$50 bn capex for top semi spenders

Hynix will spend $3-3.8 billion on semiconductor capex and Samsung will spend $11.5 billion says Digitimes Research.

With Samsung planning to begin install production equipment at its Line-17 fab in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, its semiconductor capex in the second half of 2014 will be higher than in the first.

Having already set up seven semiconductor production lines in its plants in Hwaseong and Xian, China, the Hwaseong plant will aim to migrate to more advanced process nodes in 2014, while the Xian plant will focus on ramping up its vertical-NAND (V-NAND) flash capacity.

The Line-17 fab, which is slated for completion in the second half of 2014, will focus on offering wafer foundry services using 20nm and below processes.

Hynix’s main capex for 2014 will be used to build its M14 fab. Construction of the M14 line is expected to begin in mid-2014.

Companies spending over $1 billion on capex this year include Micron, Toshiba and SanDisk.

Micron is expected to accelerate the migration of its DRAM production to 20nm process, while also ramping up its NAND flash capacity.

Toshiba and SanDisk will expand the production capacity of V-NAND flash at its plant in Yokkaichi.

For non-memory chips, the 2014 capex of Intel, TSMC, GloGo and UMC..

Intel will deepen its development of 14nm and below processes, TSMC will focus on 16nm FinFET process. GloFo and UMC will raise the ratios of their 28nm production,while beginning to develop 20nm and below technologies.

Combined 2014 capital spending of these semiconductor firms with a capex budget of over US$1 billion in the year is expected to amount to US$49.3 billion, Digitimes Research estimates.

The top-three DRAM chipmakers will move to upgrade their processes to 25-21nm, while the NAND flash industry will focus on ramping V-NAND flash production as well as to migrate to 19-16nm processes.

No takers for Kilby’s Chip

Christies - Jack Kilby ICA prototype of Jack Kilby’s original IC failed to sell at Christie’s New York yesterday.

The highest bid was $850,000 which was below the reserve price.

The chip was to be sold with a letter dated April 30th 1964 written by Tom Yeargan who performed the actual fabrication of the IC and kept the prototype.

The letter includes the statement:

‘I assisted Jack in his work on semiconductor networks.
‘I remember working on the first unit, a phase shift oscillator.
‘At the time, I was assigned to Stacy Watelski and had been working for him on germanium transistor having a horse shoe base and dot emitter.
‘In this work, I evaporated metal to form the base and emitter.
‘I heated the germanium and then evaporated the metal.
‘When metal hit the germanium, it became alloyed in.’

There are two earlier prototypes of Kilby’s IC – one in the Smithsonian and one in the Chicago Museum of Technology.

Apple iWatch moves into early stage manufacturing

Reuters reports that the Apple iWatch will move into production at Quanta in July.

The commercial launch of the iWatch will be in October, says Reuters.

The screen is said to be 2.5 inches on the diagonal and protrudes slightly from the band.

The interface will be touch and the charging will be wireless.

Messaging and voice will require a paired iPhone. The iWatch will only be compatible with devices running iOS.

Apple is said to be planning to ship 50 million of the devices in the 12 months after launch. Quanta is said to be responsible for 70 % of the production.

Smart watches have been launched by Samsung, Sony, Motorola and LG with little market success.

Chinese company in top ten LED makers

China’s massive investments in LED manufacturing capacity are paying off, with a Chinese company entering the top ranks of the global market for the first time ever, according to IHS Technology.

China’s MLS Electronics in 2013 rose to the No. 10 rank in the worldwide market for packaged LEDs, up from 14th place in 2012.

The other top 10 players are based in Korea, Japan, the USA, Germany and Taiwan.

“Since 2011, most of the new LED production capacity that has been added worldwide has occurred in China,” said Jamie Fox, principal LED analyst for IHS. “Because of this, it was inevitable that Chinese companies eventually would penetrate the ranks of the top 10 LED suppliers. MLS was first to join the global elite, having established itself as the clear leader in the Chinese market by capitalizing on strong domestic demand.”

MLS is one of many Chinese LED suppliers that have sprung up amid the surge in production. However, the other firms do not even rank among the top 20 global suppliers. China’s LED supply base is massive and highly fragmented, with thousands of small manufacturers located across the country.

“Despite leading the domestic market, MLS accounted for less than 10 percent of Chinese LED revenue in 2013,” said Alice Tao, China LED analyst at IHS. “The next five largest LED suppliers in China represented only about 20 percent of the market.”

With the rise of LED manufacturing capacity in China, concerns have risen relating to overcapacity. Some of the equipment purchased for metal-organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) manufacturing—the most important process step in LED production—is now sitting idle in China. Observers have fretted that the overcapacity could result in the shutdown of some Chinese suppliers.

