Silicon wafer: the most important part of semiconductor material

      As a multi-billion dollar industry, the market for semiconductor materials is not very large, but there is a wide variety of materials within it, and the market size of a single product is small, the technical requirements are high, and the differences between sub-industries are large. Among them, silicon wafers account for 36.6% of the semiconductor materials market sales, and are the most important part of the material procurement for fabs.

      Today, more than 90 percent of the chips and sensors in the global semiconductor market are made from silicon. Semiconductor silicon wafer is in the upstream of integrated circuit industry chain and plays an important role in supporting the industry foundation.

      Silicon material because of its single direction conductive properties, thermal properties, photoelectric properties, doping characteristics such as good performance, can grow to a large size high purity crystal, and abundant, the price is low, so the world’s most widely used, the most important semiconductor base material, and is widely used in IC, LED, MEMS, discrete device, and other fields, including IC field application proportion and most difficult.

      Semiconductor silicon wafer is a thin sheet cut from a single silicon ingot, also known as a silicon wafer. Driven by Moore’s law, large size is the direction of silicon wafer manufacturing technology progress. The larger the diameter of semiconductor wafer is, the more chips can be made on a single wafer, and the share of unit cost decreases.

      Silicon wafer sizes have evolved from 2 “, 4 “(the mainstream in the 1980s) in the early days to 6″ (the mainstream in the 1990s), 8 “and 12″ (the mainstream products today). Once the process and size of the wafer production line are determined, these two parameters generally cannot be changed.

      The 8-inch silicon wafer is mainly used in 90nm-0.25μm process. The main driving force for its demand is automotive electronics and the Internet of Things. The products include power devices, analog ICs, low-pixel CIS, fingerprint recognition, display drivers and smart cards. About 47% of the 8-inch wafer capacity comes from Foundry, with IDM providing the majority of the rest.

      12 “silicon wafer is the most mainstream silicon wafer size, mainly used in 90nm, logic chips and memory (DRAM, NAND). Among them, memory contributed to the global semiconductor market size for two consecutive years, and DRAM as one of the important components of electronic products.

      According to TSMC’s quarterly report, 12 percent of global chip manufacturing capacity is expected to be 20nm or less and 41 percent 32/28nm to 90nm. With the advancement of process technology, the proportion of process less than 7nm is significantly increased, and the demand for 12-inch silicon wafers continues to be strong.

      12 “silicon wafer customer inventory level:

      Source: Sumco

      The 18-inch (450mm) piece is the next step in the larger dimension direction.

      As early as 2011, the world’s top five semiconductor manufacturers, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd., IBM, Intel, Samsung and Global Foundries jointly established the 450mm Alliance (G450C) to promote the application of 450mm. There are also plans to promote 18-inch wafer such as EEMi450 and Metro450 worldwide. However, due to the difficulty in developing 18-inch wafer equipment and the high investment in production line, the promotion of equipment and manufacturers is not sufficient.

      At present, from the point of view of the downstream customers, 12 inch pieces can basically meet the needs of the manufacturing process, and the status of its main size will continue.

      Semiconductor silicon wafer is technology, capital, talent intensive industry, industry barrier is high, presenting oligopoly situation.

      The top five semiconductor Wafer giants, Shin-Etsu of Japan, Sumco of Japan, Global Wwafer of Taiwan of China, Siltronic of Germany and SK Siltron of South Korea, account for about 92 per cent of the market. The two leading Japanese suppliers have a combined market share of more than 50%.

      The same companies are the main players in 12-inch wafers, but due to more difficult processes and higher concentration, the top five manufacturers account for 95% of the market.

      On December 10, 2020, GlobalWafer announced that it has agreed to acquire German wafer maker Siltronic AG for 3.75 billion euros. Upon completion of the merger, GlobalWafer is expected to become the world’s largest wafer manufacturer and further increase its global market concentration.

      There are two trends in the process development of the semiconductor industry:

      First, based on Moore’s Law, the company continues to pursue advanced manufacturing processes and reduce the characteristic size of chips. At present, products such as memory chips, CPUs and logic chips continue this trend, with representative enterprises including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd., Samsung, Intel and SMIC.

      The second is to go beyond Moore’s Law, including the development of a new generation of semiconductor materials to achieve breakthroughs in physical structure and circuit design. Analog circuits, sensors, power management and other products are obviously in line with this trend.