There was a post on a Japanese anonymous posting site that seems to be an insider in the Japanese semiconductor industry. The title of the post is “Summary of semiconductor situation in Japan in 2023”
Advanced logic semiconductor：
■ JASM (TSMC Japan Corporation)
Kumamoto Factory: 28nm, 22nm (during factory operation) / 16nm, 12nm (future plan)
With subsidies from the Japanese government and investments from Sony and Denso, TSMC’s factory expansion, which no one believed in, was realized. Construction of the building is currently underway, and if all goes well, mass production is scheduled to begin within 2024.
The processes produced at this factory are a little older than the world’s most advanced ones, but they are the most advanced in Japan, with HKMG (high key metal gate, technology to improve transistor performance) and FinFET , high-performance 3D transistors) will be introduced.
The main customer for semiconductors is Sony, an investor. Japan’s electronics industry is in serious decline, but Sony is still competitive with the rest of the world and ranks among the top 10 in terms of annual semiconductor purchases.
Experts predict that the factory will produce logic semiconductors for Sony’s image sensors.
Chitose factory: 2nm
This is an ambitious semiconductor manufacturing project aimed at introducing technology from IBM as part of the Japanese government’s national policy. Mass production is scheduled to start in 2027.
The president of this project is Mr. Koike, who is 70 years old. He has a splendid career that has worked for semiconductor manufacturers in Japan and overseas.
Former president of Tresenti Technologies, a semiconductor manufacturing company established in 2000 as a joint venture between Hitachi and major Taiwanese foundry UMC, had an advanced fab capable of processing 300mm wafers.
Although it had a pioneering management strategy and innovativeness at the time, it can be said that it did not succeed as a business. The factory was later absorbed by Renesas, and Mr. Koike moved to SANDISK. This appointment as president of national foundry Rapidus is also a revenge match for Mr. Koike after more than 20 years.
On the other hand, Mr. Koike’s poetic presentation is famous in the industry. At a press conference, he criticized the decline of Japanese semiconductors as “arrogance” and became a hot topic. However, there are also voices of concern that he himself is the most arrogant.
■ Renesas Electronics
Naka Factory: 40nm
The logic semiconductor divisions of Hitachi, Mitsubishi Electric, and NEC were merged to form a leading semiconductor manufacturer in Japan.
Accompanying this integration was a large-scale restructuring that drastically reduced the number of employees from 50,000 to one-third, withdrawing from advanced process manufacturing and acquiring overseas manufacturers. This revived the manufacturer and made a big leap forward.
Last year’s sales exceeded 1.5 trillion yen, surpassing the sales immediately after the integration (the peak was 1.1 trillion yen in the fiscal year ended March 2011) for the first time. With these results, we have shown a track record that cannot be said to be “1 + 1 + 1 = 1”.
Due to the increasing demand for automotive semiconductors, we have decided to reopen the Kofu factory, which was closed for restructuring with government subsidies.
In addition, work styles have become flexible during the corona crisis, and remote work has become possible anywhere in the country. Renesas has also significantly streamlined its development bases, consolidating design bases that used to exist nationwide, such as Mitsubishi’s Itami and NEC’s Tamagawa, into Hitachi’s Kodaira.
■ United Semiconductor Japan
Mie Factory: 40nm
In order to meet the increasing demand for in-vehicle semiconductors, Denso has invested and started production of power semiconductor IGBTs. However, I am not an expert in power semiconductors, so I will refrain from explaining the details.
■ Tower Partners Semiconductor
Uozu factory: 45nm
Panasonic was considering selling its semiconductor division and operated a factory jointly with Tower Semiconductor, an Israeli company.
Panasonic sold its stake to Taiwan’s Nuvoton Technology, which is now an unusual form of Israeli-Taiwan joint operation.
Furthermore, Intel, the largest semiconductor company, is acquiring Tower Semiconductor, so it may become an Intel base in the future, and Intel CPUs may be produced in Japan.
However, due to the conflict between the United States and China, the acquisition review process in China has stalled, so there are many uncertainties regarding the company’s future prospects.
Yokkaichi Factory / Kitakami Factory: 3D NAND 162 layers
This company is one of Japan’s leading memory semiconductor manufacturers, and has evolved over the past three years from 96 layers to 112 layers and then to 162 layers.
Competitors have also begun mass production of 232-layer products (Kioxia’s development has been completed, and full-scale mass production is yet to begin). However, it is known that recent 3D NAND cannot be made at low cost simply by increasing the number of layers.
In general, the news of the shortage of semiconductors has left a strong impression, and there may be a widespread perception that the semiconductor industry is making a profit. The memory industry is facing the biggest recession since the Lehman shock.
Kioxia was no exception. In the latest quarterly financial results, we posted a deficit of 100 billion yen. There are also rumors of a Kioxia/Western Digital merger, but I don’t have the information myself and if I do, I can’t share it here.
■ Micron Memory Japan
Hiroshima Factory: DRAM 1βnm generation
Micron Memory Japan was born through the integration of the DRAM businesses of NEC, Hitachi, and Mitsubishi Electric, but was acquired by Micron in the United States after bankruptcy.
