Rapidus is the last chance for Japan semiconductors says chair

Rapidus is the last chance for Japan semiconductors says chair

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By Nick Flaherty

The Rapidus consortium to build a 2nm fab is the last chance in semiconductors for Japan, says the chairman, Tetsuro Higashi.

“The semiconductor industry has experienced a lot of crises [over the years] but in these crises some companies and countries fall down, others take the opportunity to grow, that is the history of the business,” he said.

Higashi, the former CEO and chairman of Tokyo electron, points to predictions by Sony back in 1963 on driverless cars and AI. “We always challenge what people though could never happen and always create new things.”

But Japan has not risen to the challenge in recent years in circumstances that mirror the current trade war with China.

“Japan stayed at 40nm,” he said. “Japan is too much in the full in-house policy, developing materials and equipment in Japan. Of course the trade friction between the US and Japan has a big influence as it was very risky for Japanese companies to do business with overseas companies.”

“Then like a caged bird suddenly set free they cannot live in the outside, that is the situation that Japan is now facing. They cannot meet the market requirements and also a very important point is the market trend has changed, moving from a general purpose device to specified purpose device and the Japanese couldn’t catch up.”

“Now the circumstances are very different and semiconductors have become a vital technology for economic and national security and resilience becomes an urgent issue. These circumstances are very urgent and important,” he said at the Leti Innovation Days this week in Grenoble, France.

“At the same time new applications are emerging such as quantum computing and AI so if we do not take the opportunity my thinking is this is the end, so we have a last opportunity to grow. The reason is that about three years ago I got a call from IBM and they told me they are ready to almost complete the 2nm logic device so I though this is a last chance for us so we would take that.

Rapidus fabs

“We talked with the METI people [Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry] on how to do it so we made a new company with LSTC [Leading-edge Semiconductor Technology Centre] for open R&D and Rapidus for mass production and the combination is very important.”

The project is backed by eight major Japanese companies: Denso, Kioxia, MUFG Bank, NEC, NTT, SoftBank, Sony, and Toyota, with technology development from IBM, imec in Belgium and LSTC.

“We decided to have a fab in Hokkaido and we call it the Hokkaido Valley concept,” he said.

The wider connectivity is important. Tomakomai will have a large scale data centre project with a global submarine cable connections at one end of the valley with a research centre in Sapporo and a  data centre in Ishikara powered by 100% renewable energy at the other end of the valley.

The two fabs (shown above) will be in Chitose with pilot production line is scheduled to start by 2025, followed by full-scale mass production in 2027.. “We call them IIM 1 and 2, innovative integration for manufacturing, not a factory. “We would like to make a town there with a new airport at Chitose.”

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