However, only a few of the smaller Chinese vendors so far have closed their LED operations. Most of the top companies remain active in the market, with some posting strong profit margins.

MLS and the smaller Chinese suppliers mostly compete among themselves for a share of the large domestic LED market. The international portion of sales for these companies is very small.

At the same, the extremely low prices in the Chinese market make the country inaccessible to overseas suppliers. Because of this, foreign LED makers don’t encounter Chinese competitors very often.

But that situation will change rapidly. IHS expects the LED revenues of Chinese vendors to grow steadily over time, as the country’s economy continues to grow strongly. Because of this, Chinese LED suppliers will begin to sell more internationally and come into competition with foreign rivals.

Both intellectual property and quality are concerns for international customers that are considering Chinese suppliers.

However, several factors suggest these concerns could be alleviated over time. These factors include patent expirations, China’s established history in other industries, the sheer volume of manufacturing capacity in the country and the fact that many LED lamps are assembled in the nation.

Top-tier LED suppliers such as Nichia, Osram, Lumileds and Cree so far have seen only a small impact from Chinese vendors on their sales. This is especially true in the market for general lighting in regions such as Europe and the Americas. Such will not necessarily be the case by the end of the decade.

X-Fab builds two new MEMS fabs

X-FAB Silicon Foundries has expanded its MEMS manufacturing capabilities in Erfurt and Itzehoe with two new dedicated MEMS fabs with cleanroom space totaling more than 2000 square metres.

MEMS devices manufactured at X-FAB include pressure sensors, micro-mirrors, microphones and microfluidic devices used in mobile, consumer, medical and automotive applications.

“With the two new dedicated MEMS fabs, we are well prepared for volume MEMS manufacturing and able to meet the growing demand we see from our customers,” says X-Fab’s Peter Merz.

In Erfurt, X-FAB will use 1300 square metres of new MEMS manufacturing space alongside its existing CMOS and MEMS semiconductor fabs on site. The new cleanroom will be used for high-volume manufacturing of 200mm MEMS and related processes with the first equipment to be installed in December this year.

In Itzehoe, X-FAB is moving its operation into a new state-of-the-art 1000 square metre fab commonly used with Fraunhofer ISIT.

In addition, X-FAB will expand its R&D cooperation with Fraunhofer Institute. The Itzehoe fab was opened last month with the first tools already installed.

“X-FAB offers a variety of CMOS processes for analog/mixed signal, high-voltage and power applications in combination with a wide range of MEMS process capabilities,” says Merz, “customers benefit from this one-stop-shopping approach. In addition, X-FAB simplifies the supply chain by supporting integration and interface challenges on all levels.”

More on: Amazon phone focuses on gesture

Amazon Fire phoneAmazon has gone for touch-less gesture recognition in a big way with the release of its long-awaited phone, called Fire.

Amongst other things, one-handed gestures can be used for scroll, tilt and swivel navigation.

Four front face image sensors and four infra-red LEDs form the physical interface, and inside are a dedicated custom processor, real-time computer vision algorithms, and a graphics rendering engine, said the firm.

Gesture recognition is part of something it has branded ‘Dynamic Perspective’.

“Dynamic perspective uses a new sensor system to respond to the way you hold, view, and move Fire, enabling experiences not possible on other smartphones,” claimed Amazon, which is providing a dynamic perspective software design kit (SDK).

Image sensing also plays a part in something called Firefly, which auto-recognises web addresses, email addresses, printed phone numbers, QR codes, bar codes, printed text on signs, posters, magazines and business cards. “Make a call, send an email, save as a contact, or go to the website without typing out URLs or email addresses,” said the firm.

Combined with communications to the firm’s data base, and the phones microphones, Firefly is also said to be able to identify over 100 million items, including movies, TV episodes, songs, and other things amongst its products.

“Later this year, Firefly will include artwork recognition, foreign language translation, and wine label recognition,” said Amazon. Firefly also has an SDK.

The phone’s hardware includes a 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor with 2Gbyte of RAM and a choice of 32 or 64Gbyte of flash.

The display is 4.7in (12cm), with an ambient light sensor, and wireless interfaces include: nine bands of LTE, four bands of GSM, five bands of UMTS, 802.11ac (and Wi-Fi channel bonding), NFC, and Bluetooth.

As well as the gesture sensors, there are two conventional cameras: at the rear camera is a back-side-illuminated 13Mpixel sensor with LED flash, a five element f/2.0 lens and optical image stabilization (OIS). While at the front is a 2.1Mpixel camera. Both can record 1080p video.

