Starting with IBM's first use of SOI technology on its high-end 0.25μm process processor, SOI's products have covered products such as servers, printers, gaming devices, networking and storage devices, wearables and automotive electronics for more than 30 years. . The advantages of SOI technology meet the specific requirements of these applications for device speed, functionality, and low power consumption.
In the domestic market, SOI has also received more attention. At the 7th Shanghai FD-SOI Forum held recently, more than 400 technical experts from the fields of substrate, wafer fabrication, EDA, IP, IC design and system design attended the event. Recently, Soitec and SOI Alliance, the leading substrate manufacturers in the SOI field, held a conference in Beijing to introduce the development of SOI technology and the planning strategy of the SOI Alliance.
More than silicon material
As the world's largest manufacturer of optimized substrates, Soitec has a total of six production plants and production bases in France, Singapore, Belgium and China. It has two core technologies: SmartCut and SmartStacking.
The core technology of Soitec is in terms of materials. Thomas Piliszczuk, executive vice president of global strategy at the company, believes that Soitec's core pursuit is to combine different materials to meet the different requirements of end customers for material properties. So, in addition to the flagship RF-SOI and FD-SOI, the company is developing new products based on third-generation semiconductor materials, including GaN and SiC.
"With decades of development, GaN has matured. Soitec believes that it can participate in the development of this technology." Thomas is very optimistic about GaN technology. "However, we will not develop from scratch, we have acquired a company specializing in the development of GaN technology. The company EpiGaN. This company already has a relatively mature product."
GaN products will expand Soitec's product line to deliver value in 5G and power applications. In 5G applications, GaN products will be used in base stations; in power applications, GaN products will appear in automotive power systems.
SiC products will also be used in the power system of electric vehicles, which will be used in large quantities in vehicle inverters. “We are developing SiC products, that is, using our SmartCut and SmartStacking technologies to process this new material.” Thomas revealed, “Soitec is using a good SmartCut technology to make a new type of silicon carbide wafer. At the beginning of next year, we will release some new products that can subvert this industry."
“In addition, we have a third growth pole for indium gallium nitride on silicon in the MicroLED display,” Thomas said with confidence.
While expanding the product range, Soitec is also actively expanding its production capacity, mainly for POI products, which are used in next-generation RF filters. "The logic behind the expansion of production capacity is that almost all RF filter and module manufacturers are considering the use of POI substrates when designing." According to Thomas, the company's POI production line in France is expected to expand to 400,000 pieces per year. At the same time, it is currently only a 6-inch substrate, and will produce 8-inch and 12-inch substrates in the future.
"In the field of non-SOI, GaN and POI, we are developing very fast, because 5G will have more and more demand for both," Thomas added. "In terms of SOI, it will become the 5G era. Mainstream, we are very confident."
Help Chinese companies become smartfollowers
Soitec is a core member of the SOI Alliance. The alliance was established in 2007 to bring together the industry and promote the development of the SOI industry.
The Chairman and Executive Director of the SOI Industry Alliance, Dr. Carlos, just recently attended the 7th Shanghai FD-SOI Forum. He was very pleased to see the changes in the entire ecological environment: "When the first forum was held, the participants were filled with a photo, and this time more than 400 people participated, and the invitation system was adopted."
The evolution of the entire industrial ecology stems from the completion of infrastructure. Dr. Carlos carefully explained: "To produce SOI chips, you need wafers, you need a foundry, you need EDA, you need a platform, you need design, IP, you need the capabilities of a substrate factory, you need to design the company to take everything. Putting it all together, these are the basic parts."
“Back in 2014, the focus of the discussion was on whether the supply chain was built. In 2015, the focus will be on whether the foundry can be found. Later, people are concerned about whether they can get IP and design libraries. It is not possible to get support for EDA and platform. But now, the industry's focus has gradually shifted from the supply chain to the product itself.” Dr. Carlos pointed out the transformation of the industry.
The development of the entire SOI has been a multi-flowering situation. Samsung is developing mass production in 18FDS. The core is now doing 22FDX, and there are plans to implement 12FDX mass production in the future. ST is developing 28FD-SOI technology, while Renesas has its own SOTB technology. These are the unique values that SOI technology brings.
However, as the process advances, will SOI technology encounter the bottleneck encountered by mainstream CMOS processes? For example, production costs are high and participating companies are becoming less and less. Dr. Carlos gave a different view: "The focus of SOI technology is how to integrate mixed-signal, RF and computing power. As IoT technology continues to expand, the field will become bigger and bigger. The key is whether we have the ability to cope with this expanding market. There will be many 200mm fabs in the future, 300mm will have its own market, and different nanotechnology nodes will exist to adapt to different markets. The driving force is not the feature size like FinFET. Our focus is not the same. Building the infrastructure and optimizing the technology on this basis is our focus."
He further said: "IoT is a big market worth billions. It has many partitions and many categories of markets, which also leads to the IoT market, not involving a company, but a lot of Companies in their respective needs. So in the IoT field, different companies will need different wafer foundries, and various factories will have their own market needs."
Dr. Carlos is very optimistic about the Chinese market. He believes that Chinese companies can benefit from the development results of the first wave of applications, and then take the application to a new level. This is called "smartfollowers". On the basis of predecessors, "smartfollowers" will be more rational and more mature.
He said that the alliance will actively promote the development of China's industry: "I think the alliance and forum will play a connecting role in China, and can realize the intercommunication between the international community and the Chinese community. If there is any vacancy in China's industry development, we I hope that through our efforts, we will fill the vacancies and promote the development of China's entire ecological environment in a better and higher direction."
In fact, there are more and more SOI fans in China, which can be seen from the participants of this SOI Forum. In the IoT era, SOI technology gave Chinese IC companies more choices. With the development of 5G and automotive electronics, SOI technology is likely to usher in a climax in China.