[News] Chinese Chip Equipment Rises Amid U.S. Restrictions

2023-10-20 Semiconductors editor

Amid increased U.S. restrictions on China’s semiconductor industry, Chinese chip equipment manufacturers are witnessing a notable uptick in domestic orders. Over the first eight months of this year, Chinese chip equipment managed to capture nearly half of all orders. This serves as a compelling sign that the fears expressed by companies such as NVIDIA, AMD, and Intel about losing ground to domestic rivals in the Chinese market are materializing.

On October 17th, the Biden administration tightened chip export rules, barring American companies, including NVIDIA, from selling AI chips to China. At the same time, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) placed 13 Chinese GPU firms on its Entity List, further unsettling global semiconductor and AI supply chains. Ironically, these moves could expedite China’s domestic AI chip industry’s advancement amid the pressure.

Huatai Securities’ analysis reveals that Chinese chip foundries have been winning an increasing number of bids for machinery equipment this year. In the first eight months of this year, they secured 47.25% of these bids, with the percentage soaring to 62% in August. In comparison, during March and April, the rate was only 36.3%. This trend reflects a turning point for China’s chip equipment industry and showcases its rapid transition towards self-sufficiency.

As per Reuters, insiders disclosed that prior to the U.S. export bans, China’s advanced chip foundries rarely utilized domestic equipment, reserving it for expanding production. Yet, in reaction to the ongoing restrictions, they’ve proactively started testing homegrown equipment on all foreign devices and plan to fully replace foreign gear with domestic alternatives. This transition has greatly boosted local firms such as AMEC and NAURA.

Analysts observe that China’s local equipment makers have notably enhanced their production capacity, especially in wet etching and cleaning, positioning them for global competition with U.S. counterparts. What’s more, the quality of Chinese-made equipment has surpassed expectations, often advancing by up to two years. The substantial revenue growth in the sector attests to China’s remarkable progress in the semiconductor equipment industry.

Nonetheless, photolithography equipment remains a field where China’s domestic equipment struggles to break through due to its demanding requirements for optical and process precision. China has faced challenges in procuring extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography machines crucial for manufacturing cutting-edge chips. The situation is further complicated by the joint efforts of the United States, the Netherlands, Japan, and other allies to restrict the export of advanced deep ultraviolet (DUV) lithography machines to China.
(Image: AMEC)