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Semiconductors

SK Siltron to ramp up wafer production from 2022

The wafer industry is facing a much higher demand from the chip makers amid the global semiconductor shortage  

By Jul 02, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

SK Siltron’s silicon wafer plant in Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province.
SK Siltron’s silicon wafer plant in Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province.

SK Group’s silicon wafer affiliate SK Siltron Co. is planning to expand wafer production facilities amid growing demand from the global chip manufacturers.

Sources said on July 1 that SK Siltron is reviewing plans to set up a new wafer plant in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, where SK Hynix Inc.’s semiconductor fabrication facilities are located. SK Siltron’s new plant will likely be located within SK Hynix’s previous M9 production line.   

The plant will mark SK Group’s second decision to ramp up the production capacity of its silicon wafer unit since 2017, when it expanded the Gumi plant right after buying the company, previously LG Siltron, from its rival LG Group.

Sources added that the new plant in Cheongju will kick off construction within this year at the earliest, with aims to start mass production in the second half of 2022. The plant is expected to make around 20,000-30,000 units of 300 mm epitaxial wafers per month. The 300 mm epitaxial wafers are used for making microprocessor unit (MPU) chips as well as CMOS image sensors (CIS).  

Meanwhile, SK Siltron’s global peers are set to make production capacity expansions as well.

The world’s top wafer maker Shin-Etsu Chemical and the close runner-up Sumco Corporation, the two Japanese firms that hold more than 55% share of the global market, have recently announced plans to expand facilities.

GlobalWafers, the third-largest wafer manufacturer based in Taiwan, is also reviewing plans to increase production volume.

Over the last few years, the increased efficiency in the semiconductor chip manufacturing process had reduced demand for wafers. For instance, Samsung Electronics Co. in 2020 produced 40% more volume of chips than in 2019, while using almost the same amount of wafers during the manufacturing process.

Likewise, SK Hynix’s new 176-layer NAND flash has 35% higher memory bits per wafer, meaning that the same volume of the product can be produced using two wafers now instead of three.  

Recently, however, the wafer industry is having a major turnaround driven by the higher demand from the chip makers trying to secure a bigger inventory of wafers amid the ongoing global chip shortage.  

According to data from Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI), the global silicon wafer sales in the first quarter of 2021 were 14.94 million compared to 13.03 million during the same period last year. The wafers saw a rise in sales in all sizes during the given period, with 150 mm wafers growing by 12%, 200 mm wafers growing by 16% and 300 mm by 13%.  

(Graphics by Jerry Lee)
(Graphics by Jerry Lee)

Despite a higher volume of wafer purchases, sources reported that the average inventory of wafers among the major chip makers currently sits at around 1.3 months of volume compared to 1.6 months last year.

Experts say that the semiconductor industry will likely face a wafer shortage driven by the demand from a high number of new semiconductor plants being currently built worldwide.  

“29 new semiconductor plants around the world will start operations next year. The market will be hit by the shortage of wafers starting from the end of this year,” said Professor Park Jea Gun of Hanyang University Department of Electronic Engineering.

Write to Su-bin Lee at lsb@hankyung.com

Daniel Cho edited this article.

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