There are two speakers with Dolby Digital Plus for what Amazon describes as “a virtual surround sound experience”.

Case wise, Fire has front and back Gorilla Glass, aluminium buttons, stainless steel details, and a compliant polyurethane grip area.

Europe’s €1bn graphene research grows bigger

p-022585-00-06hEurope’s flagship graphene collaboration research project  is about to get even larger.

One of the largest-ever European research initiatives will expand further as result of a €9m competitive call.

New industrial and academic partners will be invited to join the of Graphene Flagship consortium, which already has 76 partners from 17 countries.

The expansion of the project will be made next week at the start of Graphene Week 2014 in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Graphene research is very active in Europe and researchers, which includes teams at Manchester and Cambridge in the UK, are working to take graphene and related ultra-thin layered materials from academic laboratories to commercial products.

The researchers believe the new semiconductor material technology can potentially “revolutionise multiple industries and create economic growth and new jobs in Europe”.

The €1bn Graphene Flagship collaborative research project was launched by EC vice-president Neelie Kroes to put Europe at the centre of grapheme research.  Swedish Chalmers University of Technology is hosting the graphene conference (23-27 June).

Taking part next week will be Prof. Jari Kinaret, Director of the Graphene Flagship, and Prof. Andrea Ferrari, Director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre and the Chairman of the Graphene Flagship Executive Board.

Next week’s event in Gothenburg is aimed at creating a direct dialogue between academia and industry, to foster new opportunities and encourage new common projects.

Related news:
Graphene mixer opens door to THz imaging


Sharp offers any-shape displays

Sharp free-form IGZO LCDSharp has developed free-form LCD – displays that are not limited to being rectangular.

“The device can be shaped to meet a wide range of user needs thanks to the incorporation of IGZO [indium gallium zinc oxide] technology and proprietary circuit design methods,” said the firm. The gate driver is not on the edge of the display. Instead “the gate driver’s function is dispersed throughout the pixels on the display area. This allows the bezel to be shrunk considerably”.

Using a free-form LCD, cars can have a single dashboard instrument panel that combines a speedometer and other monitors.

Details are sparse, but it appears all edges can be curved because Sharp added: “There are other possibilities for displays, including wearable devices with elliptical displays.”

Sharp is planning mass production.

Agilent has a reference system for multi-channel antenna calibration

AgilentAgilent Technologies has introduced a multi-channel antenna calibration reference system for calibrating and characterising large, multi-channel phased-array antennas during integration and manufacturing.

Complete phased-array antennas can consist of thousands of individual transmit/receive modules, and calibrating them can be a lengthy process.

Agilent claims its approach decreases measurement times.

The multi-channel antenna calibration Reference Solution is scalable from eight to 40 digitiser channels in a 5-slot chassis (more in a 14-slot chassis).

“Our customers have been asking for a scalable, modular, multi-channel antenna array test solution that has good sensitivity in narrowband and is expandable for wideband measurement scenarios in the future,” said Mario Narduzzi, Agilent’s Modular Solutions marketing manager.

The system provides phase coherent sampling across all input channels; example software templates including relative magnitude as well as completing phase measurements for element-to-element calibration of large phased array antennas.


UK universities discover ‘new’ quantum wells

Optoelectronic deviceUK researchers have discovered a new  two-dimensional quantum well mechanism which they claim can emit tunable light at terahertz frequencies with “unprecedented efficiency”.

The researchers, from the University of Southampton and Imperial College London, found that quantum wells, 2D nanostructures formed of several layers of semi-conductor alloys placed on top of each other like a sandwich, can enhance light emission in a technological challenging spectral range.

Likely photonics applications where this could have an impact include medical imaging and security scanning.

“As the 2D nanostructures can be manufactured with an asymmetric design, this allows light to interact with trapped electrons in a way that is not otherwise allowed,” said Nathan Shammah, from the University’s Quantum Light and Matter (QLM) group.

“This interaction process, leading to the emission of light at lower frequencies, has not been observed in atoms because those are very symmetrical systems and symmetry rules prevent the transitions that trigger this light emission from happening.”

In the paper, which is published in Physical Review B, the researchers predict that by shining light on a 2D asymmetric nanostructure with a laser that is tuned at resonance with the electronic transitions that can occur in the nanostructure, in addition to the scattered laser light, this 2D device would emit light at other frequencies, which can be tuned simply by changing the laser power.

According to Professor Chris Phillips from Imperial College London: “This new mechanism is perfectly suited for the terahertz frequency range, which spans from above the current wi-fi bandwidth to below the visible light spectrum, where the lack of practical light emitters constitutes a serious technological gap.”