Academician Wu Hanming: China’s chip investment is far from overheated

Recently, Academician Wu Hanming pointed out that due to the gap between China’s chip technology and the United States, China’s chip investment is far from overheated, and there is still a very short supply of chips. If development is not accelerated, the gap between China’s chip production capacity and demand in the future will be widened to at least the capacity of eight SMIC’s.

In the past 50 years, the integrated circuit industry has followed “Moore’s Law”: Under the condition of constant prices, the number of transistors integrated on a chip will double every 18 to 24 months, and the computational cost will decrease exponentially. Moore’s Law is still supporting the development of new technologies such as 5G and artificial intelligence, but there are limits to the development of things. As the process goes from micrometer to nanometer, the number of atoms in transistors is becoming less and less, and various physical limits restrict the further development of Moore’s Law.

“With the evolution of process nodes, Moore’s Law is becoming more and more difficult to sustain.” On April 24, it was co-sponsored by FITEE and Engineering of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and hosted by Zhejiang University and Tsinghua University. “On the previous day, Academician Wu Hanming, the chief science and technology creator of the Hangzhou International Science and Technology Innovation Center of Zhejiang University and the dean of the School of Micronanoelectronics, told media including China Business News that the “post-Moore era” has officially come. In his view, “industrial technology is not the application and development of scientific research institutions after transformation, but one of the original driving forces to guide scientific research.” In key core technology fields such as integrated circuits, it is necessary to supplement the establishment of an industrial technology-oriented scientific and technological culture. Technology research and development and market applications “leverage each other.”

Many industry professionals at the conference also expressed that the open development and win-win cooperation of the integrated circuit industry is an inevitable choice. In particular, the development of key equipment involves many fields of science, technology and engineering. A single point of breakthrough cannot be placed on the “beach”, and efforts should be made to integrate the entire industry chain.

In his speech, Wu Hanming pointed out that China’s integrated circuit industry is facing two major barriers: policy barriers and industrial barriers. The former includes the Batumi and Wassenaar agreements, while the latter is reflected in the world’s semiconductor leaders benefiting from their early layout. The accumulated rich intellectual property rights have formed a patent moat for latecomers like China Semiconductor, and these have posed huge challenges for China Semiconductor. There are many links in the integrated circuit industry chain, and the three key “stuck neck” manufacturing links include process, equipment/materials, and design IP core/EDA. Wu Hanming mentioned that there are many shortcomings in the development of domestic industries. For example, in the field of testing equipment, Chinese companies rarely get involved. Therefore, the development of domestic industries in this field is almost blank; in terms of semiconductor materials, my country’s photoresist, mask, Almost all large silicon wafer products rely on imports; in the field of equipment, Chinese equipment cannot be seen on the world stage.

Take EUV lithography machine as an example. It involves more than 100,000 parts and needs support from more than 5,000 suppliers, of which 32% are in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, 27% are in the United States, 14% are in Germany, and 27% are in Japan. Reflects the result of global technical collaboration. Wu Hanming mentioned that independence and control are important, but at the same time this industry is also a global industry. Among them, “What links can we hold? It is the core point of my country’s R&D and industrial development.” Wu Hanming’s topic on lithography machines also triggered a lot of emotion from Zhao Haijun, CEO of SMIC.

Zhao Haijun mentioned that Martin van Der Brink, the chief technology officer of ASML, had visited Shanghai before and told him that “the gap is about 20 years.” But Zhao Haijun believes: “The 20-year gap does not need to be caught up in 20 years. It is difficult to surpass it at once, but it can be advanced a little bit at a time.” Zhao Haijun mentioned that ASML is so awesome, and one more thing is that others are no longer there. We have done this field, but it still sticks to it. Academician Wu Hanming took the current chip manufacturing process as an example and talked about the three major challenges currently faced. Among them, the basic challenge is precision graphics; the core challenge is new materials. He mentioned that each material requires thousands of process experiments, and the new material is supportive. Performance improvement is needed; the ultimate challenge is to improve yield. In addition to technology, fabs, R&D and design costs are another major challenge facing the chip industry. “Although the difficulty and cost of chips have been increasing, the slowing down of Moore’s Law has brought opportunities for chasers.” Wu Hanming said that under these challenges, the combination of advanced system structure, special technology and advanced packaging in chip manufacturing can make my country has a lot to do in the field of chip manufacturing. He quoted data as saying that 17% of the advanced production capacity below the 10nm node, 83% of the market is at the node above 10nm, and there is huge room for innovation.

Under the circumstance that advanced process R&D is not dominant, my country can use mature technology to improve the performance of chips. It is precisely because of this that he put forward a point: the local controllable 55nm chip manufacturing is more meaningful than the fully imported 7nm chip. Wu Hanming also put forward suggestions for the development of my country’s semiconductor industry. For example, it is necessary to establish an industrial technology-oriented scientific and technological culture, technological achievements rely solely on market appraisal, and to accelerate the construction of a public technology research and development platform under the national system, give full play to the advantages of “concentrating power to do major things”, and further build a conducive to my country’s The global innovation approach for sustainable development of the field has become a key task.

He also mentioned to reporters that “flicker-style” chip investment may be overheated, but the real chip investment is still very scarce. China’s chip investment is far from overheating. In particular, attention must be paid to the localization of the industrial chain to increase manufacturing capacity. At least the growth rate is higher than that of the world.

Zhao Haijun also agrees that the current overheating of chips is not essential. According to statistics, the top five fabs in terms of production capacity include Samsung, TSMC, Micron, SK Hynix and Kioxia. No company in mainland China ranks among them. With the development of science and technology, the demand for chip production capacity will become higher and higher, and the gap between domestic chip market demand and manufacturing capacity is still very large.

Wu Hanming previously said: “If development is not accelerated, the gap between China’s chip production capacity and demand in the future will be widened to at least the capacity of 8 SMIC.”

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