Chinese chipmaking technology development may stall at 40nm scale

Monica Chen, Taipei; Jessie Shen, DIGITIMES Asia 0


With the US looking to broaden its chip tool ban against China with new rules set to be implemented in April, SMIC and other China-based foundries will have to halt the development of their sub-40nm process technologies, according to sources at semiconductor equipment companies.

When the broader US export ban goes into effect, SMIC will face a lack of support from chipmaking equipment and material suppliers, as well as after-service maintenance and cooperative technology support, the sources said. China's largest foundry can only go backwards, focusing on process generations 40/45, 55nm and above, while processes 28nm and below will remain where they are.

Liang Mong-song, who oversees advanced process development at SMIC, has experienced bottlenecks in leading the foundry's R&D, the sources noted. The next challenge for the China-based foundry could be a talent exodus.

Liang joined SMIC in 2017. It is worth noting how the former TSMC senior R&D chief aided the Chinese foundry in hastening the development of five generations of process technology from 28nm to 7nm.

Liang once claimed that SMIC's FinFET N+1 and N+2 nodes could be realized without the use of EUV equipment, before the foundry's management announced in early 2021 that it would focus on non-FinFET capacity expansion due to a US ban on crucial equipment exports.

SMIC has taken a low-key approach to making advances in its FinFET process technology since being added to the US Commerce Department's Entity List. The China-based foundry has stopped disclosing the sales contribution for its FinFET process in its quarterly financial report since the second quarter of 2020. Furthermore, the foundry has not provided a breakdown of its revenue by process node in its financial reports since the first quarter of 2022.