IC verification labs see growing advanced packaging opportunities in auto chip sector

Julian Ho, Taipei; Misha Lu, DIGITIMES Asia 0


While Tesla aims to reduce the amount of silicon carbide (SiC) components by 75%, sources in the related industrial sectors nevertheless believe that SiC, with its good heat resistance capability, will remain mainstream in the application of automotive inverters. However, it is inevitable for major IDMs and automotive supply chain players to work on the further reduction of chip size and maintain high power density. A return to silicon-based IGBT or a mixed solution would also shed more light on the advanced packaging.

Industry players are also thinking about packaging upgrades for automotive inverter modules. For example, iST, a semiconductor verification and analysis laboratory operator, has been working in the field of advanced packaging reliability analysis (RA) for many years. It will become a full member of the Automotive Electronics Council (AEC) by the end of 2022, eyeing the R&D momentum of automotive logic chips, compound semiconductors, and power modules.

Sources from the chip verification and analysis industry observed that the first half of 2023 would see a dent in the global semiconductor end applications and total capacity, as major foundries grapple with utilization rates falling to 70-80%, compounded by the headwind faced by the memory industry. Despite these developments, sources from the chip verification and analysis industry still see a momentum coming from clients in the emerging AI and HPC chip sectors.

As the supply of mature-node chips faced shortage in the past 2-3 years, the verification and analysis sector also saw a boost in "foundry transfer verification" demand as designers of legacy chips sought production capacities at various foundries. Since the second half of 2022, however, this phenomenon has gradually eased, giving way to inventory reduction in the face of a short-term drop in chip demand. Major chip design houses have also seized this opportunity to engage in new product developments.

Overall, the tight demand for material analysis (MA) still drives the operation of the three major semiconductor verification and analysis laboratories in Taiwan. iST, for instance, continues to benefit from advanced manufacturing processes, advanced packaging, automotive electronics, 5G, HPC, etc., which simultaneously drive strong demand for MA, failure analysis (FA), and RA.

Especially in terms of MA, iST has successfully developed analytical capability for 2nm process technology, and its production capacity will be expanded by 40% in 2023. In addition, there will be a small amount of production expansion of RA and FA, with the pace of talent recruitment continuing. Looking ahead, major trends from advanced manufacturing processes, EVs, SiC/GaN, 5G, HPC, IoT and AI-related applications are expected to drive more companies to invest in future technologies and iST also continues to work closely with major international customers to develop more solutions.

iST has recently announced that its February 2023 revenue will hit approximately NT$332 million (approximately US$10.8 million), an increase of 16.85% compared to the same period in 2022, setting a new record for the same period in previous years. The cumulative revenue from January to February was NTD$667 million, an annual increase of 16.99%.

People familiar with the industry estimate that in 2023, major IC design, foundry and other semiconductor-related industries will still devote themselves to research and development. For the verification and analysis laboratory industry that emphasizes R&D momentum rather than sales volume, the outlook for 2023 will still be optimistic.