SMIC: China’s Big Push Forward

“China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep because when she wakes up, it will shake the world” Napoleon.

China’s Big Push for Rise of Semiconductor Industry SMIC of China to Make Massive Investment in Foundry Business

  • By Michael Herh August 12, 2020

SMIC, China’s No, 1 foundry, is planning to increase more than double its facility investment for 2020 from the level forecast in January.   

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SMIC announced at a recent earnings conference call that it will invest US$6.7 billion in facility investment in 2020. SMIC had initially estimated its facility investment for 2020 at US$3.2 billion, but increased the figure to US$4.3 billion after announcing its first-quarter earnings and raised the investment amount again in three months. SMIC’s sales rose 18.7% on year to US$938 million in the second quarter of 2020. Its foundry utilization ratio surged to 98.5%, up 7.4% from a year earlier. The rate of Chinese customers stood at 66.1%, up 9.2% from a year before.

SMIC’s revised capital expenditure for this year is more than twice its sales in 2019 ($3.11 billion) and is about four times as much as its sales of $1.84 billion in the first half of 2020. It is also noteworthy that SMIC’s planned capital expenditure amounts to 40% of TSMC’s investment in 2020, which is between $16 billion and $17 billion. TSMC’s foundry market share stood at 51.5% in the second quarter of 2020, more than 10 times larger than SMIC’s 4.8%, market research firm TrendForce said.

Behind the sharp increase in SMIC’s CAPEX is government support. SMIC operates nine plants in China including its headquarters in Shanghai, and reportedly receives considerable amounts of subsidies and tax benefits from local governments.

Tax benefits for SMIC are also becoming increasingly noticeable. The State Council of the People’s Republic of China recently decided to exempt semiconductor manufacturers with more than 15 years of experience from corporate tax for up to 10 years when they introduce under-28-nanometer micro-fabrication processes. Given that SMIC’s flagship products are based on 14-nanometer processes, many analysts say that it is actually a policy to support SMIC. In July, SMIC raised about nine trillion won through its second listing on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

Huawei, which became the world’s largest smartphone maker in the second quarter of 2020, also provides support for SMIC’s expansion. SMIC is gradually stabilizing its profit structure as it is mass-producing Huawei’s 14-nano application processor (AP) Kirin 710A. Huawei, which can no longer cooperate with TSMC due to US sanctions, is expanding collaboration with SMIC. SMIC is also trying to keep pace with Huawei by planning to upgrade its technology to a 7-nanometer process in 2020. Considering that Samsung Electronics’ Exynos 990 and Qualcomm’s latest AP Snapdragon 865+ is all being produced on a 7-nanometer process, SMIC’s process upgrade can narrow its technology gap with the industry’s top foundry operators to one year.

Mong Song Liang

SMIC has been rapidly enhancing its technical prowess since it hired Liang Mong Song, a former vice president of Samsung Electronics who is a Taiwanese national, in 2017. Liang is well known as an expert in the fin field-effect transistor (FinFET) process, which plays a key role in enhancing semiconductor efficiency along with micro-fabrication processes. SMIC announced on its website that it succeeded in mass-producing semiconductors using the first-generation FinFET process in the fourth quarter of 2019, which proves that SMIC has the most advanced technology in mainland China. Tsinghua Unigroup is also expected to contribute to SMIC’s growth by placing orders for large quantities of semiconductors in the future. Recently, designers of HiSilicon, China’s leading fabless company owned by Huawei, have recently moved to UniSOC under Tsinghua Unigroup following the US sanctions against Huawei.

Dr Liang Mong Song has been Co-Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director at SMIC since October 16, 2017. Liang has been engaged in the semiconductor industry for over 33 years and was involved in memory and advanced logic process technology development. Liang was mainly involved in the memory and advanced logic process technology development. He owns over 450 patents and has published over 350 technical papers. … Liang graduated with a doctor of philosophy degree in electrical engineering from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a Fellow of Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.

From the Chinese government, SMIC’s rapid growth holds the key to the rise of the Chinese semiconductor industry. A system semiconductor ecosystem is based on cooperation between fabless and foundry companies. As a foundry supply chain centered on TSMC has been broken due to US sanctions, China needs to elevate SMIC’s technology to the world-class level to foster the Chinese semiconductor industry. In particular, China is planning to expand its semiconductor ecosystem to include the IoT (Internet of Things) and semiconductors for self-driving cars apart from mobile APs.

SMIC’s HQ in Shanghai

Of course, upgrading SMIC’s technical power has a limit. Due to the US sanctions, SMIC cannot introduce extreme ultraviolet (EUV) exposure equipment exclusively supplied by ASML in the Netherlands, which is needed to produce sub-5-nm products. Yet, mass-production of most semiconductors, except for these high-end products, is possible only with multi-patterning technology and ArF-based exposure equipment. In other words, SMIC will be able to enjoy the fruit of expanding the fabless ecosystem in China.

Another reason why SMIC is optimistic about growth is the growing market for field programmable arrays (FPGAs) that can be produced on a 10-nanometer process. This means that Samsung Electronics’ foundry business could lose some of its market for 10-nano products to SMIC.

“Although some experts say that Samsung’s foundry business may win an order for Intel’s CPUs, Intel’s outsourcing of CPUs other than telecommunication chips or GPUs will not take place soon,” said an official of a semiconductor industry. “There is a high possibility that SMIC will quickly upgrade its technology and take some of market shares of top foundry companies including Samsung Electronics.”


EET Asia Dr Liang Joins SMIC as Co-CEO

~ by Joel Huan on September 12, 2020.

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