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    Can 28 nm catapult India to semiconductor manufacturing leadership?

    Close up of electronic micro chip on human finger.

    Source-Business Today

    For decades, India has watched the global semiconductor manufacturing race from the sidelines, contributing mainly through its engineering talent in international fabs and domestic R&D centres. Despite possessing a robust pool of skilled professionals, the country has yet to establish itself as a key player in the chip ecosystem, particularly in fabrication (fabs) and chip packaging. However, as India embarks on its ambitious chip manufacturing journey in FY25, a pivotal question remains: which nanometer (nm) technology should the nation focus on?

    Among the various options, the 28 nm node is emerging as a promising contender, with many experts arguing that it could offer a strategic sweet spot for India’s burgeoning semiconductor industry.

    “The 28 nm chips are demonstratively mature and capable. They can be used in a variety of applications, including automotive, CPU’s, GPU’s, wearables, phones, tablets, home entertainment, etc.,” says Anurag Awasthi, Vice President of the India Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA). As per IESA’s latest India Semiconductor Market research report, the estimated market size for semiconductors in India would be around $100 billion by 2030. “Of this, most applications will be in the aerospace and defence, automotive, industrial, wearables, consumer electronics, and handset segments. We have to cater to our own markets and focus on their growth with the prospective economies of scale and the corresponding job creation,” adds Awasthi.

    There is a strong demand in India for products for which 28 nm technology is used, such as automotive, white goods, strategic sectors, and many other products that are made by Indian companies and brands as compared to advanced node products that are made by foreign firms Satya Gupta, President, VLSI Society, tells Business Today, “Among many reasons, 28 nm is commercially one of the most resilient nodes, with 7.5% of the foundry market holding on. With the foundry market reaching almost $200 billion by 2030, this represents a $15 billion market opportunity. Also, with the growing geo-political chip war, the chances of denial of access to DUV technology used in the 28nm process are much lower as compared to EUV or EUV-High NA technologies used for 10nm or lower geometry. It will be best for India to kick-start a commercially viable and sustainable wafer manufacturing ecosystem for the next decade and beyond.”

    As 28nm CMOS Logic node with high-performance computing optimised platforms is being looked upon as the right entry point for India in 2024, Danish Faruqui, CEO, Fab Economics, told Business Today, “for India to become a tier-1 semiconductor nation having semi-value chain and supply chain intercepts in and around leading edge. Scaling this up via multiple fabs at the same node platforms in India will bring multi-faceted synergy to develop and propel the entire nation’s ecosystem towards more advanced nodes.”

    While 28 nm will be a good start, Faruqui adds that it should not be the only node at which fabs in India should be built. “Indian multi-year demand patterns include multiple nodes, including 28 nm, 32 nm, 40 nm, 55 nm, 65 nm, 90 nm, and even beyond. So, India Fab should have a Fab-level Manufacturing Node Portfolio around 28 nm that offers multiple nodes to meet demand from diverse end markets and also have both Capex and Opex cost structure synergies across the node mix in the Fab.”

    He further adds, “The Fab node mix portfolio is guided by Fab site TCO (total cost of ownership) optimisation. There are specific nodes that have high manufacturing and metrology WFE (Wafer Fab Equipment) fungibility with nodes, thus making them suitable candidates to be included in the Fab level node mix along with 28 nm as it allows optimisation of TCO. To specify further, specific nodes utilise both DUV lithography, i.e., 193 nm and 248 nm DUV lithography tools, which allows easier and cheaper line shift to 28 nm processing.”

    Currently, India, amongst various world regions, is offering unparalleled subsidies, commitment from the highest level of government, and the fastest pace of doing business for semiconductor manufacturing and packaging players, which is astutely befitting to leverage the current geopolitics and geoeconomics of semiconductors, along with the vulnerability of legacy supply chain moat points like 28nm.