Policy Updates（May 9）
South Korea releases its first blueprint for chip industry R&D.
The Ministry of Science and ICT of South Korea released on May 9 the blueprint for chip industry R&D, a national strategic plan discussed and formulated jointly by relevant industries, competent government bodies, and research entities. According to the blueprint, which elaborates on the chip strategy the government announced earlier in April, South Korea will further promote the development of next-generation memory and logic chips and advanced packaging. It has also set goals to develop original technologies in chip design for artificial intelligence, 6G, electricity and automotive sectors, as well as original technologies for ultra-micro chips and advanced packaging over the next decade.
A public-private consultative group led by the Ministry of Science was established on the same day the blueprint was released, aiming to strengthen the connection and collaboration between competent government bodies, industry stakeholders, and the academic community. The Ministry of Science and ICT vowed to support the semiconductor industry to produce higher-quality chips to maintain its global dominance in relative fields and gain a further competitive edge in chips. The Minister of Science said the government would conduct research and development strategically according to a road map to formulate future semiconductor technology policies and business directions.
Although the chip industry has matured to some extent, the blueprint predicts the market size will double over the next decade, which is a good signal and forecast for the global semiconductor chip industry. South Korea’s blueprint for chip industry R&D is also a consequential result of the summit agreement it recently reached with the U.S. and Japan on R&D and collaboration in the fields of chips, monitors, and batteries. This blueprint shows South Korea’s strategic plan and resolution to develop the chip industry. It means establishing a more advanced R&D ecological system, strengthening the collaboration and communication between the government, the industries, and research entities in chip development, and promoting the new-generation development of the country’s chip sector.
Enterprise News（May 9）
Companies such as Amazon and Microsoft showing extreme enthusiasm for server and AI chips
As STAR Market Daily reported on May 9, tech giants such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft showed extreme enthusiasm for researching, developing, and launching server and AI chips, and would launch or plan to release these products recently. In the context of the extensive application of AI chips, R&D of relevant computing and processor hardware chips will get more investment and growth. Compared to traditional CPUs, server and cloud AI chips can be better suited to different scenario needs in addition to being more customized.
By far, these giants have invested billions of dollars in user design and microchip development. For example, Microsoft is developing a server chip and an AI chip, both of which will be launched next year at the earliest. There are various reasons to launch server and cloud AI chips, including market demand, chip technology improvement, and data privacy and security. The release of these chips will further promote the development of sectors such as cloud computing and AI.
The server AI chip market has been well validated, and its business model and market size have been recognized. The R&D enthusiasm of tech giants such as Amazon for server and AI chips has a lot to do with the recent ChatGPT fever. The independent R&D of servers and AI chips and their application in companies’ internal product development and cloud server rental business can largely reduce the operating costs of internal data centers and become a significant breakthrough and highlight to win strategic cooperation with customers. In the meantime, the chip R&D trend of such giants represents the strategic direction of industrial enterprises. It might trigger many others to follow their lead in the future onto the path of server and AI chip R&D. We also need to recognize that tech giants have not yet been able to benefit from mainstream chipmakers. For them, the investment cost of chip talents is also an issue to consider.
Enterprise News（May 8）
Qualcomm to acquire Autotalks, an Israeli in-vehicle communication chipmaker
Qualcomm announced on May 8 to acquire Israeli in-vehicle communication chipmaker Autotalks. Autotalks offers global V2X solutions compatible with any V2X technology and abides by the strictest vehicle requirements for safety, functional security, and reliability. Chips produced by the company can reduce collisions on roadways by strengthening V2X communication technology.
Qualcomm has been pursuing the automotive sector as a world-famous IC design company in recent years. It notably said in 2022 that its automotive revenue had risen to U.S.$30 billion and increased more than U.S.$10 billion since the end of July 2022. The company has been dedicated to investing in V2X technology to develop smart transportation systems, build automotive businesses, and promote road safety. Following this acquisition, Qualcomm will accelerate the implementation of its V2X plan and incorporate Autotalks’ V2X solutions into its Snapdragon Digital chassis portfolio to achieve its automotive business goals faster.
As the automotive market continues to mature, the successful application of V2X technology has vital strategic significance and promise for user road safety. For this reason, Qualcomm has been focusing on the research, development, and application of V2X technology. Its successful acquisition of Autotalks can help it take full advantage of the latter’s longstanding technical strengths in V2X and promote the development, application, and fulfillment of V2X solutions. In the sense of user experience and road safety, the continual progress of the project will further improve user road experience and enhance road safety dramatically.
Enterprise News（May 11）
Semiconductor company Onsemi announced signing an in-vehicle SiC agreement with Zeekr.
Recently, semiconductor company Onsemi announced signing a long-term supply agreement (LTSA) for SiC power devices with Zeekr, a brand owned by Geely Automobile Holdings of China. According to the agreement, Onsemi will provide EliteSiC SiC power devices, particularly the 1200 V M3S devices, to Zeekr. Onsemi’s EliteSiC SiC power devices can offer higher power and thermal efficiency to reduce the size and weight of electric vehicles’ traction inverters and increase charging speed and battery mileage. Zeekr continues to expand its product lineup of high-performance pure electric vehicles and will adopt Onsemi’s M3E 1200V EliteSiC MOSFET in the future to achieve higher electrical and mechanical performance and reliability, leveraging SiC technology to help accelerate the transition to new energy vehicles. Zeekr’s CEO said that with advanced cutting-edge technologies such as SiC, Zeekr would be able to offer higher performance and lower carbon emissions to electric cars.
