Chip Makers Ramping Up Fab Capacity to Meet Surging Demand

Article By : George Leopold

Record monthly wafer production also reflects efforts to address the current chip shortage.

Global chip makers are forecast to produce a record 6.6 million wafers per month by 2024, according to a fab survey released this week by the industry group SEMI.

That works out to a 17 percent increase in 200-mm semiconductor capacity and fab count through the forecast period, SEMI said this week. That forecast reflects heavy investment in 200-mm fab equipment, which is expected to approach $4 billion this year, nearly doubling since hovering above $2 billion between 2012 and 2019.

Equipment and other capital investments reflect the global chip industry’s efforts to overcome the current IC shortage that has fueled capacity utilization at 200-mm fabs. Other industry surveys have found the silicon shortage extends beyond the automotive sector to other hard-hit sectors like industrial machinery and electrical equipment as well as servers and other IT hardware.

Through 2024, “wafer manufacturers will add 22 new 200-mm fabs to help meet growing demand for 5G, automotive and Internet of Things devices that rely on analog, power management and display driver integrated circuits, MOSFETs, microcontroller units and sensors,” said Ajit Manocha, SEMI’s president and CEO.

The industry group said the forecast includes a net increase of 19 new 200-mm fabs along with three others shifting operations to new wafer sizes and other upgrades.

(Click image to enlarge.)

The bullish forecast comes amid a global chip industry boom and pending federal legislation that could add billions of dollars in R&D funding for U.S. semiconductor design, manufacturing and advanced packaging.

“While the impact of increased federal R&D spending on domestic semiconductor manufacturing will depend on the amount, scope and timing of the investments, we believe that federal incentives will enhance U.S. fab capacity and help minimize future demand and supply imbalances,” Manocha said in an email.

“However, any industry incentives need to be available throughout the semiconductor design and manufacturing supply chain,” he added.

SEMIK’s latest fab outlook notes that chip industry equipment investments are projected to remain above $3 billion in 2022, with the foundry sector accounting for more than half of spending. The remainder will come from the discrete IC and power sector (21 percent), analog (15 percent) and MEMS and sensors (7 percent).

By region, the emerging Chinese semiconductor industry is forecast to lead the world in 200-mm capacity with 18 percent this year. Japan and Taiwan follow, each at 16 percent.

SEMI said its fab outlook includes investment details on more than 300 200-mm fab and individual IC production lines.

This article was originally published on EE Times.

George Leopold has written about science and technology from Washington, D.C., since 1986. Besides EE Times, Leopold’s work has appeared in The New York Times, New Scientist, and other publications. He resides in Reston, Va.

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