As I said yesterday, I’m at the imec Technology Forum (ITF) in Brussels. So what have I learned from all the people that I’ve interacted with.
There were two press releases announced at a press conference yesterday. The first was that imec was expanding its relationship with Toshiba and Sandisk. This covers bringing EUV into volume manufacturing and other things. You may know that imec has major partnerships with the four biggest non-memory semiconductor manufacturers (Intel, TSMC, GlobalFoundries and Samsung) and with the four main memory manufacturers (Micron, SK Hynix, Toshiba/Sandisk and Samsung again). Toshiba/Sandisk had an existing relationship with imec but only for the memory aspect of the business. This announcement expands the relationship to cover non-memory processes.
As Dan already reported about the creation of a research company based in Chinese, with majority ownership from SMIC and minority ownership from Huawei, Qualcomm China and imec themselves. I was at the press conference where we asked questions of imec. Funnily enough it had the shortest embargo I have ever come across. It is 1.35pm and they tell us it is embargoed…until 2pm when the announcement was to go out in China. There was very little information other than what was in the press release. You probably know that China has committed billions of dollars to creating a domestic semiconductor industry with a 14nm process available by 2020. Of course there is more than just money to developing a 14nm process, just ask GlobalFoundries.
We asked if the process was going to be FinFET. After a little discussion they were not allowed to say, although leakage would have to be a killer if it was just a vanilla planar process. We asked if export restrictions make it impossible to transfer a process from Samsung or someone else. Nobody knew. They just knew that they were in compliance with export regulations, hardly surprising.
I disagree with Dan that this is too little too late. China has made it a strategic imperative to have a growing proportion of domestic semiconductor content. If the development succeeds in creating a 14/16nm process that yields well, then it will be heavily used by Chinese companies even if by nobody else. Not just Huawei and Qualcomm, who are in the consortium, but also Lenovo, Xiaomi and more. If you look at the top 10 smartphone companies, it is lead by Apple and Samsung. But the rest of the list, apart from LG, is made up of Chinese companies some of which you have barely heard of. And it does matter, China is the largest smartphone market in the world, much bigger than the US, so the semiconductor content is important.
There is increasing distrust between China and US. For example, US carriers are either banned or “discouraged” from using Huawei kit since maybe the Chinese have trapdoors in them. Of course this is almost hilarious now we have discovered what the NSA has been doing, intercepting Cisco routers en route to their customers and compromising them. Do you think the Chinese would trust that mask data at GlobalFoundries in New York has not been compromised in some way by the security services? I doubt that US defense suppliers will be using SMIC as their foundry for similar reasons.
I learned a lot of doubts about EUV from talking to people at last nights dinner. But I covered them in yesterday’s post on EUV. The big issues being mask contamination under the pellicle, the non-availability of defect free masks (actually silicon molybdenum Bragg mirrors), and management of heat when you have a 250KW laser generating light of which under 10% is EUV of which under 10% reaches the photoresist. That’s a lot of waste heat to dump.
See also EUV: the View from imec
I met with An Steegen of imec today. Look for a blog about it at the weekend (or in the Monday newsletter if you are a newsletter type of person).
Did you wonder what Warren East was doing with his life-after-ARM? He was the CEO of ARM from 2001-13. Since then he has joined a number of board. One of those boards was Rolls-Royce. At the dinner at the end of the first day here, Simon Segars, the current CEO of ARM, told me that Warren will be the CEO of Rolls-Royce from July 1st. If you think of Rolls-Royce perhaps the first thing you think of are the luxury cars. But in fact that was sold to BMW. Rolls-Royce mainly makes jet engines for modern aircraft, in competition with GE and Pratt & Whitney. Quite a change from ARM.
The imec press release page, where both the press releases can be found, is here.