Week In Review: Semiconductor Manufacturing, Test

U.S. AI rules; China weighs rare earth export ban; Russian drone fund; IC manufacturing equipment sales hit all-time record in 2022; human first, computer last.


U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he launched an effort to establish rules on artificial intelligence to address national security and education concerns, Reuters reported. “Time is of the essence to get ahead of this powerful new technology to prevent potentially wide-ranging damage to society and national security and instead put it to positive use by advancing strong, bipartisan legislation,” Schumer said.

Meanwhile, China may be considering prohibiting exports of certain rare-earth magnet technology in a move that would counter the U.S.’s advantage in the high-tech arena, Nikkei Asia reports. There also are proposed provisions that would prohibit or limit exports of alloy technology for making high-performance magnets derived from rare earth metals.

Intel Foundry Services (IFS) and Arm announced an agreement that will enable chip designers to build low-power compute SoCs on the Intel 18A process. The collaboration will focus on mobile SoC designs first, but allows for potential design expansion into automotive, IoT, data center, aerospace, and government applications. In addition, Rambus has joined the IFS Accelerator IP Alliance.

China is the leading patent holder for alternatives to lithium ion batteries, most notably sodium ion batteries, a Nikkei Asia analysis shows. Chinese companies are expected to begin producing sodium ion batteries by the end of this year. Sodium ion batteries have lower capacity than lithium ion batteries, but they are much less expensive. Japan is the No. 2 patent holder, followed by the U.S. and South Korea.

Japan’s industry ministry is finalizing a plan to provide state-backed chip maker Rapidus an additional 300 billion yen ($2.27 billion) in funding to build a semiconductor plant in the northern island of Hokkaido. Rapidus previously secured an initial 70 billion yen funding from the government. In related news, Rapidus recently became an imec core partner for 2nm development.

Renesas produced its first microcontroller (MCU) based on 22nm process technology, using a smaller die area for the same functionality.

Russia’s National Technology Initiative (NTI) has established a joint venture fund to invest in drones and microchips amid shortages exposed by the war in Ukraine. NTI Venture Funding is expected to invest 6.4 billion rubles ($82.2 million) into 20 domestic projects by 2029, including unmanned aviation, microelectronics, robotics, wireless communication, and cargo delivery. Russia has faced a microchip deficit since invading Ukraine, because key exporters — the United States, the European Union, and Japan — embargoed supplies to Russia as part of sanctions.

In an interview with MoneyControl, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) scientist Rajamani Vijayaraghavan says India is lagging in quantum computing, but can catch up.

New Origin, which spun out of the University of Twente’s MESA+ NanoLab, has secured €6 million/USD 6.6 million in funding from PhotonDelta – a cross-border ecosystem of photonic chip technology organization, with the goal of creating a world-leading photonics industry in the Netherlands. The money will be used to create the Netherland’s first independent photonic chips foundry that produces silicon nitride chips.

imec announced its 2023 Lifetime of Innovation Award will go to James C. Morgan, chairman emeritus of Applied Materials, and Cadence Design Systems’ current executive chair of the board and former CEO, Lip-Bu Tan. “Under their leadership, the equipment and design tools were built to pursue countless semiconductor breakthroughs and technological advancements,” said Luc Van den hove, CEO of imec.

Tan will receive his award at ITF World (Antwerp, Belgium, May 16 – 17). Morgan will receive his at ITF USA (San Francisco, July 10), in conjunction with Semicon West.

Market Research

According to Semi’s Worldwide Semiconductor Equipment Market Statistics (WWSEMS) Report, sales of semiconductor manufacturing equipment increased 5% from $102.6 billion in 2021 to an all-time record of $107.6 billion last year. The European market grew the fastest, by 93% year over year.

Fig. 1: Annual billings by region in billions of dollars, with year-over year change rates. Note, summed subtotals may not equal total due to rounding. Sources: SEMI and SEAJ, April 2023

The market for process tool sub-systems, components, and modules reached US$46 billion in 2022, according to Yole Intelligence. Sub-systems comprise the greatest share of this market (50%), ahead of modules (34%) and components (16%). Zeiss, MKS Instruments, and Edwards Vacuum are the three largest subsystem companies.

In a Nature study examining the potential for using AI in process development for chip fabrication, Lam Research found that a “human first, computer last” approach can reach process engineering targets dramatically faster and at half the cost compared to today’s approach.

SEMI Europe, the lead for a new 18-partner consortium, was awarded up to €4 million/USD $4.4 million in funding to develop the European Chips Skills Academy, an initiative to help tackle the skills and talent shortages in Europe’s electronics industry and propel its long-term growth. The initiative is backed by more than 30 partner research organizations, vocational and education training providers, certification agencies, and industry stakeholders.

Further reading

Read about what data center chipmakers can learn from automotive, photonics testing, challenges for CD-SEMs at 5nm and beyond, and other issues in our latest Test, Measurement & Analytics Newsletter:

Check out our Fab Process Forecast and other hot topics in our Manufacturing, Packaging & Materials newsletter:

Upcoming events:

  • Design, Automation and Test in Europe Conference, Apr. 17 – 19 (Antwerp, Belgium)
  • 2023 International VLSI Symposium on Technology, Systems and Applications (VLSI TSA), Apr. 17 –  20 (Hsinchu, Taiwan)
  • 2023 CMC Conference: Critical Materials Council, Apr. 18 – 20 (Austin, TX)
  • SPIE Optics + Optoelectronics 2023, Apr. 24 – 27 (Prague, Czech Republic)
  • TSMC 2023 Technology Symposium, Apr. 26 (Santa Clara, CA)
  • COMSOL Day: Semiconductor Manufacturing, April 27 (Virtual)
  • ASMC/WiS (Women in Semiconductors) 2023, May 1 – 4 (Saratoga Springs, NY)

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