Quote from this article: The young David defeated the giant Goliath with stones. This is a classic story in the Bible where the weak overcome the strong. The same case is constantly happening in the semiconductor CIM system market that has been developing for a long time. Who could be the next “David”?
The wind is rumbling, and the grass and trees are all soldiers.
As early as early August, a rumor caused quite a stir. According to sources, the CIM localization project of SMIC’s 12-inch (inch) wafer fab in Beijing was forced to stop because the contractor’s technology was not up to standard. In the afternoon of the same day, the company urgently refuted the rumor.
CIM system, known as EDA in semiconductor manufacturing, is a life-level system for semiconductor manufacturing.
In the late 1990s, IBM seized the opportunity to develop the CIM system and became the overlord; after 2000, the United States Applied Materials (referred to as “Applied Materials”) rose, forming a market situation monopolized by two giants, IBM and Applied Materials; 2015 Over the past few years, with the national policy dividends, a number of domestic CIM manufacturers have emerged in mainland China, including Saitemei and Xinxiang. Since 2020, the financing of the domestic CIM track has become even hotter.
Looking at the vicissitudes of the past 20 years, three historical issues in the development of the industry are worth thinking about:
How did IBM quickly monopolize the CIM market in the late 1990s?
How can other American and Korean manufacturers compete for a place in the CIM market?
When life and death are at stake, how should Chinese domestic CIM manufacturers break through?
This article will be divided into the following three parts for detailed analysis:
1. CIM, EDA in wafer fabrication
2. When the tiger dominates the dragon, when the world is turned upside down
3. Xiongguan Road is really like iron, and now it is stepping forward from the beginning
CIM, EDA in wafer fabrication
After the Chip Act, the news that the United States cut off the supply of EDA tools has aroused widespread discussion in China. The importance of CIM system – “EDA” in the manufacturing process is self-evident. So what is a semiconductor CIM system? Why is semiconductor CIM system so important?
Industrial software in the semiconductor field is collectively referred to as a CIM system. With the help of computer control and information processing functions, it helps semiconductor factories realize the automatic production of products. In short, the CIM system is the overall commander in the semiconductor factory.
The semiconductor industry chain has many links and a long cycle. The CIM system can ensure that the equipment in each link can execute commands according to the requirements. There is no deviation in the parameters of each process. A piece of equipment can be efficiently utilized.
The realization of these links benefits from the four functions of CIM: deployment and management of production materials and human resources, design functions such as programming and modeling, automated manufacturing functions, and quality control functions. These functions are implemented by different software.
The CIM system consists of dozens of software systems such as Manufacturing Execution System (MES), Statistical Process Control System (SPC), Equipment Automation Program (EAP), Recipe Management System (RMS), and Yield Management System (YMS). If CIM is the commander of the semiconductor factory, then the MES system is the “brain” of the commander.
CIM system can be roughly divided into three categories – “production system”, “equipment system”, “quality system”. The production system is responsible for production management, represented by MES; the equipment system is responsible for automation and equipment management, among which EAP is the most representative. Quality systems are responsible for quality management, such as YMS.
EAP controls the equipment through direct communication with the equipment, and is responsible for the collection of equipment production data. EAP transmits the collected production data to EIS, and transmits the status data to FDC.
EIS accepts the data and saves it, and among the collected data, transmits important data to MES.
MES uses the data collected by EIS to control the production process in the factory, further collect production data, and use the collected data for business and analysis.
Other software also perform their duties. YMS and QMS are responsible for the analysis of production information data, and SPC manages whether there are abnormalities in production activities through statistics to improve production efficiency and quality.
With the improvement of chip manufacturing process and iteration of wafer foundry technology, the rise of 12-inch wafer fabs has led to the emergence of the CIM system market. From 6 inches to 8 inches to 12 inches, the yield rate and quality control requirements are gradually stricter, and the level of automation is upgraded. It is inevitable to realize production with the help of CIM system.
From the perspective of the relationship between means of production and productivity, the core of the 6-inch is “people”, or in other words, people are the mainstay, supplemented by equipment; the core of the 8-inch is “people + means of production”, that is, the synergy of the two ; The core of the 12-inch is equipment, which emphasizes a high degree of automation.
The 8-inch is mainly semi-automatic, and the 12-inch is basically fully automatic. In a 12-inch fab, each wafer has to flow back and forth among hundreds or even thousands of devices, and there are more than a thousand production processes. Any error in any link will directly affect the yield and efficiency.
In addition, the semiconductor supply chain has the characteristics of many production links and high coordination, and has very high requirements for the efficiency and accuracy of data transmission in the entire upstream and downstream industrial chains.
Therefore, the CIM system plays an irreplaceable role.
