The Battle of 14nm has Another Meanings.
In the semiconductor manufacturing field, the reason why the competition among 10nm, 7nm and other advanced process is not so fierce is that a few players want to join it because of high investment and risks. At present, there are only TSMC, Samsung and Intel. From the competition among each of customer striving for receiving the TSMC 7nm capacity, which indicates 7nm process is becoming the seller market.
The competition of advanced capacity is not so fierce. But, the mature 28nm process has already oversupplied. At present, the 14nm process which lies in the middle position of two sides has already become the backbone, carrying the majority of the manufacturing of mid-to-high end chip on the market, especially industry, automobile and IoT(Internet of things). Accounting for huge market share, it is best time for the 14nm process.
Nowadays, 14nm process is used for mid-to-high end AP/SoC, GPU, mine machinery ASIC, FPGA, automobile semiconductor and other manufacturing. As for every manufacturer, this process is the main source of income, especially Intel with main 14nm process. In terms of the size of the company, the income it brings can be imagined. In terms of wafer foundry in the China mainland, especially SMIC and SHHIC which are developing the 14nm process technology and the time for mass production is not far off. So, with the mature of new capacity, the market landscape of 14nm process is worthy of the wait after two or three years.
At present, there are seven manufacturers having 14nm process capacity, including Intel, TSMC, Samsung, Global Foundries, SMIC and UMC.
The figure below shows the production times of various processes for 6 manufacturers, of which the green part is 14nm.
There are some gossips between persistent Intel and Samsung.
The 14nm process was released since 2015 and Intel had relied on it for four years. At the same time, this process had also brought huge incomes for the semiconductor giant. From Skylake（14nm）, Kaby Lake（14nm+）, Coffee Lake（14nm++）to the 14nm+++ released in 2018, the company has kept the upgradation of 14nm process. Intel had planned to release 10nm in 2016.But, going through several delays, the 10nm process is released in 2019. From this, we can see that Intel attaches great importance to the 14nm process.
In terms of 14nm process, owing to Intel’s follow Moore's law, the level and stringency of the process are the highest. In terms of the technology released, the 14nm process Intel has consistently upgraded is roughly the same as the 10nm process TSMC released.
There are some specific parameter indicators which can be used for comparing Samsung and TSMC. Intel had released the 14nm process with a node of 37.5 million transistors per square millimeter in 2014. The 16nm process of TSMC that the company does not have a 14nm process but its 16nm and 14nm on the market, with node has about 29 million transistors per square millimeter. Samsung 14nm node has approximately 30.5 million transistors per square millimeter.
In May this year, Intel said that it will increase the capacity of 14nm process in the third quarter to solve the market shortage of CPU.
However, Intel company’s 14nm process has full capacity. Thus, the company has already invested ＄150 billion for expanding 14nm capacity. It is expected that the 14nm process will increase yield in the third quarter. Its 14nm process chips are mainly produced at the D1X fab in Arizona and Oregon. The 14nm wafer fab overseas is Fab 24 in Ireland and is currently upgrading the 14nm process.
Samsung announced in 2015 that it will officially mass-produce 14nm FinFET process and has successively built high-end mobile phone processors for Apple and Qualcomm. At present, its 14nm capacity market share is second only to Intel and TSMC.
As mentioned previously, Intel's 14nm capacity is tight and it is difficult to meet market demand. Under this circumstance, there were media reports in June that Samsung and Intel are negotiating the production of 14nm Rocket Lake chips.
Since the second half of 2018, Intel has invested heavily in upgrading and building new lines to produce 10nm chips, but it will take years to scale up. In the meantime, Intel must ramp up production of its 14nm chips. As a result, there was a rumored that some of its CPU was shifted to Samsung in hopes of solving the production capacity problem.
Qualcomm and Intel are the main targets for Samsung as it looks for new customers as its foundry capacity utilization declines due to the weak memory chip market, which has had a big impact on Samsung's revenue.
According to reports, Samsung will begin mass production of 14nm Rocket Lake chip in the fourth quarter of next year. If it is true, the first Samsung CPU will be available in 2021.
TSMC mass produced 16nm FinFET in the second half of 2015. While Samsung and Intel have different node names, Samsung and Intel have 14nm nodes and TSMC has 16nm nodes, they are in the same generation at the actual manufacturing level.
