Is analog IC fab renaissance in the works?

Article By : Majeed Ahmad

Growing availability of fab capacity seems to complement the boost in analog chip sales.

The Taiwan-based analog IC vendors are hitting new highs in the third quarter of 2021, and the growing availability of fab capacity seems to complement this boost in analog chip sales. This news is a harbinger of a supply chain realignment of analog, power management, and RF chips happening when semiconductor shortages are making headlines across the globe.

According to a DigiTimes report, analog IC suppliers in Taiwan—including GMT, AAT, Leadtrend Technology, Anpec Electronics, and Excelliance MOS—are projecting a third-quarter jump for power management, fast-charging, MOSFET, and controller chips.

Next, a large analog chipmaker joins hands with a specialty fab to optimize the IC manufacturing utilization and thus maximize analog, power, and mixed-signal volume production. STMicro’s partnership with high-value analog fab Tower Semiconductor is primarily aimed at ramping up the utilization of its Agrate R3 300mm fab currently under construction on its Agrate Brianza site in Italy (Figure 1).

Figure 1 The ST-Tower fab tie-up is eying higher utilization level as well as competitive wafer cost for analog chips. Source: STMicroelectronics

Tower, which will install its equipment in one-third of the total space, expects to triple its 300-mm foundry capacity of analog RF, power platforms, displays, and other semiconductor devices. The fab is expected to be ready for equipment installation at the end of 2021 and start production in the second half of 2022.

Analog fab acquisitions

However, the initiatives in the analog chip supply chain go beyond strategic partnerships. For instance, Texas Instruments, another major analog chipmaker, has acquired Micron Technology’s 300-mm semiconductor fab in Lehi, Utah, for $900 million (Figure 2). After gradually retooling the fab, TI plans to start with 65-nm and 45-nm production for its analog and embedded chips and go beyond those nodes as required.

Figure 2 The Lehi fab, initially built for memory chips, is readily capable of converting to other uses. Source: Micron

It’s worth mentioning that it’s the fab that Micron initially built for the 3D XPoint memory chips and subsequently found a buyer a few months after getting out of the 3D XPoint business. Now TI will convert the 2 million square foot fab for manufacturing analog and embedded chips.

Another fab acquisition was announced by Nexperia just a week after TI purchased Micron’s 300-mm fab. On July 5, 2021, Nexperia announced to acquire 100% ownership of Newport Wafer Fab capable of making power and compound semiconductor ICs on 200-mm wafers. The Newport, UK-based fab, established in 1982, offers a capacity of 35,000 wafers a month and covers a wide range of chips spanning from MOSFETs and trench IGBTs using wafer thinning methods to CMOS, analog, and compound semiconductors (Figure 3).

Figure 3 ST, International Rectifier, and Infineon have owned the semiconductor foundry in the UK before it became Newport Wafer Fab in 2017. Nexperia

Nexperia, spun off as NXP’s standard products unit in 2016, was sold to the Chinese companies Jianguang Asset Management and Wise Road Capital. However, it’s still headquartered in the Netherlands. The Newport Wafer Fab purchase will complement Nexperia’s two fabs in Manchester, UK and Hamburg, Germany. Meanwhile, Newport Wafer Fab is likely to spin off the semiconductor design part of the company as a new venture focusing on MOSFETs, IGBTs, analog, and compound semiconductors for automotive-grade products.

The above fab tour clearly shows that while the semiconductor industry is mired with manufacturing capacity shortages, analog chipmakers are taking proactive measures to circumvent IC shortages in the near future. That, among other things, also accelerates the analog chip industry’s march toward the economy of scale with low unit cost complemented by volume shipments.

It seems a lot like analog semiconductors’ digital counterparts.

This article was originally published on Planet Analog.

Majeed Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief of Planet Analog, has covered the electronics design industry for more than two decades.


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