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Dongbu HiTek makes quiet strides towards expansion

Posted: 16 Oct 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:TSMC? Global Foundries? Samsung? Dongbu HiTek? Fab?

Unlike established foundries like TSMC, GlobalFoundries, and Samsung, Dongbu HiTek has remained under the radar for quite a while. However, Dongbu, which has been described by some as the industry's best kept secret, has been sharpening its strategy and steadily expanding capacity under its CEO and president Chang-Sik Choi.

Choi came to Dongbu after a 30 year stint at Samsung Electronics. Having worked at Samsung in diversified semiconductor fields ranging from memory and system SoC development to running fabs and leading a solar cell project, Choi is bringing to Dongbu hard work, faster decision making, and clarity in setting goals and how to achieve them, hallmarks of Samsung's hard-to-beat business strengths.

Chang-Sik Choi

Chang-Sik Choi

Dongbu, which styles itself as a speciality foundry, has been zeroing in on manufacturing analogue and power, mixed signal, and high voltage CMOS products.

According to Gregor Dieseldorff, senior analyst and director of market research at Semiconductor Equipment Materials International (SEMI), Dongbu ranks 11th in terms of foundry capacity place, after HH Grace but before CR Micro. China's Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC), viewed by some as Dongbu's competitor, ranks with about 240K wafers (200mm) in 2013. And IC Insights ranked Dongbu ninth in revenue in 2011 and 2012.

Despite its middle-of-the-pack market rank, Dongbu has been raising its capacity in the last few years. It's poised to take advantage of the growing market for smartphones and tablets, whose chip content includes a host of analogue ICs for power, sensor, display, touch, audio, video, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, and other functions.


Figure: Dongbu's growing capacity.
Source: Dongbu HiTek

Customers include Asahi Kasei Microdevices Corp. (AKM), which IHS iSuppli has described as "the world's largest supplier of silicon magnetic sensors" thanks to its key design wins in Apple's iPad and iPhone. AKM "led the market because of huge strides in supplying Hall electronic magnetic compasses." These compasses are used in products like cell phones, tablets, digital still cameras, portable navigation devices, and MP3 players.

Transition to 300mm wafers?
Dongbu has fabs in Bucheon and Emsung; both are 200mm facilities. Its maximum capacity jumped from 94K wafers per month last year to 110K wafers in 2013 and will expand to 120K in 2014. It also has an empty shell in its Fab 2-module 2.

Choi downplayed the current lack of a 300mm facility. "Is 300mm important for us? Yes and no," he said. "A larger wafer size means more dies, which leads to cost reduction. There is also performance increase in terms of speed. But you could lose your accuracy and precision in your products by going for a smaller geometry," added Choi.

This, of course, is a standard answer. But a little later in the interview, Choi, rather surprisingly, casually added: "We may start using 300mm wafers in our empty shell in the near future."

Industry experts say that the transition to 300mm will be important to Dongbu's business in the future, since 200mm wafers are expected to become marginal over time. As TSMC moves digital to GigaFabs, it will move its 300mm wafer facilities to "More-than-Moore" processes (such as MEMS). It can do so at aggressive nodes. In short, Dongbu's competition won't be limited to just other speciality foundries such as Tower Jazz and Vanguardfor long.

- Junko Yoshida
??EE Times

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