One of TSMC's fabs

Japanese fabs in race for foundry capacity

Capacity is tight for devices made on 8-inch wafers, says Gartner.

Japanese semiconductor manufacturers affected by this month’s earthquake need to fast-track the qualification of their designs to run through third-party manufacturers’ fabs, particularly for older devices, according to a note issued Tuesday (March 29) by analysts at Gartner.

They say that there is enough foundry capacity to take on production of devices made on 12-inch wafers, but less for those made on previous generation 8-inch wafers. “About 30 per cent of the 8-inch capacity required by northeastern Japan can be supplied by foundries,” the note says.

Most of the fabs in the earthquake region use 8-inch wafers or smaller to fabricate analogue and discrete devices.

Gartner adds that the qualification from in-house fabs to foundries can take up to six months and that Japanese chip suppliers should look at possible short-cuts to alleviate the looming supply crunch.

One technique that can be used here is to evaluate options to use the same mask-set at the foundry as was used at the fab although some designs may need to be resimulated and tweaked.

“The cost to transfer a device to a new fab can be more than $300,000, depending on the complexity of the project,” Gartner notes. “With such a budget in mind, Japan device makers should start the foundry business engagement early as the foundry capacity is available.”

However, the research adds that a problem remains in securing the supply of silicon wafers. The Shin-Etsu facility that produces 20 per cent of the world’s requirements was badly damaged by the earthquake and it could be several months before it comes back into service.

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