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China may have found a way to become a leading 5G chip maker instead of a straggler

Lithography machines play an important role in the manufacture of chips. They are used to etch patterns on wafers that show where transistors are placed on chips. One of the biggest breakthroughs was EUV (Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography). This creates extremely thin markings, which are very important when working with chips like the upcoming 5nm Apple A14 Bionic, which contains 15 billion transistors.

Can China Become a Chip Manufacturing Actor?

According to the Global Times (which is run by the state, which means we have to take this information with a grain of salt), a Chinese research company has reportedly developed a 5nm laser lithography machine that the Chinese hope will benefit their sluggish chip industry puts a shot in the arm. However, the report says that China is still “far from developing”
; such a machine and that there are some issues that need to be addressed with the technology.

The Suzhou Institute of Nanotechnology and Nano Bionics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Sinano) and the National Center for Nanosciences and Technology announced yesterday that they have made important discoveries related to high-precision laser lithography. However, these discoveries are only theoretical at the moment and a lot of money is needed to make this a reality. The laser lithography device produces precision patterns for the production of semiconductors, photonic chips and microelectromechanical systems. The research paper was printed by Nano Letters, a scientific journal of the American Chemical Society.

China lags far behind other countries in chip manufacturing, so the recent change in Huawei’s export rules is a major blow. The latter uses the world’s largest contract foundry, TSMC, to build the chips developed by Huawei’s HiSilicon unit. This year, TSMC is to deliver the manufacturer’s state-of-the-art 5 nm Kirin chip to Huawei, which should make flagship lines such as the upcoming Mate 40 more powerful and energy efficient. But the U.S. has changed a rule that blocks foundries’ ability to ship chips using U.S. technology Huawei without a license.
While Huawei may still receive chips from TSMC until mid-September, what will happen next year? In anticipation of such a problem, Huawei started doing business with China’s largest foundry SMIC. However, the company is a couple of process nodes behind TSMC. For example, while the latter are producing 5nm chips with 171.3 million transistors per square centimeter, SMIC’s most advanced ICs use the 14nm node, which packs approximately 35 million transistors in square centimeters. SMIC recently manufactured Huawei’s Kirin 710-A SoC. SMIC plans to develop a 7nm process node, but needs more advanced lithography machines. The United States reportedly prevented leading lithography supplier ASML from delivering a press to SMIC earlier this year. So if 5nm laser technology works, it could give a big boost to the Chinese who really need to be self-sufficient in this area.

Experienced Beijing-based industry analyst Xiang Ligang told the Global Times: “… It will take China years to close the gap with advanced western suppliers, particularly ASML. Xiang says the latter has monopolized key technologies for its machines and points out suggests that it is difficult to raise capital for such a project because the returns are low and such an investment can tie up investor money for a long period of time. The analyst says, “Chinese research institutes have to work with companies to develop theories translate into products. In terms of profits, making a chip making machine could cost billions of yuan, and it will take years for the investment to pay off. Most Chinese companies don’t see it as a good deal. “

While the Chinese may not currently be focusing on such a project, fundraising could ultimately make SMIC a competitor, and that could only be good news for Huawei and the country.

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