In the DRAM industry, the evolution of the manufacturing process is expressed in numbers that are more advanced than the actual nanometer numbers, and in the 20nm generation and below, the notation 1X, 1Y, 1Z, 1α is used instead of specific numbers. I was.
Finally, Micron Memory Japan is said to have reached mass production of the 1βnm generation. In conjunction with the G7 Hiroshima Summit in 2023, the president of Micron visited Japan, met with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida, and announced a large-scale capital investment. Aiming for the 1γnm generation, we also decided to introduce Japan’s first EUV exposure equipment for mass production.
EUV (Extreme Ultra Violet) is an exposure device that uses extreme ultraviolet rays with a wavelength of 13.5 nm, and is the most expensive and precise machine tool in human history. Manufactured exclusively by ASML in the Netherlands. However, Micron is no exception due to the recession in the memory industry.
■ Western Digital
Western Digital currently jointly operates Kioxia’s Yokkaichi and Kitakami factories.
Western Digital is known for manufacturing memory controllers in-house and has a reputation for manufacturing high-performance SSDs. With KIOXIA, we share factories and each focuses on different markets. Therefore, synergistic effects are expected from the integration of the two companies, and there have been reports of this possibility.
Also, when a Japanese semiconductor manufacturer underwent a large-scale restructuring, SANDISK had a history of hiring many mid-career workers as a receptacle for human resources. For this reason, it is said that the mobility of human resources is high, and it seems that former employees are also welcomed to return after changing jobs to other companies.
Mr. Koike, the president of Rapidus, was also the former president of SANDISK. There is also a story that the president of Micron’s US headquarters was also the founder of SANDISK, but was pulled out after being acquired by Western Digital.
■ Sony Semiconductor Solutions Group
Sony’s semiconductor division boasts the world’s largest market share in the image sensor field. In 2020 and 2021, we suffered from a decrease in shipments to our main customer Huawei due to the impact of the conflict between the United States and China, but in fiscal 2022, sales will increase significantly, achieving 1.4 trillion yen. rice field.
As with other semiconductor markets, the image sensor market is highly competitive internationally, and Sony is increasing its workforce in order to compete. We have opened a design base in Kansai, and we are working on recruiting Panasonic engineers and expanding our factories in each region.
In recent years, semiconductor manufacturers, which are doing well, are increasing their workforce, but over the past 10 years or so, interest in the semiconductor industry has declined among students, and the need for human resources has been low. It was getting less and less. As a result, companies are struggling to secure mid-career engineers aged 30 to 40.
In addition, Sony has been focusing on automotive applications for several years as the next market for smartphone cameras. Recently, the results are gradually appearing.
Japan’s largest fabless semiconductor manufacturer, created through the integration of the LSI design departments of Fujitsu and Panasonic.
Riding the wave of the semiconductor boom, the company was listed on the stock exchange, and sales exceeded 200 billion yen. Sales have doubled compared to 3 years ago and are experiencing phenomenal growth.
However, the original sales of Fujitsu and Panasonic’s semiconductor business were nearly 500 billion yen at the peak, so it can be said that the revival is still in the middle stage.
However, if we maintain the current growth momentum and continue striving for further growth, we may be able to achieve even greater results in the future.
■ Mega Chips
It was Japan’s largest fabless semiconductor manufacturer until Socionext was established. Originally, most of the sales were for Nintendo, but in recent years they have diversified. Last year’s sales were about 70 billion, which is slightly below the peak of Switch’s popularity, but the operating profit is the highest ever.
■ THine Electronics
It was once known as one of Japan’s leading fabless semiconductor manufacturers. Last year’s sales were 5.4 billion yen, which has grown from 3 years ago to 3 billion yen, but there is a considerable gap between the top two fabless companies.
In the past, it boasted that its products were adopted by Samsung Electronics in South Korea, and was often featured in the heroic tales of its founder.
However, 75% of sales are currently dependent on the domestic market, and it has been pointed out that overseas expansion is delayed.
Non-advanced logic, microcomputer, analog, discrete, etc.：
Demand for power semiconductors for automotive applications is increasing, and we are constructing a production line for 300mm wafers at our factory in Ishikawa Prefecture.
The 300mm wafer, which frequently appears in this article, refers to the diameter of the silicon substrate, and the larger the wafer, the better the manufacturing efficiency.
Wafer sizes have expanded steadily from 125mm → 150mm → 200mm → 300mm, but the expansion to 450mm has many problems, and 300mm has been the largest size for the past 20 years.
In the past, 300mm wafers were used only in the CPU and memory fields, but in the last five years, 300mm wafers have also been adopted for power semiconductors.
ROHM is a Kyoto-based manufacturer with unique characteristics. In particular, the automotive business is doing well, and sales are growing steadily.
They are leading other manufacturers in Japan in next-generation power semiconductor materials called SiC.
As an aside, I used to handle SiC in an experiment when I was a student. At that time, my grades were not good, so I forgot all about the physical properties of SiC that the professor excitedly talked about.
However, it took more than 20 years from SiC research to full-scale mass production, which shows that basic research takes a lot of time.