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Wafer capacity by feature size shows strongest growth at sub-10nm

IC capacity for leading-edge (sub-10nm) processes is expected to grow and become the largest portion of monthly installed capacity across the industry beginning in 2024, according to IC Insights.

Sub-10nm capacity is expected to account for 10% of the IC industry's total wafer capacity at the end of 2020, with the proportion to rise above 20% in 2022 and reach 30% in 2024, IC Insights said.

Equipment costs associated with sub-10nm process technologies have soared to the point where they have become prohibitive for many IC suppliers, IC Insights noted. Consequently, only Samsung, TSMC and Intel currently operate fabs using sub-10nm process technology.

Meanwhile, design difficulties stand in the way of the scaling methods that the IC industry has used for many years, IC Insights continued. Challenges are also mounting for complex logic-based chips such as microprocessors, ASICs, FPGAs and other advanced logic devices.

IC Insights believes the pace of migration of finer feature sizes for complex logic-based chips will continue slowing as chip designers find it increasingly difficult to justify the higher costs. For applications that greatly benefit from higher speeds, lower power consumption, etc, there will be healthy demand for the leading-edge FinFET processes and beyond. The roll out of half-step generations or enhanced versions of existing processes is also contributing to more time passing between each new generation node, IC Insights said.

South Korea, with 66% of its capacity dedicated to sub-20nm process technology, remains significantly more leading-edge focused than the other regions or countries, IC Insights indicated. Given Samsung and SK Hynix's emphasis on high-density DRAM, flash memory, and Samsung's applications processors, it is not a surprise that the country has the highest concentration of wafer capacity dedicated to leading-edge processes, IC Insights said.

With Apple, Huawei and Qualcomm using TSMC's leading-edge logic foundry services, Taiwan's total sub-20nm capacity stands at more than 35%, IC Insights said. Nevertheless, the 28nm, 45/40nm, and 65nm generations continue to generate significant business volumes for foundries like UMC.

On another front, most sub-20nm capacity in China is owned and controlled by foreign companies, namely Samsung, SK Hynix, Intel and TSMC. YMTC and SMIC are the only China-based companies that offer sub-20nm process technology.