China’s semiconductor industry is speeding up its development of advanced chips as the homegrown 28 nanometer (nm) process is set to enter mass production this year, while the 14 nm process aims to follow suit in 2022, according to sources.
In the industry, 28 nm is the dividing line between low-to-mid range and mid-to-high end integrated circuit (IC) manufacturing.
Besides chips for central processing units, graphics processing units and artificial intelligence, other mainstream industrial products such as televisions, air conditioners, automobiles, high-speed trains, satellites, industrial robots, elevators and drones are the most common applications for the 28 nm technology process.
“China urgently needs to move toward mid-to-high end chip production, and being able to produce 28 nm chips means that it can meet most of the demand for chips without relying on other countries,” said Teng Ran, head of the Integrated Circuit Industry Research Center of CCID Consulting, a firm affiliated with a think tank under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).
According to Teng, as the 14 nm chipmaking process matures next year, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) will join the ranks of Intel, TSMC and Samsung as the first Chinese company to acquire the 14 nm technology and put it into mass production.
Teng said that SMIC’s 14 nm process will be applied in the areas of 5G technology and high-performance computing, and can largely meet the demand.
China’s breakthrough in advanced chipmaking comes at a time when SMIC and other Chinese tech companies are facing major trade restrictions enforced by the United States.
Last year, progress in Chinese chip manufacturing technologies exceeded expectations domestically with breakthroughs in millimeter waves for 5G and the successful tape-out of SMIC’s FinFET N+1 process chip.
China’s IC industry is transforming from high-speed development to high-quality development, Teng said.
According to estimates from the Chinese semiconductor industry, China’s IC sales reached 884.8 billion yuan in 2020, representing an average annual growth rate of 20%, and three times the growth rate of the global IC industry during the same period, said Tian Yulong, chief engineer and spokesperson of the MIIT, at a press conference on March 1.
The IC industry in China achieved impressive and consistent growth during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020), with significant improvements to manufacturing techniques, packaging technologies and key equipment materials, said Tian.
“Companies also grew steadily, a number of which emerged as global leaders in design, manufacturing, packaging and testing, and other links on the industrial chain,” Tian added.
While having made progress on multiple fronts, Teng admitted that China is still playing catch-up when it comes to more advanced chip development. He called for more international collaboration as the IC industry is truly a global industry and no country should be isolated from the industry chain.