Japan is gearing up to become a semiconductor powerhouse again. The company is working with foundries, chipmakers and other technology companies to bolster its presence in the semiconductor supply chain.
This includes offering incentives and subsidies to companies willing to build new chip fabs in the country like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.’s (TSMC's) fab in Kumamoto Prefecture that began construction last year and Rohm expanding its manufacturing in the region to build silicon carbide (SiC) wafers.
The country is embarking on this journey for many of the same reasons Europe and the U.S. are seeking to expand their own manufacturing prowess.
First, to cultivate homegrown semiconductor supply chains. Second, to stabilize the supply dynamics in the event of a future geopolitical event or pandemic — such as the COVID-19 lockdowns causing a multiyear chip shortage. Lastly, to collect global revenue from the manufacturing of semiconductors that is expected to grow by 5% over the next decade, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.
According to market research firm TrendForce, while Japan is actively seeking to lure tech giants to establish more manufacturing bases it is venturing into its own home-grown R&D programs as a viable alternative to outside technology development. This includes three potential new semiconductor hubs that might emerge located in Kyushu, Tohoku and Hokkaido.
TrendForce said Kyushu, known as “Silicon Island,” has emerged as a chip hotspot due to TSMC’s Kumamoto plant being built there — the $8.6 billion joint venture with Sony Semiconductors and Denso Corp. called Japan Advanced Semiconductor Manufacturing Inc. (JASM).
However, prior to TSMC’s commitment, Sony and raw wafer vendor SUMCO have operated in the region for years and several small and medium-sized chip-vendors have been established in the region.
JASM will be one of the most advanced chip foundries in the region with process technologies ranging from 12 nm to 28 nm.
Additionally, Sony is building its own CMOS image sensor manufacturing facility in Kyushu that will be adjacent to JASM. TrendForce expects a synergy to emerge between the facilities due to Sony’s stake in JASM.
The region of Tohoku contains areas around Sendai and Fukushima and houses vendors SUMCO and Shin-Etsu. It is also features Tohoku University, an institute know for semiconductor materials research and engineering pools.
Taiwan pure-play foundry Powerchip Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. (PSMC) officially unveiled its plans to build a 12-inch wafer fab in Sendai that it will build with the help of SBI Holdings. The plant will initially have a mature 40 nm process with plans for advanced processes on its roadmap, TrendForce said. The fab will produce automotive electronics for the high demand electric vehicle market.
Hokkaido is home to Rapidus, a Japanese vendor looking to develop 2 nm semiconductor technology. The company is set to complete production of a factory in the region in 2024 with mass production slated for 2027.
Rapidus is collaborating with IBM in the U.S. to develop its semiconductor manufacturing ambitions, TrendForce said.
The Japanese government also plans to use Rapidus to lure upstream equipment and material suppliers to Hokkaido, TrendForce said. The location is close to Chitose Airport, giving it easy access to materials and personnel.
Macroeconomic issues, potential labor shortages and competing regions are likely to weigh in on Japan’s ambitions to return to its former glory as a semiconductor manufacturing powerhouse. However, the country is supplying subsidies, incentives and establishing technology hubs to grow its semiconductor and electronics manufacturing in hopes to take advantage of the growth opportunities in the semiconductor supply chain.