[News] Intensified Competition in the Semiconductor Industry for 2nm Technology Dominance, Potentially Reshaping the Global Foundry Market

The competition for dominance in 2nm semiconductor technology has intensified at the beginning of 2024, marking a crucial battleground among global foundry companies.

As per a report from IJIWEI, major foundry enterprises such as Samsung Electronics, TSMC, and Intel are set to commence mass production adopting 2nm process starting this year. Consequently, the fierce competition for supremacy in 2nm technology is expected to escalate from 2025 onwards. Currently, the most advanced production technology globally is at the 3nm level.

  • TSMC

TSMC’s 2nm products will be manufactured at the Fab 20 in the Hsinchu Science Park in northern Taiwan and at a plant in Kaohsiung.

The Fab 20 facility is expected to begin receiving related equipment for 2nm production as early as April, with plans to transition to GAA (Gate-All-Around) technology from FinFET for 2nm mass production by 2025.

During TSMC’s earnings call on January 18th, TSMC revealed that its capital expenditure for this year is expected to fall between USD 28 billion and 32 billion, with the majority (70% to 80%) allocated to advanced processes. This figure is similar to that of 2023 (USD 30.4 billion), indicating stable investment to ensure its leading position in 2nm technology.

  • Intel

After announcing its re-entry into the foundry business, Intel is actively advancing its foundry construction efforts. The plan includes the introduction of the Intel 20A (equivalent to 2nm) process in the first half of 2024 and the Intel 18A (1.8nm) process in the second half of the year. It is understood that the Intel 18A process will commence test production as early as the first quarter of this year.

Intel’s 2nm roadmap is more ambitious than originally anticipated, being accelerated by over six months. In response to criticisms of its “overly ambitious” plans, Intel swiftly began procuring advanced Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) equipment.

  • Samsung Electronics

Samsung Electronics has devised a strategy to gain an advantage in the more advanced process war through its Gate-All-Around (GAA) technology. Currently, it is mass-producing the first-generation 3nm process based on GAA (SF3E) and plans to commence mass production of the second-generation 3nm process this year, significantly enhancing performance and power efficiency.

Regarding the 2nm process, per a report from Nikkei, Samsung plans to start mass production for mobile devices in 2025 (SF2) and gradually expand to high-performance computing (HPC) in 2026 and automotive processes in 2027.

Currently, Samsung Electronics is producing GAA products for the 3nm process at its Hwaseong plant and plans to manufacture products for both the 3nm and 2nm processes at its Pyeongtaek facility in the future.

  • Rapidus

Rapidus, a chip manufacturing company supported by the Japanese government, is expected to trial-adopt 2nm process at its new plant by 2025 and begin mass production from 2027.

If Rapidus’ technology is validated, the global foundry market may expand beyond the Taiwan-Korea duopoly to include Taiwan, Korea, the United States, and Japan.

The technology competition to become a “game-changer” ultimately depends on the competition for customers. It’s rumored that TSMC holds a leading position in the 2nm field, with Apple speculated to be its first customer for the 2nm process. Graphics processing giant NVIDIA is also considered a major customer within TSMC’s client base.

According to TrendForce data as of the third quarter of 2023, TSMC’s revenue share accounted for a dominant 57.9%, with Samsung Electronics trailing at 12.4%, a gap of 45.5 percentage points.

However, Samsung Electronics is not sitting idly by. With continuous technological investment, Samsung’s foundry customer base grew to over 100 in 2022, a 2.4-fold increase from 2017. The company aims to expand this number to around 200 by 2028.

Particularly, Samsung’s early adoption of GAA technology is expected to give it an advantage in achieving early production volumes for advanced processes.

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(Photo credit: TSMC)

Please note that this article cites information from IJIWEI and Nikkei.


[News] NVIDIA Expands Advanced Packaging Supply Chain with Intel’s Inclusion, Diverting Orders from TSMC

NVIDIA’s AI chip supply faces constraints, with insufficient CoWoS advanced packaging production capacity at TSMC potentially being the main issue. According to Economic Daily News, NVIDIA is also providing advanced packaging services to Intel, with a monthly capacity of about 5,000 units. It is expected to join NVIDIA’s advanced packaging supply chain as early as the second quarter in 2024, grabbing a share of TSMC’s related orders.

Industry sources cited by the Economic Daily News believe that Intel’s participation will help alleviate the tight supply of AI chips.

TSMC declined to comment on the rumors on January 30th. As per industry sources cited by Economic Daily News, Intel’s entry into NVIDIA’s advanced packaging supply chain is expected to lead to a significant increase of nearly ten percent in total production capacity.

