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Taiwanese Companies Ramp Up MOCVD Capacity

Increased demand for optical data storage applications and from Korean cell phone manufacturers wanting blue LEDs are the primary reasons behind a boom in III-V device manufacturing in Taiwan, as Michael Hatcher reports.
MOCVD systems are selling fast in Taiwan. In late March, for example, the LED manufacturer South Epitaxy, which was founded in 1999, ordered five new "GaNzilla" tools from equipment supplier Veeco. Even prior to this announcement, the number of commercial MOCVD machines installed in Taiwan had surged to 235 as demand for GaN-based LEDs increased.

It was only 11 years ago that the very first commercial MOCVD kit was installed in Taiwan, at the LED and HBT maker United Epitaxy Company (UEC). Since then, around 20 new companies that use the epitaxial growth equipment have emerged. And although LED manufacture is the mainstay of the local compound semiconductor industry, a number of Taiwanese companies are involved in making other devices (see table). Nine companies in the region make laser diodes, while seven manufacture HBTs, according to Taiwan s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI). One company, Procomp, has an MBE machine as well as MOCVD capacity, giving it additional expertise in PHEMT manufacture on top of its capability in LEDs, laser diodes and HBTs. Another company, XPert Semiconductor, is offering 3-6 inch epiwafer foundry services exploiting its MBE expertise. Company president Pin Ho says that XPert is the only Taiwanese epi foundry operation boasting its own intellectual property, with others relying on "technology transfer" from Japan.

The overall Taiwanese optoelectronics industry is dominated by the displays business, with this market accounting for more than 40% of revenue. By 2005, further dominance is expected. Within the III-V sector, LEDs made up 60% of the $100 million revenue generated by MOCVD activity in 2002. Since then, manufacturing has ramped up, and the latest figures from Strategies Unlimited estimate the Taiwanese HB-LED industry to be worth a monthly revenue in excess of $30 million. This equates to a monthly manufacturing capacity of 1.1 billion InGaAlP chips (equivalent to 110,000 2 inch epiwafers), and around 520 million GaN chips (72,000 2 inch epiwafers).

Despite the emergence of high-volume production in mainland China, Taiwan remains by far the biggest manufacturing center in non-Japan Asia. Strategies Unlimited s report suggests that 87% of InGaAlP epitaxial wafers made in non-Japan Asia were fabricated in Taiwan last year, with China accounting for 10% and Korea 3%.

The region s GaN wafer production in 2003 was more balanced, with 73% produced in Taiwan and 16% in Korea, where there is more demand for blue keypad backlights from phone manufacturers Samsung and LG. About 11% of GaN wafers were produced in China. This year is expected to show continued expansion, with a doubling of GaN wafer and chip capacity predicted in Taiwan.

With demand for blue LEDs continuing its upward spiral, both Epistar and Forepi are increasing their manufacturing capacity. According to a report in the Nihon Shimbun Keizai business newspaper, Epistar is set to double its monthly production capacity to 120 million chips, and plans to install six more MOCVD machines this year. Meanwhile, Formosa Epitaxy (Forepi) is expected to increase production by 50% to 60 million chips per month.

Given its LED output, it is no surprise that Taiwan is investing heavily in a research and development consortium of 11 companies, focusing on next-generation lighting. In the first phase of this project, in 2003, NT$10 million ($0.3 million) was invested in the technology. This was increased to NT$383 million for the second stage of the project, which runs until 2005. Epistar and Forepi are involved with the consortium in both epitaxy and device fabrication. Companies including Everlight, Kingbright and Lite-On are involved on the packaging and module side, while Opto Tech is focusing on lamp design and applications. The goal is to achieve 50 lm/W output products and 100 lm/W in the laboratory.

While Taiwanese companies are not normally thought of as leaders in terms of technological development, this also appears to have changed in the HB-LED segment. The results of a recent research project that was 20% funded by VPEC have led to 14 patents and 20 new manufacturing processes in the field of highly efficient LEDs, including some US patents. According to some of those involved in the project, this means that Taiwanese companies will now be able to compete with leading-edge companies such as Lumileds and Osram. Innovations include novel wafer-bonding techniques, flip-chip technology and new phosphors. For example, a wafer-bonding technique developed by Horng Ray-Hua and colleagues at the National Chung Hsing University that solves thermal problems associated with AlInGaP LEDs is said to have been adopted by Osram.

Outside of the LED business, the ITRI is also heavily involved in dictating the next generations of optical data storage applications, being a member of the DVD Forum steering committee along with industrial heavyweights such as Matsushita, Sony, IBM and Intel.

Intellectual property issues are often part of the picture where Taiwanese companies are involved, and this is one issue that remains unchanged. Ongoing disputes involve Nichia, which has actions against Everlight (which has licensed Osram technology) and Epistar. The Japanese company has recently been at pains to stress that it will protect its intellectual property, with particular emphasis on Korean and Taiwanese manufacturers. "Any license granted under Osram patents does not necessarily mean license under Nichia patents," said the company.

If Taiwanese companies can avoid legal disputes with the likes of Nichia and continue to innovate, the region s compound semiconductor manufacturing industry will surely go from strength to strength.

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