China Meets Urgent Needs For Wafer Fab Capacity

"I’ve been on a business trip in Shanghai recently to ask for capacity from Fab."

This is what I have heard the most during a chat with chip industry entrepreneurs recently. One of the main reasons for this situation is the outbreak of several products.

Just like our previous reports, because of the rising demand for the complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors, the fierce heat of Bluetooth masters and other chips brought by true wireless stereo (TWS) headsets, and the incentive effect brought by Huawei’s supply chain shift to China. Domestic wafer fabs have ushered in adverse growth in the face of overall semiconductor decline. The capacity utilization is also increasingly driven by these applications.

For the master control chip of the TWS Bluetooth headset, according to industry sources telling the reporter of Semiinsight, domestic manufacturers including Bluetrum and JieLi are facing severe shortages. The delivery cycle given by chip manufacturers to their solution providers has also been postponed from the spot goods to eight weeks. Existing Bluetooth chips in the market have also been speculated by relevant traders. Another round of the fab market has officially opened. Who will be the promoter? Who will be the big winner?

In a report released by market analysis agency IHS Markit recently, Sony’s third-quarter revenue this year was as high as US$ 2.688 billion, an increase of 41.5% from US$1.889 billion in the previous quarter. It is worth mentioning that, depending on the rapid growth of the product, the company’s revenue ranking in global chip factories jumped from 15th in the previous quarter to ninth in the quarter, and this growth rate is also the largest among the top ten manufacturers.

Chip Factory Revenue Rankings for Q3 2019 (source: IHS, unit: million USD)

From the data of Sony we can see the demand for CMOS image sensor (CIS) chips, which is mainly driven by the upgrade of smartphone cameras.

The global smartphone camera sensor sales in 2019 will reach US$11.6 billion, an increase of 41% year-on-year according to the data from Sigmaintell, Beginning from next year, the mainstream of rear camera in the future will develop into the direction of “wide angle + video shooting + large telephoto + ToF”. Coupled with the front-facing camera, you can see the continuous increase in demand for related CIS.

In addition to mobile phones, the steady growth in demand for security also promotes the development of CIS. According to recent data from industry research organization IHS Markit, as governments and companies increase investment in secure networks, there will be more than 1 billion surveillance cameras worldwide by 2021, which also brings a huge demand for CIS. Behind these applications is the carnival of CIS manufacturers such as Sony, Samsung, OV, GalaxyCore, SmartSens and Onsemi, wafer foundries such as TSMC, SMIC, Huahong Grace and XMC, as well as packaging and testing companies such as Amkor, ASE Technology and China Wafer Level CSP.

As reported previously, the current CIS is mainly divided into mobile phones and security. Among them, mobile phones are basically manufactured using a 12-inch 55nm process, and security chips are manufactured using a 0.11um eight-inch process. In terms of domestic wafer foundries, SMIC, Huahong Grace and XMC are among the big players. Recently, the newly established 12-inch factory, Guangzhou-based Cansemi Technology, has also won the favor of large local customers in CIS, and the company is introducing related product production.

According to a reporter from the Semiinsight who learned from friends in the relevant supply chain, with the tight production capacity of these fabs, the wafer delivery date of related CIS chips has been extended to four months, and the time required for packaging increases two to three weeks.

In addition, the popularity of under-screen optical fingerprint solutions using the same process as CIS has exacerbated this phenomenon. "Because the Die Size of the under-screen optical sensor is relatively large, the number of Dies that are originally cut per wafer is limited. The increasing demand makes the supply of CIS more stretched". "To today’s CIS manufacturer, who has the factory capacity, who is the boss," a supply chain insider said to Semiinsight reporter in an interview.

(This article is translated from Semiinsight. You can see the original article in Chinese here.)