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Thursday, May 2, 2024

Tokyo Electron investments help Japan’s Silicon Road reclaim glory

Japanese chipmaking equipment manufacturer Tokyo Electron is making big capital investments in Japan’s northeast, a region once known as the “Silicon Road,” as the company works to hone mass-production technology several generations away.

Related suppliers are also setting up shop in nearby industrial parks, creating a Tokyo Electron supply chain sphere in the Tohoku region seeking to reclaim its past glory as a semiconductor hub.

Construction is underway on a third development building on the company’s premises in Miyagi Prefecture, scheduled for completion in spring 2025.

“We are working with our customers to develop technology four generations into the future,” said Nobuto Doi, vice president at Tokyo Electron Miyagi.

Tokyo Electron Miyagi develops and produces plasma etching equipment, which handles the process of defining circuit patterns formed by lithography on films coated onto wafers.

The company’s development sites test cutting-edge technology to manufacture prototypes to the specifications of customers and prepare for mass production. They serve important roles for bringing chip technology, which is evolving day by day, to practical use by working with the world’s top chipmakers.

In the number one development building, engineers evaluate whether wafers provided by customers can be etched into the desired shape. They also test whether the equipment can operate stably over a long period of time under set conditions like gas type and pressure for mass production.

“In the end, our engineers go to the customer’s factory and oversee use of the equipment for mass production,” said a representative.

In addition to two development and production buildings, Tokyo Electron Miyagi opened an innovation center in 2021 to conduct joint research with other companies.

At the center’s “Flexible Lab,” virtual reality technology projects a three-dimensional image of chipmaking equipment based on design drafts. The technology is used to finalize such details as parts and verify maintainability.

Meanwhile, in Oshu, Iwate Prefecture, Tokyo Electron Technology Solutions—which handles equipment for wafer deposition, another core chipmaking process—is building a production and logistics center to be completed in fall 2025. It will be the company’s seventh facility in Oshu.

The new building will have two floors, with deposition equipment produced on the second floor. The first floor will house a distribution center that will store parts made by partner companies, with the aim of shortening lead times.

All 12 lots in the Oshu industrial park have been reserved. Of the five companies scheduled to set up shop there, four, including a Tokyo Electron subsidiary, are said to be related to chip manufacturing.

Tokyo Electron is playing an outsized role in the restoration of the once booming semiconductor industry in Tohoku. Proximity to customers can help facilitate troubleshooting with its products.

Many Japanese semiconductor manufacturers have lost out in the investment race with overseas companies. At the same time, companies supplying manufacturing equipment and materials still maintain a strong presence.

Clustering together semiconductor-related companies that support the chipmaking process could be key to strengthening the Japanese chip supply chain.

This article first appeared on Nikkei Asia ↗. It has been republished here as part of 36Kr’s ongoing partnership with Nikkei ↗.

BFIA Admin
BFIA Admin
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