As per industry analysis cited in the report, even with Intel joining to provide advanced packaging capacity for NVIDIA, TSMC remains NVIDIA’s primary supplier for advanced packaging. When considering the expanded production capacity of TSMC and other related assembly and testing partners, it is estimated that they will supply approximately 90% of advanced packaging capacity for NVIDIA.

Supply chain sources cited by the report further indicate that TSMC is ramping up its advanced packaging production capacity. Production capacity is estimated to increase to nearly 50,000 units in the first quarter of this year, representing a 25% increase from the estimated nearly 40,000 units in December last year.

While Intel may potentially provide NVIDIA with nearly 5,000 units of advanced packaging capacity, this accounts for about 10% of the total. However, Intel is reportedly not involved in NVIDIA’s AI chip foundry orders.

Intel has advanced packaging capacity in Oregon and New Mexico in the United States and is actively expanding its advanced packaging capabilities in its new facility in Penang. It is noteworthy that Intel previously stated its intention to offer customers the option to only use its advanced packaging solutions, expected to provide customers with greater production flexibility.

Industry sources also indicate that the previous shortage of AI chips stemmed from three main factors: insufficient capacity in advanced packaging, tight supply of high-bandwidth memory (HBM3), and some cloud service providers placing duplicate orders. However, these bottlenecks have gradually been resolved, and the improvement rate is better than expected.

(Photo credit: Intel)

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Please note that this article cites information from Economic Daily News.


[News] Intel, SK Hynix, and NTT Japan Collaborate to Develop Next-Generation Silicon Photonics Technology

Japanese telecommunications operator NTT is reportedly collaborating with American chipmaker Intel and other semiconductor manufacturers to research large-scale production of next-generation semiconductor technology, which involves significantly reducing power consumption using optical technology.

According to a report from Nikkei, SK Hynix is also set to participate in this initiative, expected to counter China through collaborative research and development strategies.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government will provide approximately JPY 45 billion in support. As cited by Nikkei quoting Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, Japan can lead the world in this technology as part of its strategy to revitalize the national semiconductor industry.

These companies are reportedly aiming to develop equipment manufacturing technology that integrates light with semiconductors and memory technology capable of storing data at Terabit-class speeds by the fiscal year 2027. Intel will provide technical development suggestions, aiming to reduce power consumption by 30-40% compared to conventional products.

As semiconductor scaling reaches physical limits, as per a report from TechNews, the industry is turning towards light. When combined with semiconductors, known as silicon photonics, it is expected to significantly reduce energy consumption. This technology is also seen as potentially game-changing for the semiconductor industry.

Signals received through optical communication is converted into electrical signals by specialized equipment, which are then transmitted to data center servers. Semiconductors within the servers then exchange electrical signals to process computations and memory. With the proliferation of AI and the need to process massive amounts of data, the demand for optical technology is anticipated to increase.

The integration of silicon photonics still presents numerous challenges, primarily concerning interface communication protocols. Consequently, synchronization in communication among semiconductor manufacturers is essential for the realization of silicon photonics technology.

Therefore, NTT aims to coordinate necessary technologies through collaboration with Intel and SK Hynix.

NTT holds a global leadership position in integrating optical and electronic technologies, having successfully pioneered the foundational technology of using light for transistor circuits. This achievement was published in the British scientific journal “Nature Photonics” in 2019, leading to the introduction of the IOWN (Innovative Optical and Wireless Network) fully optical network based on this technology.

(Photo credit: Intel)

Please note that this article cites information from Nikkei and TechNews.


[News] Intel Teams Up with UMC to Pursue 12-Nanometer Technology, Production Expected by 2027

Intel announced on the evening of January 25th that it will collaborate with UMC to develop 12-nanometer process platform technology. The production will utilize Intel’s wafer fab capacity in the United States, and both parties will share the cash generated from the collaboration. The production is expected to commence in 2027.

This marks Intel’s first collaboration with a Taiwanese foundry in process development. Intel is actively venturing into the foundry business, and this collaboration with UMC not only marks a new milestone in the Taiwan-US semiconductor foundry industry but also initiates a new competitive relationship in the global foundry industry.

Intel and UMC have not disclosed the expected investment amount for their collaboration. UMC stated that the investment amount cannot be disclosed as the collaborative technology will not enter production until 2027, at which point it will begin contributing to revenue.

Therefore, the investment will be shared by both parties. Regarding whether they will advance towards more advanced processes, UMC stated that they do not respond to distant matters and primarily focus on financial indicators that the company can afford.

Intel noted that the collaboration with UMC to develop the 12-nanometer process platform is primarily aimed at addressing the high growth in markets such as mobile, communication infrastructure, and networking.

This long-term collaboration combines Intel’s large-scale manufacturing capacity in the United States with UMC’s extensive experience in mature processes in foundry, expanding the process portfolio while providing a better regionally diversified and resilient supply chain to assist global customers in making better procurement decisions.

