Thinking the unthinkable: Japanese consider joint production, gov’t support

By Paula Doe
WaferNews contributing editor

Seems like every morning brings another surprising report from Japan about some potential idea for government-industry cooperation, not just in R&D, but in actual production. Worried about how they’re going to come up with the capital needed to invest in next generation fabs while they’re losing so much money, Japan’s chipmakers are talking about ideas ranging from government support for the memory industry to some sort of national foundry for 0.1-micron system chips.

Industry elder Hiroyoshi Komiya’s latest online column from Nikkei Microdevices makes a plea for government and industry cooperation to maintain at least one memory maker in Japan, before not just DRAM manufacturing, but other memory production and the rest of semiconductor manufacturing disappear, as well. The influential Mitsubishi Electric fab executive and former Selete COO argues that getting out of the DRAM market won’t solve the industry’s problem. It needs fundamental restructuring to survive.

Japan’s STARC consortium for chip design has been promoting the idea of government funding for a national 0.1-micron SoC foundry, and reports are that the government is considering putting up some $240 million (31.5 billion yen). The design consortium has come up with TSMC-like standards for design rules to promote the efficient development and reuse of IP, but because each manufacturer uses its own process, there’s no fab actually suited to making these standard chips.

And the Nihon Keizai Shimbun reports the country’s 11 largest chipmakers are discussing building a joint 0.1-micron SoC foundry, or perhaps two, to share the fab costs. The newspaper says the companies will work out details this spring for a fab to make chips for digital televisions and communications equipment, perhaps using Hitachi’s Ibaraki facility or Mitsubishi’s Kochi plant.


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