shipments expected to reach a new high in 2022, according to SEMI.

MicroLEDs are the next big thing in displays. “Startups have raised more than US$800 million to date, including at least US$100 million in 2019,” according to a report from Yole Développement. “It is estimated Apple has spent in the range of US$1.5 to US$2 billion on the technology over the last five years. Panel makers such as Samsung Display, LG Display, AUO or Innolux have also significantly increased their efforts.”

TrendForce has released its predictions for the information and communication technology industry for 2020. Here’s one theme: “Demand from AI, 5G, and automotive will push back against headwinds in the global semiconductor market,” according to the firm.

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