From 2023 to 2027, the international ratio of experienced (>28nm) to state-of-the-art (<16nm) IC processes is projected to hover around 7:3, according to market research firm TrendForce. Propelled by policies and incentives promoting local production and domestic IC development, China’s mature process capacity is anticipated to grow from 29 percent this year to 33 percent by 2027. Leading the charge are giants like SMIC, HuaHong Group, and Nexchip, while Taiwan’s share is estimated to consolidate from 49 percent down to 42 percent.
Mature-process ICs are used extensively in the automotive industry, which continues to struggle with its chip supply. Due to the long lifecycle of vehicles, many automotive systems use chips that are being phased out by semiconductor companies in favor of pricier, state-of-the-art chips.
Research firm IDC concurs, but forecasts slightly slower expansion. Based on the categorization by production location, China’s proportion of overall industrial areas will continue to increase, reaching 29 percent in 2027, an increase of 2 percent from 2023. Taiwan’s market share will fall from 46 percent in 2023 to 43 percent in 2027. The United States will make some gains in the advanced process part, and its share for 7nm and below is expected to reach 11 percent in 2027.
While China actively courts both global and domestic IC designers to bolster its local manufacturing presence, the ensuing massive expansion could flood the global market with mature processes, potentially igniting a price war, TrendForce said. As China’s mature process capacities continue to emerge, the localization trends for driver IC, CIS/ISP, and power discretes will become more pronounced. Second and third-tier foundries with similar process platforms and capacities might face risks of client attrition and pricing pressures. Taiwan’s industry leaders, renowned for their specialty processes—UMC, PSMC, Vanguard to name a few—will find themselves in the eye of the storm. The battle ahead will hinge on technological prowess and efficient production yields.
“Geopolitical shifts are fundamentally changing the semiconductor game. While immediate impacts might be subtle, long-term strategies are focusing more on supply chain self-reliance, security, and control. The industry operation will move from global collaborations to multi-regional competitions,” said Helen Chiang, IDC’s Asia Pacific semiconductor research lead and Taiwan country manager, in a statement.
Within the driver IC sector, the spotlight is on high voltage (HV) specialty processes, according to TrendForce. As companies aggressively pursue the 40/28nm HV process, UMC currently dominates, trailed by GlobalFoundries. Yet, SMIC’s 28HV and Nexchip’s 40HV are gearing up for mass production in 4Q23 and 1H24, respectively—narrowing their technological gap with other foundries. Competitors with similar process capabilities and capacities, such as PSMC, and those without 12-inch factories, such as Vanguard and DBHitek, will face challenges in the short term. This trend may also have long-term implications for UMC and GlobalFoundries, according to TrendForce.
While China actively courts both global and domestic IC designers to bolster its local manufacturing presence, the ensuing massive expansion could flood the global market with mature processes, potentially igniting a price war, TrendForce added.
In the realm of CIS/ISP, 3D CIS structure comprises a logic layer ISP and CIS pixel layer. The primary demarcation for mainstream processes is around 45/40nm range for the logic layer ISP, which continues to progress toward more advanced nodes. Meanwhile, the CIS pixel layer, along with FSI/BSI CIS, predominantly uses 65/55nm and above processes. Currently, TSMC, UMC, and Samsung are the frontrunners in this technology, TrendForce reports.
Yet, the firm added, Chinese players like SMIC and Nexchip are closing the gap. Their ascent is further fueled by Chinese smartphone titans OPPO, Vivo, and Xiaomi. Domestic shifts prompted by governmental policies are positioning Chinese CIS companies like OmniVision, Galaxycore, and SmartSens to rally behind local production.
Power discretes mainly encompass products like MOSFETs and IGBTs. Vanguard and HHGrace have been deeply involved in power discrete processes for some time, boasting a more comprehensive process platform and vehicle certification than many competitors. However, said TrendForce, a wave of Chinese contenders, backed by national policies favoring EVs and solar initiatives are intensifying global competition in this sector. This includes mainstream foundries like HHGrace, SMIC, Nexchip, and CanSemi. Smaller Chinese IDMs and foundries, such as GTA and CRMicro, are also entering the fray. If China massively ramps up its production capacity, it will intensify global competition in power discrete manufacturing. The impact will not only spark price wars among local Chinese businesses but could also erode the order books and clientele of Taiwanese companies.