Beginning in the 1990s, IBM keenly seized the opportunity of CIM development. In 1995, IBM spent a huge sum of US$3.5 billion to acquire the Lotus (Lotus) software company. Relying on its own technology accumulation, it merged various departments to form a “software group”.
In 1995, IBM launched POSEIDEN, which was the beginning of CIM systemization and also the first step taken by IBM.
In 1999, IBM made persistent efforts and released the SiView system based on the POSEIDEN system, and then IBM used it for its own 12-inch production line.
At the turn of the century, there was a wave of 12-inch factory construction in Taiwan, China. A group of manufacturers led by TSMC has opened a new era of wafer foundry, and since then the division of labor in the wafer manufacturing industry chain has become more clear.
Following the trend of the times, IBM shifted its business focus to East Asia, and has been deeply bound since then. In this way, IBM once again firmly enjoyed the dividend of the times, and the SiView system was adopted by manufacturers such as TSMC.
So far, IBM has monopolized the CIM system market for more than ten years with its strong strength.
CIM software is a hard technology field that combines technology and experience. It not only requires the team to have solid technical accumulation and strong R&D capabilities, but also needs to have rich industry knowledge and project experience (know-how). The maturity of the software is often directly linked to the quantity and quality of customer cases, specifically reflected in how many production lines the software can be used for, how much mass production capacity it can support, and the service life.
In the past ten years, IBM’s core strengths include not only IT capabilities, but also powerful “know-how”. It is also by virtue of this that IBM can always maintain its leading position and discourage late entrants.
When the tiger dominates the dragon, when the world is turned upside down
While IBM is rising, Korean CIM manufacturers are also grabbing their own place.
There are two backgrounds for the rise of Korean CIM manufacturers. First, in the political environment, Japan’s sanctions and support from the United States;
In terms of the political environment, in the 1990s, Korean CIM manufacturers faced both Japanese sanctions and US support.
It all starts with the transfer of American industries. After the transfer of American industries, Japanese companies have developed rapidly. At the same time, the American industry has become seriously hollowed out.
At that time, the development idea of the semiconductor industry in the United States was to realize “global integration.” Generally speaking, the United States hoped to win over “little brothers” and “followers” to realize the ambitions of the United States. If Japanese companies compete with the United States, the United States is naturally willing to support South Korea’s development.
South Korea only made low-end packaging at the beginning. In the early 1990s, under the dual environment of “Japanese blockade” and “US support”, South Korea proposed the concept of “localization” and developed high-end links, which received strong support from the United States.
In 1995, Samsung launched the first local CIM. In 1997, Hynix started to make its own CIM. With the support of CIM, after 2000, almost all Korean companies built 12-inch factories.
In terms of talents, South Korea has actively introduced a large number of Japanese talents, and has made rapid progress through the “weekend engineer”.
Talents are always the core driving force for high-tech development. At that time, South Korea sent a large number of industrial spies, lobbyists and headhunters to lobby Japanese engineers. Japanese engineers fly to Korea every Friday night, and after two days of work, they fly back to Japan on Sunday night. Gradually, with the help of foreign engineers, South Korea’s semiconductor industry has made a qualitative leap.
Time hastened into the 21st century, which is destined to be an extraordinary era. In the United States on the other side of the ocean, Applied Materials has started the road to compete with IBM. First of all, it is almost crazy acquisitions.
Applied Materials has challenged IBM for more than ten years, and has been “pressed” and rubbed on the ground. In 1998, Applied Materials acquired Consilium, a semiconductor MES company. In 2006, Applied Materials went on to acquire another MES company, Brooks Software. Although this kind of crazy acquisition made Applied Material achieve the second position in the world, it did not allow it to occupy the most critical 12-inch market.
The turning point of everything is YMTC’s 12-inch verification opportunity for Applied Materials.
In 2016, Applied Materials had its first 12-inch case, YMTC, and it was very successful. Since then, IBM has been losing ground. In terms of current market share, IBM still has an advantage in the stock market, but the incremental market is far lower than that of Applied Materials.
At the same time, China’s semiconductor industry ushered in policy dividends, and the CIM industry took advantage of the trend.
Upward is the pioneer of China’s CIM track. After more than 20 years of experience accumulation, it has gradually acquired irreplaceable advantages.
In 1999, Lu Lingzhi, the founder of Ascend, returned from Singapore to start his own business and established Ascend. There are many overseas returnees in Shangyang, mainly in the direction of self-development, and has strong competitiveness in the 6-inch and 8-inch markets. Relying on the continuous innovation of the software system and tenacious perseverance, Shangyang has achieved a “zero breakthrough” in the domestic 12-inch wafer production CIM/MES software.
Simetech, on the other hand, adopts a completely different “American-style business law” from the upward trend, and realizes “semiconductor localization” through “acquisition”.
In 2020, Symtech was established through the merger and acquisition of two companies, “Shanghai Temax” and “Guyao SEMI Integration”, which have many years of experience in the semiconductor industry.
