SMIC, the largest contract maker of semiconductors in China, announced this month that it would start commercial production of chips using its 14 nm FinFET manufacturing technology by the end of the year. This is the first FinFET manufacturing line in China, making it a notable development for a country that already houses a significant number of fabs, as the world's leading-edge manufacturers never installed FinFET technology in China for geopolitical and IP reasons. SMIC in turn seems to expect a rather rapid ramp of its 14 nm node, as it anticipates the new manufacturing line will meaningfully contribute to its revenue before the end of the year.

According to SMIC, their 14 nm FinFET manufacturing technology was developed entirely in-house and is expected to significantly increase transistor density, increase performance, and lower power consumption of chips when compared to devices made using the company’s 28 nm process that relies on planar transistors. Earlier this year it was expected that SMIC would start production of 14 nm chips already in the first half of 2019, so the firm seems to be a little behind the schedule. Nonetheless, an in-house FinFET process technology is quite a breakthrough for a relatively small company that puts it into a club with just five other foundries with FinFET technologies.

One interesting thing that SMIC said about its 14 nm FinFET volume ramp is that it expects the process to have a significant revenue contribution already by the end of the year. Meanwhile, keeping in mind that right now SMIC only has two relatively small 300-mm HVM fabs (which are currently used for 28 nm – 65 nm nodes) that are heavily utilized generating 40 ~ 49% of the company’s revenue (in Q1/Q2 2019), it is difficult to imagine SMIC making loads of 14 nm chips in 2019.

Overview of SMIC's Fabs
  Process Technologies Capacity
Wafer Starts per Month
BJ 200mm 90 nm - 150 nm 50,000 Beijing, China
300mm 28 nm - 65 nm 35,000
SH 200 mm 90 nm - 350 nm 120,000 Shanghai ,China
300 mm 28 nm - 65 nm 20,000
SZ 200 mm 90 nm - 350 nm 60,000 Shenzhen, China
300 mm 28 nm - 65 m 3,000
TJ 200 mm 90 nm - 350 nm 50,000 Tianjin, China
LF 200 mm 90 nm - 180 nm 50,000 Avezzano, Italy

Earlier this year the company completed construction of its $10 billion SMIC South FinFET Fab, which will be used for its leading-edge manufacturing technologies and began moving in the equipment. Once the fab is ready for commercial operations, SMIC will be able to considerably increase production of chips using its 14 nm and then 12 nm FinFET fabrication technologies.

SMIC’s longer-term plans include 10 nm and 7 nm manufacturing processes. The latter is expected to require usage of extreme ultraviolet lithography tools, so last year SMIC acquired an EUV step-and-scan system from ASML for $120 million, which was to be delivered in 2019.

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Sources: SMIC, DigiTimes

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  • Santoval - Saturday, August 17, 2019 - link

    ASML's EUV step-and-scan systems cost ~$120 million largely because they are insanely complex and time intensive to design, develop and manufacture, while even assembling them is anything but trivial. The Zeiss optics (not lenses, mirrors - at the wavelength these systems operate all lenses are opaque) alone require grinding and polishing down to variations of a few tens of nanometers at most.

    Even if the Chinese fully reverse engineered these systems (which is virtually impossible, but let's assume they did) and came up with a complete design, manufacturing them truly be a feat. The reverse engineering, manufacturing and optimization process combined should take 5 years at a minimum. By this time ASML would have developed and released systems which were two to three generations more advanced, so they wouldn't worry too much. The Chinese would have spent tens of millions and by the time they released the clone of that ASML system it would be already be nearly obsolete.
  • MASSAMKULABOX - Saturday, August 17, 2019 - link

    They HAVE to develop their own tho, its a matter of national security. As DT(potus) could decide to cut off their access to western tech, completely. Its already started with china producing their own design x86 (AFAIK) cpu's, own ram ..most mobos . What the next 5-10 years will bring is worrying , manuf moves from China to Vietnam, India Burma Bang-Ladesh then ?
  • vladx - Saturday, August 17, 2019 - link

    No they don't, ASML is a Dutch company which doesn't do any R&D in US to be liable to a US ban.
  • voicequal - Saturday, August 17, 2019 - link

    ASML must be so confident about their next generation tech that they can openly provide current leading tech to an arguably aggressive would-be competitor and still expect be ahead after 5 years.
  • Zizy - Monday, August 19, 2019 - link

    The only would-be competitor to ASML is Nikon, or some other technology (like NIL).
    China gains nothing by competing here. Cutting off access means their 5 year roadmap gets hurt. By the time problems arise policy will change several times. This isn't like near instant pain of losing access to chips or software.
    China will play in this market only if they see some value in getting strategic dominance - but that means surpassing ASML, not just being a cheaper clone for home market. I don't see that happening - the only reasonable scenario could be China achieving breakthrough in NIL, which would then replace ordinary litho.
  • ZolaIII - Monday, August 19, 2019 - link

    To be quite honest even with second generation scenes (this years model) all EUV problems aren't ironed out.
  • ZolaIII - Monday, August 19, 2019 - link

  • levizx - Monday, August 19, 2019 - link

    Maybe you should tell TSMC that? Surely you know soooooooo much better than their lawyers, who in the past actually got SMIC to payout for infringements.
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, August 17, 2019 - link

    No one cares that Italy is now in Greece, according to that map? :D
  • TesseractOrion - Saturday, August 17, 2019 - link

    Well spotted Death666Angel! :-)

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