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China’s Shanghai Micro Electronics Equipment Group (SMEE) will ship an immersion ArF scanner capable of producing 28nm chips later this year, according to a report in the Chinese newspaper Securities Daily. No official comments have been made on the matter, but state-run media have endorsed the report by reposting it. SMEE’s current most advanced offering, according to the company’s website, is a 90nm-node dry ArF scanner.
Over the past few years, China’s chip makers have been focusing on development of processes in the 45-28nm range, for which they had to rely on Western lithography equipment. However, shipments of those tools have become uncertain as the US, Japan and the Netherlands have introduced or announced export regulations. Although these new rules seemed mainly aimed at curtailing China’s access to more advanced processes, it’s possible that they cover the relatively mature 45-28nm nodes as well, according to market researcher Trendforce. Additionally, it has been reported that the US is preparing an expansion of the restrictions.
State-owned SMEE is considered to be a flagship company in Beijing’s bid to become technologically independent. “It will be a major breakthrough for the industry and homegrown chips are to be produced that meet the requirements of commonly used devices,” Zhang Hong, a semiconductor industry analyst, told the English-language Chinese newspaper Global Times on Tuesday.
Of course, in an essentially state-run country, it’s possible that the report has been floated for political reasons. For example, Beijing might want to signal to the West that its efforts to catch up are accelerating.