SiC foundry business emerges

An article written by Mark LaPedus for SEMICONDUCTOR ENGINEERING – Several third-party foundry vendors are entering or expanding their efforts in the silicon carbide (SiC) business amid booming demand for the technology.

However, making a significant dent in the market will not be so easy for SiC foundry vendors and their customers. They are facing stiff competition from traditional SiC device vendors such as Cree, Infineon, Rohm and STMicroelectronics.

SiC, a compound semiconductor material based on silicon and carbon, is used to make specialized power semiconductor devices for high-voltage applications like electric vehicles, power supplies, solar and trains. SiC stands out because it’s more efficient with higher breakdown voltages than traditional power semis.

In SiC, the integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) dominate the landscape. Cree, Rohm and others make devices in their own fabs and sell them under their own brand names. Those companies use proprietary processes, which enables them to differentiate their products.

The IDMs compete against each other, as well as an emerging crop of SiC fabless design houses. Fabless companies and others have their products made by a foundry vendor. SiC foundries give customers access to manufacturing capacity, but there are some cost and supply-chain challenges here. Generally, SiC IDMs don’t provide foundry services or make chips for others, but that could change one day.

The SiC foundry business is just getting off the ground. At some point, though, SiC foundries hope to replicate the successful silicon foundry model. In this model, many chip companies outsource their IC production to the silicon foundries, such as TSMC, Samsung, GlobalFoundries and UMC. These foundry vendors are not participating in SiC. Today, the SiC foundry business is still small.

As it turns out, the SiC foundry business is more difficult than the silicon foundry segment. Near term, the SiC foundry business will resemble other power semi markets. The best example is the insulated-gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) segment, a power semi type that competes against SiC devices.

“When you’re talking about the silicon foundry model, it is very successful,” said Hong Lin, an analyst at Yole Développement. “I am not here to say there is no chance for the foundry model in silicon carbide. In the power semiconductor business, if we’re looking at today’s IGBTs designs, there are foundries here. But it’s more of an IDM business.”Full article


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