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Development of IC chip industry

Issuing time:2019-04-24 00:00

Integrated circuit (IC) is a kind of micro-electronic device or component. Using a certain technology, the transistors, resistors, capacitors and inductors needed in a circuit are interconnected, fabricated on a small or several small semiconductor wafers or dielectric substrates, and then encapsulated in a shell to form a micro-structure with the required circuit functions; all the components are in the structure. As a whole, electronic components have made great strides towards miniaturization, low power consumption, intelligence and high reliability. It is represented by the letter "IC" in the circuit. The inventors of integrated circuits are Jack Kilby [Ge-based integrated circuits] and Robert Noise [Si-based integrated circuits]. Most applications in today's semiconductor industry are silicon-based integrated circuits.

Most people have heard of Moore's law that when prices remain unchanged, the number of components that can be accommodated on integrated circuits doubles every 18-24 months or so, and their functions will double. For a time, people said that Moore's law was invalid, Intel could not do it by itself, and some people said that in practice, IC operation turned over faster than Moore's law. In any case, semiconductor companies around the world have invested heavily in new manufacturing processes, marked by the widths of integrated semiconductor components. Each process brings smaller linewidth, lower power consumption and higher operating frequency. It can integrate more components and have stronger function.

Linewidth: Note that 1 mm = 1000 micron = 1000 000 nanometer, 1000 times the relationship. From the time I was impressed by the semiconductor industry, the advanced manufacturing processes in the semiconductor industry ranged from tens of microns to a few microns, then hundreds of nanometers, 130 nanometers, 65 nanometers, 45 nanometers, 28 nanometers, 20 nanometers, 16 nanometers, 14 nanometers and 10 nanometers. Until this year, Samsung will produce 7 nanometers in volume (there may be some others among them). Linewidth). Every two or three years, they are renewed. However, based on these line widths, different manufacturers still have different technology. Sometimes the line width is just a commercial propaganda gimmick, because every transistor in IC circuit is made of a variety of semiconductor materials. The shape and line width of each material may be different. The manufacturer chooses the narrow propaganda as if the level is higher, but in fact it may not be. For example, there are many discussions on the Internet, Intel's 20-nanometer process is better than Taiji's 16-nanometer process in practical effect. So when we evaluate whether the process technology of an IC factory is advanced or not, the line width is an important reference, but not countless.

Wafer: A wafer is a circular silicon wafer cut from a cylindrical single crystal silicon. All ICs are processed on the wafer and then cut, packaged and tested to form a finished chip. Obviously, the bigger the wafer, the more IC can be manufactured on the wafer, and the lower the cost. So in the recent decades of semiconductor industry development, wafer size has been increasing, from 4 inches, 6 inches, 8 inches to the mainstream 12 inches, and there will be more wafers in the future. In principle, there is no necessary relationship between nanowire width and wafer size. 7 nanometer wafers can also be used with 4 inch wafers. In fact, IC factories usually use larger wafers of that era to reduce costs.

Investment and Industry: Moore's Law only tells you how IC technology is progressing, but it doesn't tell you how investment in building IC factories is growing. In fact, with the progress of each generation of process technology, the amount of investment needed to build new factories has increased substantially. From tens of millions of dollars in the 1970s to hundreds of millions, billions, billions of dollars, tens of billions of dollars, nearly Samsung, Intel and TSMC have invested more than 20 billion dollars in 7-nanometer manufacturing plants.

This sky-high construction cost has two consequences.

The former result is that such a high-priced factory building, relying on its own products can not generally fill capacity, the consequence is that the cost of its own products soared. In order to fill capacity and spread costs, all manufacturers with advanced technology must contract for other companies. This has led to the division of the IC industry into three types of enterprises: from design to manufacturing, packaging and testing, and into the consumer market, all-inclusive enterprises, known as IDM (Integrated Design and Manufacture), such as Samsung and Intel, have their own brand of IC products, but also for other enterprises; there is no factory but design and manufacture. For fabless enterprises in the marketing department and Fab companies in other enterprises, TSMC has only OEM, but no IC products of its own brand. There are also some IC enterprises in the world, which have a high market share in a specific industry, and the process technology of IC factory is not high, and the cost is not high. These enterprises do not need to work for other families. It is enough for them to produce IC designed by themselves.

Secondly, small countries or countries newly entering IC industry have no economic strength to pursue advanced process technology. Taiwan and South Korea have all lent their full support to the government. They have entered the industry since decades ago when the investment needed by IC factories was not so large. Through a virtuous cycle of factory maintenance, they have made use of the profits of old factories. Run to support the investment in the new plant. However, due to a slight shortage of investment, IC enterprises in Europe and Japan are unable to pursue advanced process technology. The world's advanced IC process technology is only in the hands of three companies: Samsung, TSMC and Intel. At present, the number is only possible.

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