China's biggest chipmaker to build colossal chip factory

SMIC's 28nm colossus won't get China closer to self-sufficiency in stuff it buys from Intel and AMD, will help in other ways

China's largest chipmaker, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), has announced it will spend $8.87 billion on a new fabrication facility that will become China's largest such facility used for products other than memory.

As outlined in a regulatory filing [PDF], the factory will offer "a production line with a production capacity of 100,000 12-inch wafers per month, focusing on the production of integrated circuit foundry and technology services on process nodes for 28 nanometre and above."

By way of comparison, Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC states its capacity in 2020 was 12 million 12-inch equivalent wafers and predicted four per cent growth in 2021.

TSMC can also build on processes down to two nanometres.

SMIC itself can build on a 14-nanometre process.

So, while SMIC reckons this new facility will be a biggie, it won't help China meet its twin ambitions of driving its economy with big data and AI-infused analytics, and doing so with home-built silicon of the sort needed to run bleeding-edge servers and accelerators.

Most of that sort of silicon comes from non-Chinese companies, plenty of which are US-based and therefore need a licence before exporting to the Middle Kingdom. As Huawei has learned to its cost, companies felt to represent a threat to US interests struggle to win those licences.

Whatever SMIC builds in the new factory will be welcome, as plenty of kit needed for quotidian devices can be made on 28-nanometre or larger processes. SMIC will soon be able to make 1.2 million wafers a month – and with each wafer capable of holding hundreds of dies, SMIC will soon be making hundreds of millions more chips a year.

China will find a use for them, too – either at home or as exports.

The new fab is a joint venture between SMIC and the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone Lin-Gang Special Area Administration. ®

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