The growth of China’s semiconductor industry outstripped sector expansion in many other regions in 2017 thanks in part to heavy government investments and supportive state policies. But China’s chip industry also struggled under the weight of overheated investment, inconsistent project quality, insufficient investment in research and development, a poor ability to innovate, and barriers to international cooperation. To overcome these headwinds to growth, China must identify global trends in the development of global semiconductor industry and better understand the forces it needs to mobilize to further expand its own semiconductor sector.
AI and 5G fuel global semiconductor industry growth
In 2017, global semiconductor industry revenue reached a seven-year peak, expanding 22 percent to nearly USD 420 billion, and entered a new growth phase with artificial intelligence (AI), 5G and other new technologies leading the surge with greater market segmentation, diversification and decentralization. The emergence of smart automobiles, smart cities, smart medicine, AR/VR and other new markets headed the list of new applications. In the next three to five years, semiconductor industry growth is expected to remain stable, with no marked declines. In 2018, the growth rate is expected to fall to between 5 percent and 8 percent, with the expansion more comprehensive and balanced.
The memory market, in particular, will find it hard to match its 2017 blistering growth rate. The market’s expected growth of 10 percent to 20 percent will be chiefly driven by DRAM and 3D NAND Flash. In 2019, NAND growth will continue but DRAM shipments could decline.
Emphasis on both innovation and investment key to sustainable growth of Chinese IC
Under the China government’s Guidelines to Promote National IC Industry Development, designed to provide key policy guidance and capital support for the development of China’s IC industry, the Chinese semiconductor industry is seeing particularly rapid growth that is expected to be a key contributor to continuing global industry expansion. In IC design, HiSilicon and Unigroup Spreadtrum & RDA ranked among the top 10 in the world. In wafer fabrication, Chinese IC manufacturing accounted for 13 percent to 15 percent of global market capacity despite SMIC and Huahong Group lagging international competition in advanced processing. In packaging and testing – China’s strongest segment – JCET, NFME and Huatian Technology also ranked in the global top 10.
The Guidelines to Promote National IC Industry Development has fueled a boom in capital investments. However, investments must go well beyond fab construction to add new capacity for China’s semiconductor industry to flourish. A strategy for sustainable, long-term chip industry growth must focus more on technology innovation while continuing heavy capital investments, though it takes time for innovation to lead to higher capacity demand and GPD growth and more jobs.
Despite large investments by the 02 Special Project in semiconductor equipment and materials, China trails other regions of the world in advanced technologies. Global spending on semiconductor equipment reached a record-breaking USD 56 billion in 2017, with Korea a major driver. In 2017, Samsung alone invested USD 25 billion in semiconductor equipment, followed by TSMC (USD 10.8 billion), Intel (USD 11.5 billion), Hynix (USD 8.5 billion), Micron (USD 0.5 billion), SMIC (USD 2.3 billion) and YMTC (USD 2 billion). In 2018, Samsung’s equipment spending is expected to drop slightly, to USD 24 billion, while investments by Intel and TSMC will be remain roughly equal.
China’s equipment spending will continue to grow in 2018, with SMIC and YMTC maintaining investment levels similar to last year’s and other China semiconductor manufacturers starting to ramp up investments. In 2018, China is expected to surpass Taiwan in equipment spending to claim the number two position after Korea.
SIIP China dedicated to international connection and cooperation
The huge investments in China’s semiconductor industry need to be supported by robust business strategies, greater international cooperation, deeper expertise in advanced technologies, and more skilled workers. China lags the global industry in all of these areas. The rapid rise of China’s semiconductor industry has raised concerns among many countries over China’s growing influence, with some, most notably the United States, going so far as to implement containment measures. Other regions including Japan, Korea and Taiwan followed suit.
The continued growth of China’s semiconductor industry hinges on technological innovation enabled by international cooperation, as well as strong international communication to allay concerns and misunderstandings over the rising prominence of China’s chip sector. China must overcome these obstacles. One partial solution is for China to convince the rest of the world that its need a thriving semiconductor industry if only to meet enormous demand for electronics products within its own borders.
As the largest international semiconductor industry association, SEMI enjoys a unique ability to strengthen the connection between China’s semiconductor sector and its international counterparts. SEMI is well-known for its vital support of the traditional semiconductor equipment and materials markets, but SEMI’s work also spans IC design, manufacturing, packaging and testing. What’s more, SEMI has expanded into innovative market vertical applications such as AI, smart manufacturing, smart transportation and smart automotive as it aims to bring together supply chains across these growth areas.
For its part, SEMI China remains dedicated to improving communications and cooperation between the Chinese and global semiconductor industries. SEMI China will also continue to encourage deeper collaboration among individual enterprises and government institutions in the interest of industry growth while making full use of SEMI’s international, professional and localization platform to promote the development of China’s semiconductor industry.
Last year, we established SEMI Innovation Investment Platform (SIIP) China to help grow China’s pool of skilled workers, promote advanced technology, generate industry capital, and expand China’s semiconductor industry while developing stronger connections with chip sectors in other regions. SIIP China is focused on the following:
- Promoting sustainable development of the Chinese semiconductor industry
- Establishing stronger connections to help take advantage of global technology and investment opportunities
- Providing a platform for open communications between the Chinese and global semiconductor industries
- Promoting greater coordination between China and its global partners
- Helping newly enterprises secure funds for expansion
Encouraging greater cooperation with foreign semiconductor manufacturers in the interest of openness and mutual benefit will be the best way for China to overcome obstacles to the development of its semiconductor industry. Meanwhile, China will continue to strive to merge into the global semiconductor industry and become a key partner.
SEMICON China has witnessed the development of Chinese semiconductor industry
SEMICON China marked its 30th anniversary this year. Over the past three decades, China’s semiconductor industry has seen remarkable growth. This year’s SEMICON China was the largest ever. SEMICON China and FPD China 2018 numbered 3,628 booths, covered 74,000 square meters of exhibition space and attracted 1,116 exhibitors from 21 countries and regions and 91,252 professional attendees from 58 countries and regions.
Most of China’s top device makers and global leading packaging houses, together with their equipment and materials suppliers, exhibited at SEMICON China and FPD China 2018, representing the global IC manufacturing ecosystem. The number of SEMICON China and FPD China 2018 visitors jumped 32.3 percent from last year, with representation by professionals from the design, manufacturing, assembly and test, equipment and materials sectors.
Lung Chu is President of SEMI China.