Emerging Technologies Propelling Wafer Fab Investments

Article By : George Leopold

Emerging technologies and new uses cases are propelling wafer fab investments...

Investments in 300-mm wafer fabs are predicted to grow steadily through 2023, fueled by pandemic-driven demand for cloud services, 5G wireless infrastructure and related infrastructure build outs as remote work and learning become standard features of daily life, according to a chip industry forecast.

SEMI estimated this week that fab investments will grow 13 percent on an annual basis this year, with no less than 38 new 300-mm fabs coming online over the next three years.

The industry group said the pandemic has fueled a surge in fab spending as demand for cloud services, data center server capacity and use cases like remote medicine and gaming drive demand for digital technologies. Meanwhile, 5G wireless and related edge computing deployments along with Internet of Things roll outs and machine learning workloads in data centers are driving demand for connectivity in data centers.

SEMI projects fab investments will grow through 2021, but at a slower annual rate than this year. Still, the industry group expects $70 billion in global fab investments by 2023—representing a chip industry milestone.

Regional competition is another investment driver, with China expected to sink billions into new chip fabs as it strives to reduce dependence on western suppliers by building an indigenous semiconductor sector. The industry group expects China to invest heavily in 300-mm wafer capacity over the next three years, accounting for as much as 20 percent of global chip manufacturing capacity by 2024.

Other big spenders include South Korean electronics giants that are expected to invest as much as $19 billion over the next three years in 300-mm fab capacity. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. is seen boosting 300-mm fab investments during the same period to about $17 billion.

SEMI said memory technology will account for the bulk of fab investments as applications such as in-memory processing of big data continues to expand along with IoT and 5G edge computing deployments. The market tracker predicts memory technologies alone will account for a 10-percent increase in fab capacity.

While contributions from NAND and emerging 3D NAND technologies remain uneven through the forecast period, SEMI said this week that investments in logic and microprocessor technologies would steadily improve through 2023.

(Nevertheless, memory specialists are again pushing chip innovation as Moore’s Law runs out of steam. For example, Micron Technology is expected to announce 3D NAND advancements in the coming days that would align flash memory with data-intensive workloads.)

“The projected record spending and 38 new fabs reinforce the role of semiconductors as the bedrock of leading-edge technologies that are driving this transformation and promise to help solve some of the world’s greatest challenges,” said Ajit Manocha, SEMI’s president and CEO.

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