By David Lammers, Contributing Editor
Buoyed by strong investments in China, 200mm wafer production is seeing a re-awakening, with overall 200mm capacity expected to match its previous 2006 peak level by 2019 (Figure 1).
Speaking at a SEMI/Gartner market symposium at SEMICON West, SEMI senior analyst Christian Dieseldorff said over the next few years “we don’t see 200mm fabs closing, in fact we see new ones beginning operation. To me, that is just amazing.”
The numbers back up the rebound. Excluding LEDs, the installed capacity of 200mm fabs will reach about 5.3 million wafers per month (wspm) in 2018, almost matching the 2007 peak of 5.6 million wspm. As shown in Figure 1, By 2019 as new 200mm fabs start up in China, 200mm wafer production will surge beyond the previous 2007 peak, a surprising achievement for a wafer generation that began more than 25 years ago. Figure 2 shows how capacity, which held steady for years, is now on the increase.
Case in point: On the opening day of Semicon West, Beijing Yangdong Micro announced a new OLED 200mm fab that will be opening in the second half of 2018 to make OLED drivers, according to Dieseldorff.
Over the past few years, Japan-based companies have closed 10 200mm fabs, mostly outdated logic facilities, while expanding production of discrete power and analog ICs on 200mm wafers. But with China opening several new 200mm fabs and the expansions of existing 200mm fabs worldwide, SEMI sees an additional 274,000 wafer starts per month of 200mm production over the 2015-2018 period, adding expansions and additional fabs, and subtracting closed facilities.
“One message from our research is that we believe the existing 200mm fabs are full. Companies have done what they can to expand and move tools around, and that is coming to an end,” he said. SEMI reckons that 19 new 200mm fabs have been built since 2010, at least six of them in China.
Dieseldorff touched on a vexing challenge to the 200mm expansion: the availability of 200mm equipment. “People have problems getting 200mm equipment, used and even new. The (200mm) market is not well understood by some companies,” he said. With a shortage of used 200mm equipment likely to continue, the major equipment companies are building new 200mm tools, part of what Dieseldorff described as an “awakening” of 200mm manufacturing.
China is serious
Sam Wang, a research vice president at Gartner who focuses on the foundry sector, voiced several concerns related to 200mm production at the SEMI/Gartner symposium. While SMIC (which has a mix of 200mm and 300mm fabs) has seen consistently healthy annual growth, the five second-tier Chinese foundries – — Shanghai Huahong Grace, CSMC, HuaLi, XMC, and ASMC — saw declining revenues year-over-year in 2015. Overall, China-based foundries accounted for just 7.8 percent of total foundry capacity last year, and the overall growth rate by Chinese foundries “is way below the expectations of the Chinese government,” Wang said.
The challenge, he said, is for China’s foundries which rely largely on legacy production to grow revenues in a competitive market. And things are not getting any easier. While production of has shown overall strength in units, Wang cautioned that price pressures are growing for many of the ICs made on 200mm wafers. Fingerprint sensor ICs, for example, have dropped in price by 30 percent recently. Moreover, “the installation of legacy nodes in 300mm fabs by large foundries has caused concern to foundries who depend solely on 200 mm.”
But Wang emphasized China’s determination to expand its semiconductor production. “China is really serious. Believe it,” he said.
New markets, new demand
The smart phone revolution has energized 200mm production, adding to a growing appetite for MEMS sensors, analog, and power ICs. Going forward, the Internet of Things, new medical devices, and flexible and wearable products may drive new demand, speakers said at the symposium.
Jason Marsh, director of technology for the government and industry-backed NextFlex R&D alliance based in San Jose, Calif., said many companies see “real potential” in making products which have “an unobtrusive form factor that doesn’t alter the physical environment.” He cited one application: a monitoring device worn by hospital patients that would reduce the occurrence of bed sores. These types of devices can be made with “comparatively yesteryear (semiconductor) technology” but require new packaging and system-level expertise.
Legacy devices made on 200mm wafers could get a boost from the increasing ability to combine several chips made with different technologies into fan out chip scale packages (FO CSPs). Bill Chen, a senior advisor at ASE Group, showed several examples of FO CSPs which combine legacy ICs with processors made on leading-edge nodes. “When we started this wafer-level development around 2000 we thought it would be a niche. But now about 30 percent of the ICs used in smart phones are in wafer-level CSPs. It just took a lot of time for the market forces to come along.”
More coverage from this year’s SEMICON West can be found here.