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Samsung, ASML agree to build W1tr research fab for chip equipment in Korea

SK hynix inks separate partnership to co-develop energy-efficient chip manufacturing technology

Dec. 12, 2023 - 15:39 By Jo He-rim
From left: Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, ASML CEO Peter Wennink and SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won pose in dust-free suits as they began touring of ASML's cleanroom at the company headquarters in Veldhoven, the Netherlands, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Samsung Electronics and ASML, a Dutch semiconductor equipment supplier, agreed on Tuesday to jointly invest about 1 trillion won ($762 million) to build a research facility in South Korea for the development of "ultra-microscopic" level semiconductor production technology, using next-generation extreme ultraviolet photolithography equipment.

SK hynix also forged an agreement with the Dutch firm to collaborate on developing an eco-friendly technology aimed at minimizing energy consumption when using EUV in chipmaking, South Korea's Industry Ministry said.

The two agreements were forged in a meeting bringing together chiefs of chipmakers of South Korea and the Netherlands, held on the sidelines of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol's state visit to the European country on Tuesday.

Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong and SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won attended the meeting with South Korean Trade Minister Ahn Duk-geun on the Korean side. Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Geoffrey van Leeuwen participated representing the Dutch side, together with Dutch business heads including ASML CEO Peter Wennink and ASM International CEO Benjamin Loh, among others.

"The latest agreement between Samsung and ASML will provide the chance for South Korea to gain an edge in the fierce competition for the most advanced technology for chip production," Trade Minister Ahn said.

Ahn also expressed hope for SK hynix and ASML to successfully develop the technology for them to establish an eco-friendly ecosystem in the chipmaking sector.

Lee and Chey are accompanying President Yoon in his state visit to the Netherlands. With the president, the business chiefs also toured around ASML's headquarters and cleanroom, based in Veldhoven.

Cleanrooms are where all contaminants, such as dust and out-gassing are highly controlled for manufacturing chip products. It is the first time for a country's leader to visit ASML’s cleanroom.

With semiconductor production as the key business of their companies, Lee and Chey hope to bolster ties with the Dutch firm, which is the sole manufacturer of EUV equipment -- a key system for producing the world's most advanced semiconductor chips with nodes at 7 nanometers and below.

Samsung Electronics is the world's No. 1 memory chip maker, and aims to expand its foundry and logic chip businesses. SK hynix, an affiliate of SK Group, is the world's No. 2 memory chipmaker supplying to global tech firms.

From left: SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong and ASML CEO Peter Wennink pose during the signing ceremony on semiconductor partnership at ASML's headquarters in Veldhoven, the Netherlands on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The governments of the two countries also agreed to launch a talent exchange program to nurture skilled workers in advanced chip technology, dubbed the Korea-Netherlands Advanced Semiconductor Academy when translated directly from Korean.

According to Seoul's Industry Ministry, the five-year program will provide Korean students and workers in the field of semiconductors training opportunities at ASML's headquarters and Eindhoven University of Technology.

The program aims to nurture a high-quality workforce including those with master's and doctorate degrees in the field of semiconductors.

As the first South Korean president to make a state visit to the European country since diplomatic ties were established in 1961, Yoon has vowed to make the trip a "crucial turning point" for the two countries to form a "semiconductor alliance."

The Korean delegation also met with heads of ASM, a leading manufacturer of atomic layer deposition, and NXP Semiconductors, a top supplier of automotive chips.

The South Korean government has set a goal to increase the country’s market share of logic chips in the global market to 10 percent by 2030, which aligns with Samsung’s goal to become No. 1 in the field by 2030.

“The leaders’ visit to the Netherlands this week will lay an important stepping stone for these joint goals,” an industry official said.

Global chipmakers are competing to win orders for ASML's EUV equipment, which is in tight supply. Last year, the Dutch firm sold 42 pieces of EUV equipment priced between 250 billion won to 300 billion won each.

As of last year, TSMC reportedly has about 100 units of EUV equipment in its manufacturing facilities in Taiwan, while Samsung has about 40 units.

Samsung and SK have also placed orders for the next the next-generation high-numerical aperture EUV lithography scanner that ASML is preparing to launch for the first time in the industry in the coming months.

The high-NA EUV equipment raised the lens numerical aperture -- indicating the light collecting ability -- from 0.33 to 0.55, allowing chip manufacturers to utilize ultrafine technology to produce 2nm node chips.

The new technological equipment is seen as a key factor that can sway the foundry industry to produce third-party chips. The high-NA EUV system is known to be about double the price of the current EUV models sold, priced between 400 billion-600 billion won each.

Samsung Foundry and TSMC are slated to start production of chips on their 2nm-class nodes in late 2025.

According to TrendForce, a market tracker, TSMC topped the global foundry market in terms of revenue in the third quarter this year, taking 57.9 percent of market share. Samsung followed with 12.4 percent, and GlobalFoundries came third with 6.2 percent.

The competition is expected to heat up further with global chip giant Intel announcing its entrance to the foundry business, aiming to become No. 2 in the market by 2025.

ASML is ranked second in market share for the global semiconductor equipment industry, trailing behind US-based Applied Materials, according to TechInsights, a market tracker. The Dutch firm logged sales of 21.2 billion euros ($22.8 billion) last year.