IDM approach continues to strengthen ST’s semiconductor leadership

Article By : Stephen Las Marias

ST's Catania facility expansion is a key step in advancing the company's vertical integration strategy for its SiC business.

As electronics manufacturers worldwide step up their efforts to promote sustainability through power-efficient solutions and technologies, the onus is on semiconductor providers to develop devices that will help support this trend.

In line with this, more and more chip makers are focusing on wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductors, especially gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC), as traditional silicon devices are reaching their theoretical limits in performance. WBG devices are increasingly designed in applications including power modules and power inverters, motor drives, and chargers and adapters, among others.

The power GaN market is forecast to be worth $2 billion in 2027, according to Yole Developpement. Consumer applications including power supplies and Class D audio amplifiers are expected to account for 48% of the total GaN industry by the end of the forecast period. In particular, the consumer power supply market for GaN is forecast to be worth over $915.6 million by 2027, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 52% between 2021 and 2027. For the datacom/telecom industry, Yole projects the power GaN market growth to be at 69% CAGR during the forecast period, while the GaN automotive market is expected to register a CAGR of 99%.

On the other hand, the SiC device market is forecast to reach $6.3 billion in 2027, up from around $1 billion in 2021, mainly driven by electric vehicles (EVs) and their charging infrastructures—especially with the arrival of 800V EV models, which are expected to support fast DC charging—and photovoltaics, according to Yole.

Amid these rosy forecasts, STMicroelectronics, a leading integrated device manufacturer (IDM), is investing heavily in boosting its production capacities and strengthening its manufacturing capabilities for SiC and GaN.

Henry Cao

“We will integrate SiC substrate manufacturing into our overall strategy,” says Henry Cao, Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing, China Region, at STMicroelectronics. “SiC is in huge demand today, and it is very difficult for the semiconductor industry to provide enough supply of SiC. Global SiC substrate wafer sourcing is dominated by a small number of companies. ST sources mainly from one American company and one Japanese company, in 150mm. With internal capacity—we are building a €730 million investment in Catania—we will both increase the balance of our supply and continue to drive our costs down.”

ST is accelerating the expansion of its SiC device manufacturing capacity. “In volume production with SiC devices since 2017, we have grown a lot, with more than 100 million devices shifted to automotive customer already,” says Cao. “For capacity, we have expanded it by more than 2.5x by 2022 from 2020. Currently, we are leveraging Catania and Singapore as the main sites for SiC capacity. For SiC assembly and testing, we are leveraging Shenzhen in China and Bouskoura in Morocco.”

ST’s SiC substrate manufacturing facility in Catania is expected to commence production this year. “It will be able to deliver monocrystalline SIC ingot, the epitaxy, and wafer processing,” says Cao. “It will be a first of its kind in Europe for the volume production of 150mm (6in) SiC epitaxial substrate. Moving forward, ST is committed to developing 8in wafers.”

Cao says the Catania facility will enable a balanced supply of SiC substrate between ST’s internal and external supply. “Soon, after qualification, we will also introduce the SmartSiC technology,” he explains. “Today, the substrate is obtained by slicing the monocrystalline SiC ingot. The drawback of this approach is that the ingot of SiC crystal is quite thin and you can only obtain a limited number of wafers. The cost is quite high. With the SmartSiC process, you remove a layer of SiC and you use a polycrystalline SiC substrate, which is much easier to produce. This is used to dope the polycrystalline with the layer of monocrystalline on the monocrystalline, which has lower resistivity and enables a better performance and lower cost. It should also bring performance improvement.”

The Catania facility is an important site for ST’s power innovations. “ST’s leadership in SiC is a natural result of 25 years of focus and commitment in R&D with a large portfolio of key patents,” says Cao. “And Catania is the place with the largest SiC R&D and manufacturing operations in ST. Catania has also an established ecosystem on power electronics, with long term, successful collaboration between ST and different stakeholders locally, including Catania University, the Italian National Research Council (CNR), equipment and product manufacturing companies, and our suppliers. The investment will strengthen Catania’s role as a global competence center for SiC and for further growth opportunities.”

