South Korean chip and display makers are reportedly trying out various options against Japanese curbs on key materials by exploring new supply base in China or incorporating Korean produces on wafer fabrication.
According to a report from China’s Shanghai Securities News on Tuesday, a Korean semiconductor manufacturer signed a contract to receive hydrogen fluoride called etching gas from Shandong-based chemical firm Befar Group. The report said the two had conducted several tests and experiments before striking the deal, but it did not disclose the name of the Korean chip maker.
The Japanese government has restricted Korea-bound shipments of three high-tech materials – fluorinated polyamides, photoresists and hydrogen fluoride – that are used in manufacturing displays and chips by dropping Korea from the list for fast-track treatment. Seoul believes the measure that took effect on July 4 is part of Tokyo’s retaliatory actions against the Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to compensate wartime forced laborers.
Korean companies heavily rely on Japanese exporters for fluorinated polyamides and photoresists, but less dependent on Japan for hydrogen fluoride, gas needed to clean silicon wafers. According to the Korea International Trade Association, Korean manufacturers sourced 94 percent of fluorinated polyamides, 92 percent of photoresists and 44 percent of hydrogen fluoride from Japan from January to May this year. China took up the largest share in supply for hydrogen fluoride as Korean firms were provided 46.3 percent of the material from Chinese firms during the period.
Amid escalating tensions between Seoul and Tokyo, an unnamed government official said last week that Russia had made suggestion to supply hydrogen fluoride to Korean companies.
Chipmaking giants Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix responsible for more than 70 percent of global DRAM supplies have turned more eager to apply domestic produces on their fab lines, according to sources from the semiconductor industry on Wednesday. But it would take a few months before becoming self-sufficient in the supply of the materials due to the wide technology gap.
“Korean chip and display manufactures have been accelerating their efforts to strengthen their technology to product the materials on their own,” an industry source said.
Japanese media Nikkei also reported on Monday that Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix are reported to have initiated quality test for hydrogen fluoride produced in places other than Japan, adding the export curbs have made them look beyond the Japanese supply chain.
Industry observers however believe it would take at least three months for the top chipmakers who cannot afford to stake their competitiveness to become comfortable about changing the supplies from familiar Japanese products.
By Hwang Soon-min and Choi Mira
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]