SMIC has started volume production of chips using its 14 nm FinFET manufacturing technology. The largest contract maker of semiconductors in China is the first company in the country to join the FinFET club, as only a handful of companies have managed to develop fabrication processes that rely on such transistors. SMIC’s FinFET line is considerably smaller than those of other foundries, yet the fact that the company is using it is already a big deal for China.
SMIC’s previous-generation manufacturing technology is 28 nm, so the 14 nm process tangibly increases transistor density, boosts performance, and lowers power consumption, which naturally enables the company to produce more complex and expensive chips that were otherwise outsourced to its larger rivals. At present, SMIC ramps up production using its 14 nm process technology at one of its 300-mm fabs, so initial volumes are not high. Meanwhile, SMIC’s plans include building up a new 300-mm production line for 14 nm and thinner process technologies with a monthly capacity of 35,000 wafer starts per month. Construction of the fab was completed earlier this year and the company is currently installing production equipment.
In addition to ramp of its 1st Generation FinFET platform, SMIC’s development of its 12 nm process is well underway and there are customers who plan to use the technology. Furthermore, the company is developing more advanced processes, including those that will require extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUVL) tools, that will be used next decade. In fact, the company has even acquired an EUV step-and-scan system from ASML, but it has not been installed so far.
Being relatively small foundry, SMIC is gradually closing the gap between itself and larger rivals when it comes to technology development. Meanwhile, because each new process costs more in terms of R&D, companies need to increase their production volumes to make development financially viable. Therefore, it is crucial for SMIC (and other foundries) to procure advanced production equipment on a timely manner and increase their manufacturing volumes for long-term success.
Dr. Zhao Haijun and Dr. Liang Mong Song, SMIC’s co-CEOs said in their joint statement:
“Over the past two years, we have not only narrowed the advanced technology gap, but also expanded comprehensive mature node technology platforms. We have confidence that with the wave of 5G applications, we will enter a new stage of development.
FinFET technology development continues to push forward: the first generation of FinFET has already successfully begun mass production and will begin to contribute revenue in the fourth quarter; meanwhile, the development of second generation of FinFET is steady, and customer engagement is smooth. We believe that SMIC will benefit from the extensive business opportunities brought by the upcoming 5G product migration, and we will exit this period of transition and re-enter growth.”
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