Rapidus, Japan’s New Semiconductor Foundry Uses IBM for its 2nm Process

Japan is looking to return to its pioneering semiconductor business and a new company has recently been formed to relaunch the semiconductor industry. It was named Rapidus, referring to the rapid production of new chips, in clear reference to how the company plans to differentiate its business from other foundries such as TSMC, Samsung, and Intel. The company announced that it has formed a partnership with IBM Research to develop IBM’s 2nm technology at factories that Rapidus plans to establish in Japan in the second half of this decade. Rapidus previously announced a collaboration with Belgium-based microelectronics research center IMEC on advanced semiconductor technologies. Imec is a collaborative semiconductor research organization working with the world’s major foundries, IDMs, fabrication and non fabrication companies, materials and tool suppliers, EDA companies and application developers.

The IBM process uses omnidirectional gate transistors – IBM calls them nanolayer FETs – this is the next generation transistor design that allows device scaling beyond today’s FinFETs. 2nm builds will require Rapidus to use ASML’s EUV fabrication equipment. Details of the business with IBM were not disclosed, but the deal likely has two parts: a cross-licensing agreement for the intellectual property required to build the product, and a joint development agreement. While the announcement is supposedly for IBM’s 2nm process, it likely includes a long-term commitment to building advanced semiconductor chips that go beyond the 2nm process node.

Rapidus was founded by veteran semiconductors such as Rapidus President Atsuyoshi Koike, with support from leading Japanese technology and finance firms including Denso, Kioxia, Mitsubishi UFJ Bank, NEC, NTT, Softbank, Sony and Toyota Motor. The Japanese government also subsidizes Rapidus. The biggest change for Japan compared to previous national efforts is cooperation with international organizations. This is an admission that Japan cannot go it alone. This appears to be a fundamental change in Japanese attitudes. Building a factory in Japan will be helped by Japan’s strong manufacturing ecosystem of materials, equipment and engineering talent.

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IBM Senior Vice President and Director of Research Dario Gil announced this news with Rapidus executives at a press conference in Tokyo on Tuesday morning. Rapidus will send engineers to the IBM Research lab at the NanoTech Complex in Albany, NY to work with IBM Research engineers to learn about the 2nm process. IBM Research already has an extensive research group in Japan. The deal is also a big win for the State of New York, which owns and operates the Albany NanoTech Complex, and its “NY CRETES” development agency. IBM will collaborate with Rapidus at the Pioneering Semiconductor Technology Center (LSTC), which will soon be established in Japan. LSTC will be the overall umbrella organization to coordinate ongoing semiconductor research, while Rapidus will be the manufacturing organization.

This could be the last and best opportunity for Japan to return to pioneering semiconductor manufacturing. Japan already consumes a lot of semiconductors, with automotive and electronics vendors such as Toyota and Sony investing in Rapidus. Having a leading process manufacturer on Japanese soil will improve logistics for Japanese OEMs and provide additional supply chain security for Japan.

With this announcement and its long partnership with Samsung, IBM reaffirms its role as a global resource for semiconductor research and development. Rapidus, with IBM’s help, can rebirth the Japanese semiconductor industry and help diversify advanced semiconductor manufacturing around the world. TIRIAS Research sees the coordinated and collaborative actions of IBM, IMEC and Rapidus/LSTC as an opportunity to realign global semiconductor production with greater regional balance.

Tirias Research follows and advises companies across the electronics ecosystem, from semiconductors to systems and from sensors to the cloud. Members of the Tirias Research team have advised IBM, Intel, GlobalFoundries, Samsung and other foundries.

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