The competition in the SiC market has been intense these years. The fast growth in SiC demand in the past five years mainly stems from the high cost of batteries and the fact that their energy density development has reached its limit. In this context, automakers switched to using SiC chips in electronic control components as a solution to improve battery life without increasing battery quantity. Due to the soaring demand, semiconductor makers are accelerating the R&D of SiC technology. The ability to invest in R&D resources and overall profitability performance will be the key index to measure the competitiveness of semiconductor makers.
With in-vehicle SiC being a hot topic this year, the automotive sector’s confidence and investment in SiC are already evident. It is thus crucial and urgent to accelerate the improvement of the supply chain layout. On the one hand, the industrial chain is expanding production aggressively. On the other hand, automakers are binding supply chain enterprises one after another to ensure an adequate supply of future production capacity. Onsemi is actively laying out the process of in-vehicle SiC to catch up with the two industry leaders, STMicroelectronics and Infineon, as soon as possible. Before this, Zeekr 001 (2023 new model) and Zeekr 009 are both equipped with SiC technology. The signing of LTSA with Onsemi aligns with its development strategy in the new energy vehicle sector. It will help both parties build a more robust supply chain relationship to support Zeekr’s healthy growth in the next decade.
Some Chinese Industrial News
1.SMEC successfully listed on the Sci-Tech Innovation Board
Semiconductor Manufacturing Electronics (Shaoxing) Corporation (SMEC) was successfully listed on the Sci-Tech Innovation Board (STIB) on May 10. Its stock price rose 10.72% on the first day of this listing, with a market value of 42.64 billion yuan. In this IPO, SMEC invested in the technology transformation project for the MEMS and power device chip manufacturing, packaging, and testing production base, the second-phase wafer manufacturing project, and supplementary funds. SMEC is the second wafer fab successfully listed on the STIB this year. It is also the second-largest company after SMIC in terms of fundraising scale in the semiconductor industry in this STIB launch.
Founded in 2019, SMEC is a leading specialty process foundry in China, mainly engaged in wafer foundry and package testing in MEMS and power devices. According to Chip Insights’ 2021 Global Exclusive Foundry Ranking List, SMEC is ranked 15th globally and fifth in the Chinese Mainland in revenue. Having established three technology and application directions, namely, sensing, power, and connectivity, SMEC can offer diversified foundry and module packaging and testing solutions. SMEC’s successful listing on STIB enables it to provide higher-quality and mass-produced systematic foundry services to customers in and outside China.
2.GAC Aion joins hands with DiDi Autonomous Driving to launch an unmanned new energy vehicle production project.
According to GAC Aion’s official news, GAC Aion New Energy Automobile Co., Ltd. recently joined hands with DiDi Autonomous Driving Company to reach a strategic cooperation. They will launch an unmanned new energy vehicle mass production project, the AIDI plan. This will be the first time in China to promote large-scale mass production of unmanned new energy vehicles through a joint venture between an autonomous driving company and an automaker. The project cars will give full play to the technical and industrial advantages of the two companies. As a main manifestation, the mass-produced cars will fully integrate GAC Aion’s industry-leading automated mass production technology and be equipped with DiDi Autonomous Driving’s autopilot solution to achieve round-the-clock, large-scale hybrid dispatch and accelerate the layout of intelligent transportation ecology. In addition, the joint venture will also cooperate with DiDi chuxing and various investment enterprises owned by the GAC Group to apply the project results.
GAC Aion plays the role of the traffic entrance and mature operation experience. At the same time, DiDi Autonomous Driving is responsible for providing complete technical solutions and promoting the implementation of mass production. From the perspective of driving travel convenience, the smooth launch of the project can provide users with better driverless travel services and apply such technology better and faster to more commercial sectors to form a scale and intensification effect.
3.AMEC independently develops 12-inch low-pressure chemical vapor deposition equipment
AMEC recently launched its independently developed 12-inch low-pressure chemical vapor deposition (LPCVD). Equipped with an optimized gas mixing solution and a heating station with independent intellectual property rights, the LPCVD has excellent film uniformity, filling capability and process adjustment flexibility. It also features good process handling capability for wafers with large bows. As reported, the equipment can be flexibly configured with up to five dual-station reaction chambers (ten reaction stations), each of which can process two wafers simultaneously, achieving higher production efficiency while ensuring lower production costs and chemical consumption.
Since its founding, AMEC has been committed to developing and offering globally competitive high-end equipment for micro-processing. It has grown into one of the leading companies in high-end micro-processing equipment in China. According to AMEC, in addition to having complete and independent intellectual property rights, this LPCVD equipment also sets a new record for its new device development speed. Launching the new LPCVD product further expands the company’s production line layout based on plasma etching and MOCVD equipment. It also enhances the independent controllability of semiconductor equipment.