The new process node, according to Intel, will be developed and manufactured in Fabs 12, 22 and 32 at Intel’s Ocotillo Technology Fabrication site in Arizona.

“Taiwan has been a critical part of the Asian and global semiconductor and broader technology ecosystem for decades, and Intel is committed to collaborating with innovative companies in Taiwan, such as UMC, to help better serve global customers,” said Stuart Pann, Intel senior vice president and general manager of Intel Foundry Services (IFS).

He further stated that, “Intel’s strategic collaboration with UMC further demonstrates our commitment to delivering technology and manufacturing innovation across the global semiconductor supply chain and is another important step toward our goal of becoming the world’s second-largest foundry by 2030.”

Jason Wang, UMC co-president, said that UMC’s collaboration with Intel on a U.S.-manufactured 12 nm process with FinFET capabilities in the United States is a crucial aspect of the company’s pursuit of cost-effective capacity expansion and technological node advancement.

UMC anticipates that this collaboration will assist customers in smoothly migrating to this critical node while benefiting from the resilience of the expanded capacity in the North American market.

UMC looks forward to strategic collaboration with Intel, leveraging the complementary advantages of both parties to expand potential markets and significantly accelerate technology development timelines.

TrendForce believes that this partnership, which leverages UMC’s diversifed technological services and Intel’s existing factory facilities for joint operation, not only aids Intel in transitioning from an IDM to a foundry business model, it also allows UMC to agilely leverage FinFET capacity without the pressure of heavy capital investments.

TrendForce forecasts that this collaboration slashes average investment by a staggering 80%, compared to the cost of new equipment. This calculation includes only the expenses related to the relocation of equipment, secondary piping costs for factory services, and other minor associated expenses for ancillary equipment.

However, the journey is not without its challenges. UMC’s 14nm process, in development since 2017, is yet to hit mass production, and its 12nm process is still in the R&D phase, with mass production eyed for late 2026. This collaboration’s mass production timeline is tentatively set for 2027, with the FinFET architecture’s stability under careful watch.

Overall, TrendForce views this alliance as a significant step. UMC brings its plentiful experience in mature processes, while Intel contributes its advanced technological prowess.

This partnership is not just about mutual benefits in the 10nm process level; it’s a watchpoint for potentially deeper and more extensive collaboration in their respective fields of expertise. In the dynamic world of semiconductor manufacturing, this Intel-UMC alliance is a fascinating development to keep an eye on.

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(Photo credit: Intel)

Please note that this article cites information from Intel.


[News] Intel CEO Claims China’s Chip Manufacturing Lags Behind by 10 Years, Gap to Persist

According to the report from TechNews, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, speaking at the World Economic Forum, stated that export sanctions from the United States, Japan, and the Netherlands are temporarily limiting China’s development in semiconductor processes below 7 nanometers.

Despite China’s ongoing efforts to advance its semiconductor industry and design more sophisticated chip manufacturing tools, it still lags behind the global semiconductor industry by approximately ten years, and Gelsinger believes this gap will persist.

Gelsinger suggests that to some extent, the policies of the United States, Japan, and the Netherlands set a threshold of 10 to 7 nanometers for China’s semiconductor industry. Currently, SMIC has 7-nanometer technology, lagging approximately five and a half years behind TSMC and Samsung. Shanghai Huali Microelectronics (HLMC) began trial production based on 14-nanometer FinFET process in 2020, trailing TSMC by nine to ten years.

Both SMIC and HLMC utilize manufacturing equipment and materials from the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States. However, due to the unavailability of these raw materials, Chinese companies have had to develop their own wafer fab equipment and find methods for purifying gases, resists, and other chemicals used in advanced chip manufacturing.

Gelsinger estimates that China’s semiconductor industry lags behind the global standard by about ten years and, although it will continue to develop, he foresees this gap persisting for the next decade. Given the highly interconnected nature of the semiconductor industry, encompassing companies like Zeiss, ASML, Japanese chemical suppliers, and Intel for mask manufacturing, he believes that this cumulative difference amounts to a ten-year gap and will continue to do so under export policies.

If China cannot acquire advanced chip equipment and technology, Chinese semiconductor companies might attempt to narrow the gap with the global semiconductor industry through reverse engineering and replication. While not a sustainable approach, it may be the only choice available.

Regarding advanced processes, Gelsinger also mentioned that Intel is actively developing technologies below 2 nanometers and is looking beyond to 1.5 nanometers, stating, “We are racing to go below 2nm and then 1.5nm, and you know we see no end to that in sight.”

(Image: Intel)

Please note that this article cites information from TechNews
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