Samsung Electronics has begun mass production of 6-nanometer (nm) semiconductors based on extreme ultraviolet (EUV) technology. The company rolls out 6-nm products in only eight months since it started mass production of 7-nm products. Samsung's cycle of upgrading microfabrication process technology is being shortened. In particular, the transition to a 6-nm EUV process is expected to narrow Samsung’s gap with Taiwan's TSMC, the world’s No. 1 foundry.
Samsung Electronics started mass-producing 6-nm products based on EUV technology at the S3 Line of Hwaseong Campus in Gyeonggi Province in December last year. "I understand that 6-nm products are delivered to large corporate customers in North America," an official of Samsung’s partner company said. Semiconductor industry watchers assume that Samsung's 6-nm products are supplied to Qualcomm, the world's second-largest fabless company.
Previously, Samsung Electronics supplied 7-nm products to global customers in April of last year. It took just eight months to produce 6-nm products. Compared to 7-nm products, 6-nm products offer improved semiconductor logic size, power and performance.
By starting mass-production of 6-nm products, Samsung Electronics is putting pressure on TSMC. In the fourth quarter of last year, TSMC accounted for 52.7 percent of the world's foundry market, widening its gap with Samsung Electronics with a 17.8 percent share, said TrendForce, a global market research firm.
The main reason why Samsung Electronics has failed to overtake TSMC is that the Korean semiconductor giant was late in developing a 7-nm process following 16-nm and 12-nm processes. TSMC actually monopolizes AP supply to Apple for the iPhone, the largest fabless customer, through its 7-nm technology.
By contrast, Samsung Electronics commercialized a 14-nm fin field-effect transistor (FinFET) process for the first time in 2014, but lost its lead to TSMC in 7-nm process development. At the moment, 7-nm products account for a small share of Samsung’s sales. In order to overcome this problem, Samsung is stepping up its efforts to shorten the development period of sub-7-nm microfabrication processes.
Following mass production of 6-nano products, Samsung Electronics is aiming to roll out 5-nm products in the first half of this year. In addition, Samsung Electronics may be able to mass-produce 3-nm products in the first half of this year as the development of a 3-nm process based on gate-all-around (GAA) technology, which overcomes the limitations of semiconductor miniaturization, is also in the final stage of development, some industry insiders say.