Previously, Simeite acquired the product line of Miracom, a foreign CIM manufacturer in China. However, industry insiders believe that the product line has not been iterated enough in the Chinese market. In the field of wafer manufacturing CIM systems, every two years is a small generation, every four years is a big generation, and the update is extremely fast.
In the context of the “stuck neck” panic spreading throughout the chip industry chain, domestic semiconductor manufacturers took advantage of the “dongfeng” of policy dividends and raised the banner of “domestic substitution”. In the field of CIM dominated by IBM and Yingcai, everyone unanimously regards the two giants as the enemies of domestic manufacturers. It seems that the ultimate goal of the development of domestic semiconductor CIM manufacturers is to replace IBM and Applied Materials.
May I ask, under the trend of domestic substitution, is the significance of the existence of domestic semiconductor CIM manufacturers only for substitution?
Who is the real enemy of domestic manufacturers? How will Chinese domestic manufacturers break through?
Xiongguan Road is really like iron, and now it is stepping forward from the beginning
Before answering these questions, we must objectively look at the current situation and stage of Chinese domestic manufacturers.
Looking at this arms race in the semiconductor field, to borrow the teacher’s words, this is actually a protracted war, which is divided into three stages-the enemy is strong and we are weak, strategic stalemate and strategic counteroffensive.
At present, many domestic manufacturers are in the transition from the first stage to the second stage, most of them are in the first stage, and a small part are in the second stage.
First, let’s talk about the concept of domestic substitution.
In May 2019, the United States ordered to block Huawei and cut off supply to Huawei, intending to interrupt Huawei’s “self-developed chips” process; in February 2020, the United States lowered the standard of 25% of American technology content in export controls to 10%. Launch an extreme pursuit of Huawei. In August 2022, U.S. President Biden signed the “Chip Act”, which provided huge discounts to the domestic semiconductor manufacturing field in the United States and further imposed a technological blockade on China.
Why do we propose “domestic substitution”? In fact, this is closely related to the process of the great power game between China and the United States.
After the reform and opening up, with the input of manpower and capital, China’s economy has ushered in remarkable growth, and its various strengths have made a qualitative leap.
In recent years, China’s demographic dividend has gradually weakened, and the economic growth momentum of “manpower + capital investment” is insufficient. China urgently needs to realize the transformation of economic development mode and transform to high-innovation industries, so as to stimulate economic growth. The United States, on the other hand, is trying to interrupt this process and plunge China into a middle-income trap.
From the perspective of the country, in order to ensure the strategic security status of the country’s scientific and technological field, it is necessary to gradually realize domestic substitution. This emphasizes the leap in the innovation strength of domestic enterprises and the process of high-tech in the chip field from 0 to 1.
But we still have to be soberly aware that the significance of the existence of domestic semiconductor manufacturers is not to replace them.
Putting aside national sentiments, from the perspective of commercial technology alone, it is difficult to imagine the difficulty of competing in the field of CIM system MES and replacing two mature technology suppliers with more than 20 years of experience.
If domestic substitution is to be successfully realized, arduous efforts must be made. In the field of CIM, Shangyang and other manufacturers have been catching up for more than 20 years, but they are still only behind. The more cutting-edge technology competition, the greater the gap between China and China.
Domestic CIM manufacturers must achieve high-tech breakthroughs on the basis of survival. Domestic manufacturers spend part of their energy on other areas worthy of development other than MES, patiently develop themselves, consolidate their customer base and continuously improve their technology. Over time, replacement is a natural thing.
Second, IBM and Applied Materials are not our enemies. Who is our enemy? Precisely ourselves.
Market competition is based on strength. It is understandable that the fab is responsible for itself and the investor when purchasing a mature system.
Instead of being our enemy, IBM and Applied Materials should be our teacher. Referring to the successful experience of South Korea’s “weekend engineers” back then, the key is how domestic manufacturers “dig” scarce talents from around the world.
Among the domestic manufacturers, Xinxiang has found a new way in the research and development of the core MES of the CIM system.
Coreshare attaches great importance to the construction of the underlying foundation. The logic of its product development is to first sort out the benchmark information for more than a thousand processes, then build a structure, sort out three to four hundred basic modules, and finally implement the code. It took CoreShare nearly 3 years to sort out more than 1 million pieces of benchmark information, and nearly 1 year to choose a suitable architecture.
In addition, Xinxiang has never regarded its opponents as enemies, but has recruited overseas talents.
Most of the top executives of ChipShare are from overseas manufacturers; the engineers of ChipShare also have decades of experience in Korean MES systems and have a strong “know-how”.
Xinxiang’s verification method for its own products is very special. It does not directly verify on the production line, but simulates running data next to the production line, that is, the verification of the production line