China's leading indigenous chip manufacturer Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (Shanghai, China) has announced that it has completed the development of two manufacturing processes at the 28nm node and put its first 28nm multiproject wafer (MPW) run through a fab at the end of 2013.
SMIC is now able to supply 28nm polysilicon gate and 28nm high-k dielectric metal gate (HKMG) processes and said it has a library of over 100 cores available developed by third-party IP partners and internally at SMIC.
SMIC said the first MPW run was used by SMIC and customers for verification of process and circuits and that it would run more MPWs during 2014 but did not indicate how quickly it would move to volume production of 28nm wafers. Previously it had been reported that SMIC would gain first revenues from 28nm polysilicon-gate in 3Q14 and from 28 HKMG in 2H15.
SMIC is offering two 28nm processes in a manner similar to Taiwan foundries TSMC and United Microelectronics Corp. and no doubt in the hope it can take some of their business on price. TSMC has dominated the ramp up of 28nm foundry manufacturing and in the fourth quarter of 2013 28nm process technology was responsible for about one third of its sales of NT$145.81 billion (about $4.8 billion). According to IHS' forecasts, the pure-play foundry revenue potential for 28nm will continue to rise with a CAGR of 19.4 percent from 2012 to 2017.
The 28nm manufacturing processes have been mainly used for mobile and consumer equipment such as smartphones and tablet computers, set-top boxes and networking ICs. TSMC ramped the volume supply of 28nm wafers to customers in 2011 which puts SMIC about three years behind TSMC but only a couple of years behind Globalfoundries and UMC.
In general SMIC has competed at the "N-1" node. This would indicate that it wants to be ready to offer 28nm chips as TSMC moves to 20nm towards the end of 2014 and to 16nm FinFET in 2015.
Despite SMIC's reluctance to compete head-to-head with rival foundries TSMC, Globalfoundries Inc. (Milpitas, Calif.) and United Microelectronics Corp. (Hsinchu, Taiwan) in terms of technology the move does bring SMIC into closer competition. This could be increased if 28nm HKMG proves to be a long-lived node with relatively few chip developers taking on the extra cost of going to yet smaller geometries. The 28nm is also likely to be adopted as a mixed-signal node as well as being used for pure digital circuits.
"I am pleased to announce the successful 28nm process milestone, which enables SMIC to better position itself in engaging and serving mobile computing related customers," said Tzu-Yin Chiu, CEO of SMIC, in a statement. "As the first foundry in mainland China to offer 28nm process technologies, this significant milestone demonstrates SMIC's continuous growing capabilities in offering leading foundry technologies to worldwide IC designers."
"The first SMIC 28nm MPW shuttle included both 28PS and 28HKMG related customer products for verification, which was already launched at the end of 2013 as planned," said Shiuh-Wuu Lee, executive vice president of technology development at SMIC, in the same statement. "By taking more MPW shuttles in 2014, we will continue to take more positive steps to strengthen and diversify our technology offerings and meet customers' growing demands on both advanced and differentiated technologies."
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