ST confirms integrated SiC factory and 200mm fab in Catania

ST confirms integrated SiC factory and 200mm fab in Catania

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

ST has confirmed Catania in Sicily as the site of its integrated plant to produce silicon carbide (SiC) wafers. The company is also building a new 200mm wafer fab at the plant for a new generation of trench SiC power devices.

The company has already developed technology for 200mm SiC wafers from its acquisition of Norstel in Sweden in 2019 which supplies around 10% of its wafer needs at 150mm.

“Now we have availability of 200mm substrates and we are investing in the right scale from 2023 to get to significant levels of in-sourcing for wafers,” said Orio Bellezza, ST’s President of Technology, Manufacturing, Quality, and Supply Chain.

“60 to 70% of the cost of devices is coming from the substrates that we purchase and we want to improve our economics by sourcing internally and be more independent in our roadmap as 200mm is not easily available but we would be open to sourcing externally if available,” he said.

“We are building a new plant for mass production. Sweden will remain development for us with other developments, not just power, and we focus on Catania as the centre of excellence. There are only a few companies globally that can produce high quality SiC wafers at 150mm and even less at 200mm,” he said.

“We buy SiC powder, we produce the ingot, we cut and polish the wafers for full integration,” he said. The wafers then have an epitaxial layer added at the plant, ready to use in a 200mm SiC line in the existing fab in Catania. But the company is also adding new capacity with mainstream 200mm chip making equipment. “This will include a new fab for MOSFET production,” said Bellezza.

The lead time for the fab equipment is currently 24 months he says, and this included in the current $2bn spending on equipment out of this year’s $3.5bn capital spending.

The SiC chips will be used for modules assembled at ST’s plant in Bouskoura, Morocco, to provide an entire local supply chain for automotive customers in Europe and avoid supply chain problems in Asia.

Trench SiC technology

The 200mm wafer technology and the new plant will also be key for the move from the current planar SiC process technology to a trench approach which will open up new device designs.

“The thicknesses will be different and epitaxy is crucial to move to what we have in mind for the architecture,” said Bellezza. 

This fifth generation SIC will be in production in 2023, says Marco Monti, President of the Automotive and Discrete Group (ADG) at ST.

“The beauty of SiC is that it is very robust for high voltage and high temperature. At the moment you have the trench with silicon oxide isolation but the silicon is not as strong as SiC so you weaken the structure and not exploiting all the advantages of SiC,” said Monti.

“So to you need to do a special trench. This is why we are still in production with planar technology. We will see samples in the middle of next year but it will be a completely different way, similar to our high voltage CMOS process. This will probably be full production by the end of 2023,” he said.

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