Nikon sees Chinese EV industry as a key part of its lithography revival

Misha Lu, Vyra Wu, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Credit: Nikon

In the fiercely competitive realm of the global lithography market dominated by ASML, Nikon is making strategic inroads. The renowned Japanese company is now supplying lithography equipment to top-tier new energy vehicle manufacturers in China.

Masahiro Morita, General Manager of Nikon's Semiconductor Lithography Business Unit, elucidated Nikon's distinctive approach, contrasting it with its rivals. While ASML hones in on advanced lithography machines, Nikon diversifies its product line, spanning lithography inspection equipment and more. Meanwhile, Canon distinguishes itself with its expertise in KrF and i-line lithography machines.

Once a titan in the global optics and electronics industries, Nikon's focus shifted from lithography machines to consumer markets, particularly camera manufacturing, amid seismic shifts in the global economic landscape. Despite pioneering efforts, such as developing a prototype EUV lithography machine in 2007, Nikon struggled to maintain market share amidst stiff competition from ASML.

In a strategic departure from the "race to the top" strategy pursued by ASML, Nikon adopts a proactive, customer-centric approach, evidenced by its recent releases tailored to meet the demands of frontline production companies.

As China's new energy vehicle industry gains momentum, Nikon anticipates a surge in chip demand, aligning with its semiconductor equipment advancements. The company is poised to capitalize on this burgeoning market, evident from its recent endeavors in supplying lithography equipment to leading Chinese EV brands.

According to Nikon, it plans to focus on the Chinese market in 2024 and has prioritized the release of two types of lithography machines. One of them, named NSR-2205iL1, is Nikon's first lithography machine in recent years capable of etching SiC wafers. As indicated by Morita, this is not Nikon's first SiC lithography machine. Similar products were available 30 years ago, and after three decades, it is re-introduced to seize the opportunity in the silicon carbide semiconductor market.

Nikon is currently supplying lithography equipment to leading new energy vehicle (NEV) brands in China. Morita noted that the rapid development of China's NEV industry has stimulated demand for 28nm process chips and that some NEV companies have placed orders for lithography machines covering 28nm process.

It is understood that the 28nm process chips mainly cover current mainstream power chips, storage chips, and logic chips, and Nikon foresees that China's semiconductor market and industry will experience explosive growth in the next decade.