Rapidus, A State-Backed Semiconductor Firm That Japan Is Banking On To Regain Lost Chipmaking Glory, Unveils Plan For 1 Nanometer Chip

Swarajya Staff

Nov 17, 2023, 09:45 AM | Updated Dec 14, 2023, 05:19 PM IST


Japanese government-backed chipmaker Rapidus will collaborate with leading French research institute Leti (Laboratory of Electronics Information Technology) to develop basic technology for designing chips using technology in the 1-nanometer range, Nikkei reported.

Leti is one of Europe’s largest micro- and nanotechnologies research institutes, which employs 1900 scientists and engineers, It has a portfolio of 3000 patents, and has launched more than 70 startups.

Rapidus is viewed as pivotal to Japan's all-out strategy to regain chipmaking glory by luring overseas and incentivising local semiconductor companies by generous subsidy packages. The firm is also collaborating with leading-edge research institutes and academic bodies.

Rapidus was started in 2008 by semiconductor veterans, including Atsuyoshi Koike (who was previously heading memory chip maker Western Digital Japan), with $510 million in subsidies from the Japanese government along with contributions from Toyota, Sony, Kioxia, NEC, NTT, Softbank and Denso with each company putting in $6.8 million.

Tetsuro Higashi, former president of chipmaking equipment supplier Tokyo Electron, serves as chairman of Rapidus.

In February this year, Rapidus announced that it will build a state-of-the-art semiconductor manufacturing plant in Hokkaido in northern Japan as it seeks to begin mass production of chips with state-of-the-art 2-nanometer(nm) technology in five years.

The plant will come up in Chitose, a manufacturing hub on the nation's northern island of Hokkaido.

The company also unveiled plans to set up a prototype production line for cutting-edge 2-nm semiconductors by the first half of 2025.

In 2022, the company signed a chip licensing partnership with IBM Research to develop IBM's 2-nm technology in fabs that it will build in Japan. IBM announced the world's first 2-nm test chip in May 2021. The 2-nm structures will require Rapidus to use ASML's EUV manufacturing equipment.

Rapidus is set to spend at least $37 billion, including research and development, to launch mass production of 2-nm chips.

Rapidus is also collaborating with the Belgium-based microelectronics research hub IMEC on advanced semiconductor technologies. IMEC works with major foundries, IDMs, fabless and fab lite companies, material and tool suppliers, EDA companies and application developers. Since its launch in 2011 until 2022, as many as 220 tech start-ups and spin-offs incubated by IMEC have transformed into sustainable enterprises. IMEC with a resource pool of 4,500 professionals, generates a revenue totalling $768 million in 2020.

Japan is pursuing an all-out strategy to lure overseas semiconductor companies, including designing generous financial incentives. Currently Japanese companies are only capable of manufacturing semiconductors with 40-nm processes.

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