Week In Review: Manufacturing, Test

U.S. rare earth setback; NI buys OptimalPlus; inverse litho.


A major setback has been dealt to the United States’ efforts to develop rare earths. The U.S. is attempting to develop its own supply of rare earths, hoping to reduce its reliance on China. China controls nearly 90% of the world’s rare earths, which are used in magnets and various electronic systems.

In April, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) awarded two U.S.-based firms, LynasBlue and MP Materials, contracts to develop rare earth products in the U.S., according to a report from Roskill, a research firm. “Despite initial progress, these contracts were placed on hold, after debate over ‘the merits of supply from the US, US allies and other sources,’ ” according to David Merriman, an analyst at Roskill, in a research note. “Concerns over the minor shareholding of Chinese company Shenghe Resources in MP Materials, and Lynas Corporations’ operations in Malaysia, were highlighted and senators, including Senator Ted Cruz, suggested that the contracts should only be awarded to rare earth projects in the USA.”

It makes more sense to move ahead with these projects, however. “Whilst the formation of a rare earth supply chain entirely within the USA is seen as the ultimate goal, the inclusion of existing rare earth operations located in ‘friendly’ territories would undoubtedly accelerate development of key stages of the industry,” Merriman said.

As reported, Cruz (R-Texas) recently introduced the Onshoring Rare Earths Act of 2020 or ORE Act legislation to end U.S. dependence on China for rare earth elements and other critical minerals by establishing a supply chain for these minerals in the U.S., and requiring the U.S. DOD to source these minerals domestically.


The U.S. Department of Commerce has initiated an investigation into whether the present quantities or circumstances of vanadium imports into the United States threaten to impair the national security. Vanadium is a metal used in production of metal alloys and as a catalyst for chemicals across aerospace, defense, energy, and infrastructure sectors. Here’s an analysis from Roskill.

5N Plus, a producer of specialty chemicals and engineered materials, has signed a $12.45 million contract with the U.S. government. The contract involves engineered materials for aerospace applications.

Fab tools and test
National Instruments (NI) has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire OptimalPlus, a supplier of data analytics software for the semiconductor, automotive and electronics industries. The acquisition will expand NI’s software capabilities with data analytics. The transaction is valued at $365 million. In 2019, OptimalPlus had revenues of $51 million and employs approximately 240 employees.

FormFactor has released the SmartMatrix 3000XP probe card for DRAM wafer test. The new probe card allows DRAM manufacturers to test 3,000 die or more in a single touchdown. It allows the simultaneous test of approximately 1,000 additional die over previous capabilities and can reduce the test cost per die by more than 25%.

In a video, Leo Pang, chief product officer of D2S, explains inverse lithography technology (ILT). Pang also introduces a new method called mask-wafer co-optimization (MWCO).

Chipmakers and OEMs
The U.S. Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) endorsed the introduction of the “Endless Frontier Act,” a bipartisan, bicameral bill led by Sens. Schumer (D-NY) and Young (R-IN) in the Senate and Reps. Khanna (D-CA) and Gallagher (R-WI) in the House of Representatives. The bill seeks to maintain and build on U.S. scientific and technology leadership – including in semiconductors – by allocating more than $100 billion to science and technology initiatives.

Samsung has announced plans to expand its NAND flash production capacity within a fab in Pyeongtaek, Korea. Construction, which began this May, will pave the way for mass production of Samsung’s 3D NAND memory devices in the second half of 2021.

The powertrain business area of Continental Vitesco Technologies and Rohm have signed a development partnership. Vitesco Technologies will use silicon carbide (SiC) components to increase the efficiency of its power electronics for electric vehicles (EV).

SkyWater Technology has been chosen by Asymmetric Return Capital (ARC) and Linear ASICs to manufacture a microchip with temperature sensing capabilities. The device can be used in a low-cost, smartphone-enabled wireless patch that assists in the remote detection of COVID-19.

Under the theme “Innovative Devices for a Better Future,” the 66th annual IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM), to be held Dec. 12–16, 2020 at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square hotel, has issued a “call for papers” seeking the world’s best original work in all areas of microelectronics research and development. The paper submission deadline is July 24. The late-news submission deadline is August 31.

Market research
Worldwide semiconductor manufacturing equipment billings contracted 13% to $15.57 billion quarter-over-quarter in the first quarter of 2020, according to SEMI. But billings increased 13% year-over-year, according to SEMI.

Upcoming Webinars
Siemens will address how to use digital twins in smart manufacturing of semiconductors, including how to fuse together supply chain and manufacturing operations; proteanTecs is addressing the future of reliability testing, including in-field degradation monitoring.

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