Moreover, the project is a key step in advancing ST’s vertical integration strategy for its SiC business. “This will support the increasing demand from ST’s customers for SiC devices across automotive and industrial applications as they transition to electrification and seek higher efficiency,” says Cao.

ST’s SiC substrate plant in Norrköping, Sweden, focuses on 150mm volume production. The new SiC integrated plant in Catania will help achieve the company’s target of more than 40% substrate in-sourcing by 2024.

STMicroelectronics’ Catania facility

In addition to SiC investments, ST is also building GaN capacities and capabilities. “We have power conversion GaN and RF-power GaN,” says Cao. “We have 8in power GaN fab in Tours; we have epitaxial capability and pilot line in place, and we already have fab qualification in 2022. Beyond this 8in power GaN, we have 6in RF GaN in Catania, and fab qualification was already available last year. So, we are also focusing a lot on GaN technology because it’s a huge complementary technology to SiC to cover the customer demand for power devices.”

Outsourcing partners critical to meet growing demand

While ST is strengthening its manufacturing capabilities and building internal capacities, customer demand continues to outpace supply. Which is why the company continues to work with some outsourcing partners for strategic manufacturing.

“For front end, we are leveraging 80% of ST internal source for fab capacity and working with partners for 20% of external source. For back end, ST provides 65% of the internal capacity, while our sourcing partners OSAT can provide 35% of the capacity,” says Cao. “With this strategy and working model, we can be very flexible to react to growing customer demand, to manage our internal capacity expansion plan, and to run all the processes smoothly to ensure the highest level of service to our customers.”

According to Cao, collaborating with leading foundries and OSATs enable access to selected advanced technologies to complement ST’s portfolio. For front-end, the company partners with TSMC for its FinFET technology, and with Samsung Foundries and GlobalFoundries for the FD-SOI ecosystem. For back end, ST partners with ASE and Amkor for advanced BGA package and WLCSP.

Digitalization in ST’s factory floor

ST is likewise investing heavily in digital transformation and Industry 4.0 to enhance its manufacturing processes and related activities. For one, the company is leveraging digital technologies to reengineer its supply chain into a demand-driven adaptive system to be resilient amid global disruptions.

“Today, our world is full of challenges, such as market fluctuations, disruptions, supply chain duplication, environment challenges, trade war,” says Cao. “We need to leverage more digital technologies to reduce waste, to make sure our supply chain is very robust and resilient to whatever change we can see from the market. We also leverage digital transformation to do product life cycle management. We connect and digitalize products related to information and processes for a more efficient and effective innovation engine.”

According to Cao, ST’s fabs are highly automated. The company utilizes automated material handling systems for materials transport. “For production, 100% of our production tools are managed automatically. For the automated processes, 95% of the dispatching decisions are done without human intervention.”

At ST, 100% of transportation of material to tool are done by automated material handling systems.

With this level of automation, ST’s fabs can run 24 hours, 365 days a year. “This is the reason why we can run our manufacturing factories with such a high efficiency,” says Cao.

ST is also digitalizing its semiconductor factory floor by leverages its manufacturing data and analytics capabilities to help improve manufacturing quality, yield, equipment productivity, and manufacturing costs.

“We have tons of data generated every day, and we analyze those data to optimize our shop floor and equipment, to automatically classify all the defects. We optimize the process control, we design for manufacturability, and we also accelerate the ramp up of new products,” says Cao. “All these capabilities are built on digital technologies. We need to have a very strong capability to analyze those data, to fully leverage those data and those analytical results to improve our efficiency.”

Moreover, the company uses Industry 4.0 technologies, such as mixed reality (AR/VR) for remote maintenance, and autonomous intelligent vehicles to enhance automation at its factory. Finally, the company leverages digital twin technologies, especially for its 12in fabs in both Crolles and Agrate.

Utilizing digital twin technologies, ST can enable a much faster ramp-up of its new 12in fab in Agrate based on Crolles, which is built much earlier.

“Moving forward, we can leverage this to even speed up the ramp up of many other 12in fabs because they have similar technologies, so there are a lot of synergies and experiences that can be replicated,” says Cao.


Stephen Las Marias is the editor of EETimes Asia. He can be reached at


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