In the two months since the COVID-19 outbreak in January, the Chinese economy has shifted from shock to ongoing recovery under the guidance of the Chinese government. China has worked tirelessly to restore production at its chip manufacturing facilities, a core strategic industry in the region, and the effort is paying off. Operations at several fabs and OSATs – the domestic semiconductor industry’s chief growth engines – have begun to stabilize.
As of mid-March, SMIC had restored its manufacturing lines to over 90% of production capacity and expects to be operating at full bore in the next few weeks, while the company’s R&D line has returned to full operation. Huahong Grace reestablished normal supplies of various equipment parts and production raw materials. At Huahong Fab2, 12 new pieces of equipment went online to help increase production capacity, and production at Huahong Fab1 and Huahong Fab3 is now stable. JCET said the company's overall return rate has exceeded 90%. Meanwhile, IDM maker Silan Microelectronics' 6-inch and 8-inch lines maintained 90% production.
Production lines at Huahong Group, SMIC, CanSemi, GTA Semiconductor, Samsung (Xi'an) and other mainland China chip manufacturers have been generally operating at normal capacity since the Spring Festival. Lines at YMTC, Tianma, CSOT, and BOE, all in the Coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan, have also returned to normal operations.
China’s chip industry is finding its footing, and an impressive host of semiconductor companies are gearing up to participate at SEMICON China 2020, rescheduled to June 27-29. The list includes the major domestic wafer foundries such as Huahong, the major packaging and testing companies such as JCET, TFME, Huatian, and large domestic and foreign equipment companies, among them TEL, ASMPT, DISCO, ULVAC, VAT, ASML, KLA, NAURA, AMEC, Anji, CETC, Sinyang, SMEE, CAS, CANON and SPIROX.
DigiTimes, a daily newspaper covering the semiconductor, electronics, computer and communications industries in Asia, interviewed SEMI China President Lung Chu in mid-March about what’s ahead for China’s semiconductor industry. Following is an English translation of the interview.
As China continues to ramp back up to normal activity, SEMI China is making every effort to hold SEMICON China 2020, a leading international semiconductor industry platform for promoting growth and innovation in China's semiconductor industry supply chain. SEMI China president Chu emphasized that the strong support of SEMICON China 2020 exhibitors and the Chinese government made rescheduling the event to June possible.
Chu, a semiconductor industry veteran who has experienced numerous economic and industry upheavals over his career including the SARS shock in 2003, said current global economic uncertainty stems from two black swans – the global COVID-19 pandemic and how long it will take to contain it, and the sharp drop in oil prices triggered by the recent geopolitical dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia. In China, the government responded with strict containment actions and promoted public awareness of self-isolation, resulting in effective domestic containment as of mid-March. As a major oil consumer, China sees the lower prices as relatively favorable to its economy. Those dynamics should allow China to recover sooner than many other regions, and it could emerge even stronger once the pandemic is contained, despite the current slump in global semiconductor demand, Chu said. Once the epidemic has passed, China is in a position of "turning crisis into opportunity," and the semiconductor industry will recover from the trough, he said.
Companies in semiconductor supply-chain sectors face various challenges in restoring normal operations. IC design companies experienced relatively low impact since employees can work from home and most companies are located in major cities in China, where epidemic prevention control is strict. For most chip manufacturers, production has not stopped but is hampered by manpower shortages from restrictions on employees returning to work. IC packaging and testing companies are suffering bigger impacts because of the more labor-intensive nature of their operations. However, all companies in the supply chain will be affected by the decline in demand for electronic products and ICs in 2020.
As the COVID-19 threat recedes in China, the region remains unwavering in its commitment to semiconductors as a strategic industry with its continuing efforts to evolve sustainable and reliable localized supply chains, Chu said. Investments in “new Infrastructure” for 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), data centers, as well as public health services should help drive semiconductor demand for smart applications and devices associated with the new infrastructures as are all powered by ICs, benefiting companies in the global supply chain.
The COVID-19 outbreak triggered a slowdown in new factory construction after the Chinese government implemented restrictions on the flow of people resulting in a worker shortage. SEMI has revised downward its forecast of wafer equipment spending in China to just a 3% increase this year.
Market analysts revised downward forecasts for 2020 annual global semiconductor revenue growth from 7-10% to 0-5%, while some expect negative growth. The recent COVID-19 outbreaks in Europe, the United States and other regions have created more uncertainty. Declining end-user demand for electronics will drive down spending on upstream equipment for both memory and logic IC device makers.
For Chu and his SEMI China staff, the postponement of SEMICON China 2020 has been a “major challenge,” he said. “It is a huge project to communicate and coordinate with the government and to reconfirm with exhibitors and industry leaders.”
As a leading industry platform, SEMICON China attracts a large number of global customers and suppliers each year. The major China domestic suppliers, leading foundries and OSATs have confirmed their attendance in SEMICON China 2020. Most key foreign suppliers are planning to staff the event with local teams in case some executives are unable to enter China by June due to travel restrictions if the COVID-19 virus has not been brought under control in the United States, Europe and other regions.
To assure the success of the concurrent Forums, SEMI has prepared multiple contingency plans, including live broadcast, video and slide presentations. SEMI will also hold the grand opening session at a larger venue than last year’s event to accommodate more attendees with more sitting distance apart.
SEMI will follow government guidelines to implement appropriate public health and safety measures during SEMICON China. "Ensuring the welfare of all exhibitors and guests and providing a safe exhibition environment is SEMI’s top priority," Chu said.
Cherry Sun is a marketing manager at SEMI China.