By the second quarter of 2018, TSMC's 16nm and 20nm processes will contribute 25% to the company's revenue. The main products are divided into two categories: logic devices, including high-end mobile phones AP/SoC, base band chip, CPU, GPU, mining ASIC and FPGA. The second is radio frequency chip, including high-end mobile phone WIFI, blue tooth, NFC chip, 5G millimeter wave chip and automotive electronics chip.
For example, the Cambrian MLU100 and bitmain's AI tensor computing chip BM1680 are both manufactured using TSMC's 16nm process.
The process of Global Foundries and UMC is limited
In August 2018, Global Foundries announced that it would abandon the research and development of 7nm LP process and invest more resources in 12nm and 14nm processes.
It is reported that Global Foundries has developed two process road maps: one is FinFET, in this respect, the company has 14LPP and the new 12LPP (14LPP to 7LP transition version); the second is FD-SOI, Global Foundries is currently producing 22FDX and 12FDX will be released when the customer needs it.
As a result, 14nm is the most advanced mainstream manufacturing process in Global Foundries. Located in Malta, New York, USA, the 14nm mainly adopted 12-inch wafer with a maximum capacity of 60000 wafers per month, in addition to 14nm and 28nm. 14nm mainly used for foundry high-end processors. Currently, 14nm capacity is a small percentage of its total revenue.
In terms of UMC, the company's Fab 12A in Tainan entered mass production in 2002 and has now used the 14nm process for its customers' foundry products.
However, the 14nm process of UMC only accounts for about 3%, which is not its main production line. This is directly related to the company's development strategy. UMC focus on developing a special process, whether it is 8-inch factory, or 12 inches, the company will focus on all kinds of new special technology development, especially for the Internet of things, 5G and automotive electronics, which have a huge market and development prospect in the future. UMC's automotive electronics business has grown by more than 30% a year in recent years, including RF, MEMS, LCD Driver IC, OLED Driver and other fields.
As for the 14nm FinFET process, UMC started mass production in early 2017. UMC also developed a second 14nm platform, but it is conservative in continuing to invest in the 14nm process.
China mainland’s 14nm process will emerge.
Compared with the United States, South Korea and Taiwan, China mainland is an absolute follower in the 14-nm process. After years of research and development efforts, it has made some breakthroughs and is going to mass production in the near future, which is expected to be realized by 2020. SMIC will play a major role in promoting the process, followed by SHHIC Group's HLMC.
SMIC 14nm FinFET has entered the stage of customer test. In the second quarter of 2019, new equipment was put into production in Shanghai. In the second half of the year, it is planned to enter the stage of mass production. In the future, its first 14nm process customer is likely to be a mobile phone chip manufacturer. It is reported that the capital expenditure of SMIC increased from $1.8 billion in 2018 to $2.2 billion in 2019.
In February 2019, SMIC Co-CEO Liang Mengsong pointed out that they are striving to build a comprehensive range of advanced technology solutions with a special focus on the foundation of FinFET technology, the development of the platform and the construction of customer relationships. Currently, SMIC 14nm technology has entered the customer test phase and product reliability and yield have been further improved. At the same time, 12nm process development has also made breakthroughs.
It is reported that SMIC's 14nm process mass production is mainly divided into three stages: the first stage is cost higher than ASP, the second stage cost is offset with ASP and the third stage cost is lower than ASP. These three stages need to control the gradual increase in production capacity and product categories also need to be carefully selected. The first phase focuses on high-end customers, multimedia applications, etc. The second phase focuses on low-end mobile applications and is ready for applications such as AI, mining, and block chain. The third phase will develop RF applications to achieve high ASP.
In terms of HLMC, at SEMICON China 2019 advanced manufacturing BBS in the beginning of this year, Shao Hua, vice President of research and development of the company, said that HLMC will mass produce 28nm HKC+ process by the end of this year and 14nm FinFET process by the end of 2020.
At present, Intel, Samsung and TSMC are still the main force of the 14nm process and their main source of revenue, followed by Global Foundries and UMC. But, the 14nm capacity of these two companies is relatively limited and it is not their development focus. Therefore, in this market with huge revenue scale, the top three players are actively developing 10nm, 7nm and more advanced processes and the fourth and fifth players have limited production capacity, giving the local wafer generation. The key to the development opportunities of factory manufacturers is to seize time for mass production and ensure production capacity and yield. As long as you have the right time, it is still very promising.