Greetings from Down-East Maine--We have had a white week here on the Maine coast. But fresh powder that came down at least three times made for perfect cross-country skiing on our fields. As is usual, there was very little news to talk about in the week between Christmas and New Year's, so we decided to come up with the top 10 industry stories of the year see separate story. And we hope you have a very happy and prosperous new year!
Taiwan's power problems
strike chip makers again
Taiwan had better solve its electrical generating problems or they could end up putting a lid on the growth of its vital local semiconductor industry. This week another power outage struck chip makers in Hsinchu, shutting down equipment temporarily at some fabs and forcing other frontend processing lines to switch over to backup generators for a couple of hours. Since January, more than 40 such power shortages have hit the science park.
During the latest two-hour power failure, backup electrical generators for a 200-mm fab run by United Microelectronics overheated, causing a minor fire that resulted in nearly $10 million in damages. The shutdown of those generators also affected work at UMC's Fab 8E plant.
The power outage reportedly was triggered when a transformer operated by Macronix International failed. It struck at least two sectors of the Hsinchu Science Based Industrial Park and reportedly disrupted production in plants operated by TSMC, UMC, Mosel Vitelic, Winbond Electronics, Macronix, Philips, ProMOS Technologies, and Acer Display.
UMC said that no one was injured and no production lines were affected. "We are currently evaluating the impact on production due to the temporary loss in power," the big foundry said.
The Hsinchu high-tech park is home to most of Taiwan's chip makers and concerns over electrical power have become a major issue among industry executives. Taiwan's chip plants also have been shut down repeatedly by major power outages in earthquakes and typhoons. And a number of minor power outages have plagued plants in the Hsinchu park recently, causing fabs to temporarily stop production or switch to emergency generators.
Senior industry executives are worried about Taiwan's power grid and its ability to keep up with growth. Taiwan's government recently rejected plans for a new nuclear power plant, which many chip makers declared was urgently needed.
(See Dec. 27 story.)
Japanese expect IC sales in 2001
to keep hitting 'two-digit' growth
Japanese production of electronics equipment will slow down next year, according to a new forecast by the Jeita trade group. Production will increase by 7.1% in 2001, down from the 10.1% growth rate in 2000.
Jeita--merged successor of the Electronic Industries Association of Japan and the Japan Electronic Industry Development Association--estimates electronics production in Japan hit $231.4 billion in 2000. This total, which includes consumer electronics, industrial electronics, and general-purpose devices and components, was just enough to hit a new record, slightly surpassing the previous peak of $231 billion in 1997.
Growth in 2000 was due primarily to the increase in semiconductors and display sales, which accounted for 45% of the total Japanese electronics production by growing nearly 17% over the previous year. Production of semiconductors and LCD panels is expected to show continuous two-digit growth in 2001, according to Jeita.
While chip makers reported negative order trends in November and December, "the growth until autumn this year, in a sense, was too much," says Hiroshi Tsukamoto, Jeita president. He believes that the industry currently is in an adjustment phase and headed toward a brisk turnaround again next spring. This will be "supported by a steady demand especially from the IT arena and cellular phones," he says. Jeita also projects the world cellular phone market to grow to 453 million units in 2001, up 19% from 2000's 380 million units.
(See Dec. 27 story.)
Silvaco's IC physical design tool
only for rent by the hour on Web
One of the first IC physical design tools that's available only on a pay-per-use basis is now being offered by Silvaco. Licensed copies of the extraction and characterization tool for on-chip interconnects will not be sold but will be offered online only at $15 per use.
The Quest tool can be used by both designers and process engineers to extract resistance, inductance, capacitance, and conductance (RLGC) parameters from GDSII or CIF layout files. It works in the microwave range and supports chips running as fast as 80 gigahertz. It can also be used to characterize interconnect and process variations or to create transmission-line Spice models, including the "W" models used in signal-integrity analysis.
While most extraction tools focus on resistance and capacitance, Quest goes further. "Beyond 1 gigahertz, you have to extract the inductance," says Rashid Salik, Silvaco's director of development for parasitic extraction tools. "Many published papers have highlighted the effects of inductance on delay and signal integrity," he adds.
Quest is also able to provide frequency-dependent RLGC parameters, notes CEO Ivan Pesic. Most tools consider those parameters to be constant, which is a "big mistake," he says, because they vary so much with frequency.
Pesic decided to make Quest available on the ECAD Web site because the cost of sales is so high for traditional licensing. "It takes a three- to six-month evaluation, and I'm trying to avoid that. I want to put this on ECAD and say 'Here it is, available for $15 per run, and you can run as many copies as you want.'" With conventional licensing, Quest would probably start at around $70,000, he says.
(See Dec. 28 story.)
San Diego firm expands
global assembly-test biz
Another U.S. company is expanding its assembly and test operations in the Far East. REMEC, a San Diego company that aims to build world class manufacturing leadership for the wireless infrastructure, plans to acquire Pacific Microwave, a device assembler and testing house based in the Philippines.
The acquisition complements REMEC's Costa Rica operation and "does not detract from our plans to develop our engineering and manufacturing capacity in China," according to CEO Ron Ragland. The 17-year-old San Diego company expects to complete the deal by the end of January.
Pacific Microwave specializes in backend production and testing of radio-frequency (RF), microwave, and millimeter-wave gallium-arsenide (GaAs) devices, subsystems, and boards for broadband wireless applications. It employs about 850 workers.
(See Dec. 27 story.)
ASE chairman gets jail sentence
for old real estate deal in Taiwan
How do you think this kind of a decision would impact a U.S. chip maker? More than it did in Taiwan, I'd venture. This week, the chairman of Taiwan's Advanced Semiconductor Engineering, Jason C.S. Chang, was sentenced to six years in jail for allegedly falsifying documents in a several-year-old real estate deal, according to the company. It happened prior to Chang joining ASE, the company says.
ASE maintains the conviction and sentencing of Chang will have no impact on the company, which is a leading supplier of contract chip assembly and testing services. News of the sentencing didn't seem to have much effect on the company's share price, which dropped just 3.2% on the Taiwan stock exchange.
Chang plans to appeal his conviction and sentencing, according to Taiwanese press reports.
(See Dec. 27 story.)
If you have any comments or questions, don't hesitate to E-mail us at email@example.com. Have a great weekend!
(Click here for last week's Semiconductor Alert!.)