Ten of Japan's top chipmakers have signed on to participate in a proposed five-year, 200 billion yen (US$2 billion) consortium in Japan for development of 100nm and below process technologies.
The proposal, now under review by Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), would bring together Japan's government and the country's leading semiconductor houses in an effort to give Japan an edge in developing 100nm process technologies. First proposed by the Semiconductor in New Century Committee (SNCC) of the Semiconductor Industry Research Institute (SIRIJ), the proposal echoes the early days of the US-based Sematech consortium, which received government funding to strengthen US chip companies' position in the worldwide semiconductor market.
Under the proposal, a research institute and a pilot wafer processing line will be established in 2001, following a feasibility study in 2000, if the project is approved. The 200 billion yen budget includes 100 billion yen to build the research pilot line and facility. Government funding is expected, though details about the level of funding were unavailable.
So far, participants include NEC, Toshiba, Hitachi, Fujitsu, Mitsubishi, Matsushita, Sony, Sharp, Sanyo, and Oki.
MITI is now evaluating the proposed project, but official approvals are not expected to come before next fiscal year's budget is set, probably in February or March of 2000. Industry sources say an approval will be likely because MITI recognizes that Japan will be behind in the race for next-generation device and process development, particularly because R&D costs are too extraordinary for one chip firm to absorb. About 20 years ago, MITI and Japan's major semiconductor houses had a VLSI cooperative research institute under a similar structure to what is being proposed under this latest project. The successful work of this group enabled Japan to move into the front ranks in global semiconductor technology.
The proposal also comes at a time when the US-based Sematech consortium is opening membership to international chip firms in Europe, Taiwan, and Korea. There are no Japan-based members as of today, though there has been some collaboration between Sematech and Japan in key areas, such as 300mm and ES&H development. Established in the late 1980s, the government-funded Sematech was open only to US-based chipmakers, and was successful in helping US firms compete with their international counterparts, particularly those in Japan.