The Week In Review: Manufacturing

Winners, losers in Toshiba bid; GF RF; virtual fab; EUV inspection; VC funds; memory trends; chip drivers.

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Chipmakers
The NAND market is in flux. Not long ago, troubled Toshiba put its memory unit on the block. Finally, the company has selected a group to buy its memory business. The consortium includes the Innovation Network Corp. of Japan, the Development Bank of Japan and Bain Capital. Rival SK Hynix is also part of the group.

Others attempted to bid on the business, including Western Digital, Foxconn and others. What’s surprising is that Toshiba didn’t select Western Digital. Not long ago, Western Digital acquired SanDisk. The WD/SanDisk duo have joint NAND fab ventures with Toshiba. “In our view, they can be boiled down to this: Toshiba didn’t select Western Digital to bid on its memory business, and Western Digital will continue to pursue legal action,” said Weston Twigg, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities, in a report. “The next step for Toshiba is the approval of a definitive agreement by June 28. However, there is a hearing for injunctive relief on July 14, which is part of Western Digital’s effort to block the deal through arbitration. We expect the legal battle between Toshiba and Western Digital to escalate, which could throw the future of the JV into question. In the near term, we view uncertainty related to the fate of the JV as a negative for Western Digital; it could also negatively impact NAND supply (if the JV partners don’t invest equally), which could support higher NAND pricing and help competitors, such as Micron.”

Besides Western Digital, Foxconn is another losing bidder for Toshiba’s memory business. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Foxconn is exploring the idea of building an LCD plant in the United States, according to reports.

GlobalFoundries and On Semiconductor have announced the availability of a system-on-chip (SoC) family of devices, based on GF’s 55nm RF-enabled process technology platform. On Semiconductor’s new RSL10 products are based on a multi-protocol Bluetooth 5 certified radio SoC capable of supporting advanced wireless functionalities.

Bosch is building a 300mm wafer fab in Dresden, Germany. Construction of the plant is to be completed by the end of 2019. Following a rollout phase, manufacturing operations will likely start at the end of 2021. Total investment in the location will come to roughly one billion euros.

Fab tools
Coventor has announced the availability of SEMulator3D 6.1 — the latest version of its semiconductor virtual fabrication platform. According to the company, this new version further increases the accuracy of the process simulation, geometry and modeling of advanced semiconductor processes with new features and usability enhancements. Along with SEMulator3D Version 6.1, Coventor is releasing an all-new SEMulator3D Analytics add-on component that automates statistical analysis of process variation directly from within the SEMulator3D process-predictive platform.

“The real break-through here is our ability to drive technology yield ramp actions by optimizing process steps and process variation in a statistical environment. Important process parameters can be statistically analyzed to identify areas of concern with structural measurements, yield checks and electrical specifications” said David Fried, CTO of Coventor. “Now, our users can automate the large statistical design of experiments (DOEs) for virtual fabrication, to minimize critical defects and maximize device performance and yield.”

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NuFlare and Paul Scherrer Institute are proposing the development of an actinic patterned mask inspection tool for EUV masks, according to the BACUS newsletter. The technology, dubbed RESCAN, “uses Scanning Scattering Contrast Microscopy (SSCM) and Scanning Coherent Diffraction Imaging (SCDI) for fast defect detection and ne defect localization,” according to the newsletter.

Er-Xuan Ping, managing director for memory and materials technologies in the Advanced Product and Technology Development Group at Applied Materials, recently sat down with G. Dan Hutcheson, CEO of VLSI Research, to discuss why the industry is moving to new memory solutions. Here’s a video of the discussion in a blog.

Applied Ventures, the venture capital arm of Applied Materials, has announced it is accelerating innovation in Korea’s technology industry by forming an investment fund with the Korea Venture Investment Corporation (KVIC). The goal of the Applied Ventures Innovation Fund is to invest in promising Korean startups across a broad range of established and emerging industries including semiconductor, display, robotics, healthcare, energy storage and more

Cymer, part of ASML, has rolled out a new productivity package with enhanced chamber and optics technology for its installed base of argon fluoride light sources. The next-generation solution enables chipmakers to extend the time between service events by 33% over earlier generations.

Market research
The ongoing slump in shipments of standard personal computers along with the drop-off in tablets are setting the stage for cellphone IC sales to finally surpass integrated circuit revenues in total personal computing systems this year, according to IC Insights.

North America-based manufacturers of semiconductor equipment posted $2.27 billion in billings worldwide in May 2017, according to SEMI. The billings figure is 6.4% higher than the final April 2017 level of $2.14 billion, and is 41.9% higher than the May 2016 billings level of $1.60 billion.

What about memory pricing? “We expect sequential monthly contract pricing to be flat to up 1-2% for DRAM and up 1-3% for NAND in June. DRAM supply expansion should remain moderate throughout the year, with modest new capacity from Samsung beginning in 3Q and SK hynix in 4Q. NAND supply, should jump in 3Q, and again in 4Q, as suppliers race to ramp 64-layer 3D NAND, which can more than double the fab bit capacity compared to planar NAND,” Pacific Crest’s Twigg said. “We believe 64-layer process yields are improving, and that Micron, Samsung, and Western Digital/Toshiba should all have yields over 80% by 4Q. Still, our NAND supply model could drop significantly if Toshiba cuts 3D NAND investments amid its planned sale and legal battle with WDC. For now, we expect moderate DRAM pricing declines to begin 3Q, and potentially meaningful NAND pricing declines to begin in 4Q, both of which could be moderate headline risks for MU and WDC.”