The Week In Review: Manufacturing

Samsung’s foundry push; GF in China; Multibeam’s DoD deal; NI’s test rollout.

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Chipmakers
Samsung has formed a new foundry division and rolled out a range of new processes. Specifically, Samsung plans to develop 8nm, 7nm, 6nm, 5nm and 4nm. It also introduced an 18nm FD-SOI technology.

GlobalFoundries has provided more details about its 300mm fab plans in China. The company and the Chengdu municipality have announced an investment to develop an ecosystem for its 22nm FD-SOI technology in China. This includes multiple design centers in Chengdu and university programs across China. The investment of more than $100 million is expected to attract leading semiconductor companies to Chengdu. Construction of GlobalFoundries new 300mm Chengdu fab has commenced and is on schedule with an expected completion date in early 2018.

Who will buy Toshiba’s NAND flash business? Western Digital (WDC) and the Innovation Network Corp. of Japan (INCJ) appear to have the upper hand, according to one analyst. “Kyodo News has reported that WDC has offered JPY 2 trillion ($17.9 billion) for Toshiba’s memory assets. Our understanding is WDC plans to create a SPV (special purpose vehicle) through which it will buy Toshiba assets and will contribute JPY 1.5 trillion in the form of preferred shares while Japanese bank INCJ will contribute the remaining JPY 500 billion. This deal would provide WDC with controlling interest in the JV and keep leverage at manageable levels,” said Amit Daryanan, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, in a research note.

Report from Bloomberg: “SoftBank has quietly amassed a $4 billion stake in Nvidia Corp. making it the fourth-largest shareholder in the graphics chipmaker, according to people familiar with the situation.”

Cree has announced that Chairman, President and CEO Chuck Swoboda will step down from his executive positions as well as a member of the board. Swoboda intends to stay on until a successor is appointed. The board is looking for a successor.

Fab equipment and masks
Multibeam has been awarded a $35 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to manufacture an advanced e‐beam system for IC production by 2020 or sooner.

The production‐system award, sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), culminates the company’s prior DoD‐funded development efforts. Part one of the two‐part contract is underway.

MultiBeam has been developing a multiple e-beam technology tool for two applications. The first is for direct-write lithography applications, where Multibeam’s technology patterns certain critical layers in devices.

The second application involves security. “DoD foundries make wide variety of custom chips in small quantities–the exact opposite of commercial practice. This creates a big challenge due to soaring mask costs,” said David Lam, Multibeam’s chairman.

“Since lithography equipment today is designed for high‐volume manufacturing, it is unsuited and very costly for low‐volume production. Multibeam’s multi‐e‐beam lithography solves both mask and equipment cost problems with its miniature column technology and modular system architecture,” he said. “DoD chip designs often challenge technology limits in pursuit of advanced features and functions; Multibeam’s solution reduces cost and time in developing such ICs by eliminating the need for a new set of masks in each re‐spin.”

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VLSI Research released its “BEST suppliers” list. Fab tool customers recognized 12 of this year’s equipment vendor with 4 stars and above. These vendors excelled with the highest average ratings in recommend supplier, trust in supplier and product performance. Applied, Lam Research and others made the list.

Coventor has announced the availability of CoventorMP 1.0, a new unified MEMS design platform. CoventorMP 1.0 combines the complementary strengths of Coventor’s software tools for MEMS design, CoventorWare and MEMS+ into a single environment for MEMS design automation.

Photronics and Dai Nippon Printing (DNP) have formed their second mask joint venture. Not long ago, the two photomask making rivals formed a joint mask venture in Taiwan. Now, they are forming a new venture in China. Not long ago, Photronics announced plans to build a photomask manufacturing facility in Xiamen, China. Photronics was the sole owner in the venture. Now, DNP has bought a stake in the venture. The agreement states that a subsidiary of DNP will acquire 49.99% of Photronics’ subsidiary in Xiamen, with Photronics maintaining an ownership of 50.01%. The joint venture will be called Photronics DNP Mask Corp. Xiamen (PDMCX).

Test equipment
National Instruments (NI) has rolled out a new ATE platform. The platform, dubbed ATE Core Configurations, allows users to accelerate the design and build of automated test systems for a range of industries. ATE Core Configurations leverages NI’s PXI instrumentation and test software portfolio. This includes more than 600 PXI instruments ranging from DC to mmWave.

In addition, NI announced a series of 28-GHz radio heads for its mmWave Transceiver System. This combination creates the first available full transceiver that can transmit and/or receive wide-bandwidth signals of up to 2-GHz of bandwidth in real time, covering the spectrum from 27.5-GHz to 29.5-GHz. The mmWave Transceiver System software defined radio (SDR) and application-specific software offer a starting point for 5G measurement and research addressing both the 3GPP and Verizon 5G specifications. Separately, NI has released two new multi-slot Ethernet chassis. The cDAQ-9185 and cDAQ-9189 introduce new time-based synchronization built on the latest Ethernet standards, furthering NI’s efforts in Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) and CompactDAQ hardware for distributed measurements.

Finally, NI has also announced LabVIEW NXG 1.0, the first release of the next-generation of LabVIEW engineering system design software. LabVIEW NXG bridges the gap between configuration-based software and custom programming languages with a new approach to measurement automation.

Astronics Test Systems has introduced a modular, PXI-based test system. The ATS-3100 PXI Integration Platform provides a starter “system-in-a-box” for engineers to create and configure new test, measurement, or other systems based on PXI, a versatile PC-based platform for measurement and automation systems.

Imec and FormFactor’s Cascade Microtech unit have developed a fully-automatic system for pre-bond testing of advanced 3D chips. Pre-bond testing is important to increase the yield of 3D stacked chips. The new system enables probing and hence testing of chips with large arrays of 40µm-pitch micro-bumps on 300mm wafers.

Market research
North America-based manufacturers of semiconductor equipment posted $2.17 billion in billings worldwide in April, according to SEMI. The billings figure is 4.6% higher than the final March 2017 level of $2.08 billion, and is 48.9% higher than the April 2016 billings level of $1.46 billion.

Global sales of smartphones totaled 380 million units in the first quarter of 2017, a 9.1% increase over the first quarter of 2016, according to Gartner. Samsung’s smartphone sales declined 3.1% in the first quarter. “Although Samsung announced that preorders for the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are up 30% year over year, the absence of an alternative to Note 7 and the fierce competition in the basic smartphone segment are leading Samsung to continuously lose market share,” said Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner. “Sales of iPhones were flat, which led to a drop in market share year over year. Similar to Samsung, Apple is increasingly facing fierce competition from Chinese brands Oppo and Vivo, among others, and its performance in China is under attack.”