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No. 366, March 2000

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Japanese Companies in the US


Booming demand for cellular telephones is benefiting ALLEGRO MICROSYSTEMS, INC., a specialist in mixed-signal integrated circuits. The Worcester, Massachusetts company, a SANKEN ELECTRIC CO., LTD. subsidiary, is ramping up production of IC sensors for flip-type cell phones. The part senses when the lid is opened or closed and sends a signal to the battery to turn the power on or off. Allegro now makes about 500,000 of the sensor monthly, but through an investment of $2.1 million this year, it will be able to turn out 2.5 million units a month. That will raise total monthly IC sensor output to 14 million units. Most of this production is for motor vehicles (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 362, November 1999, p. 11).

Chipmaker ROHM CO., LTD., a longtime producer in the United States, is moving its 10-year-old design and development center from San Jose, California to San Diego, where a number of leaders in the cell phone business are located. ROHM LSI SYSTEMS U.S.A., LLC will focus on high-performance system chips for the next generation of mobile phones. The relocated center will be staffed by 15 people, the same number who work in San Jose, but over the next three years, Rohm hopes to raise the total to 50 people. Most of Rohm LSI Systems' work is in the area of ASICs (application-specific ICs).

In a coup for SONY CORP. and its effort to make its Memory Stick technology the de facto IC recording media standard for the next generation of portable digital devices, TEXAS INSTRUMENTS INC. will develop semiconductors that help hardware manufacturers commercialize Memory Stick-compliant products. To date, Sony has been the sole maker of Memory Stick chips. The electronics giant will provide technical support to TI for such Memory Stick technologies as MagicGate copyright protection and ATRAC3 audio compression. TI will bring to the job its considerable expertise in DSP chips. Since it is the dominant supplier of DSPs for cell phones, analysts expect the company to devote part of its energies to designing ICs that make these products Memory Stick-enabled.

As part of the overhaul of its massive semiconductor business, TOSHIBA CORP. gave KINGSTON TECHNOLOGY CORP. complete responsibility for establishing a new supply chain management model for the company's DRAM business outside Japan. The partners describe the deal as enabling Toshiba customers to receive finished DRAM products when and where they need them. Fountain Valley, California-based Kingston, a manufacturer of memory enhancement products with facilities around the world, will be in charge of DRAM supply chain management, global logistics, module manufacturing, testing and order processing. For its part, Toshiba will continue to handle all customer contacts and will manage product positioning, customer relationship and ongoing sales activities. The new arrangement will be introduced first in North America and then extended this summer to Europe and Asia.

About a year and a half after closing its wafer-fab-rication facility in Irving, Texas, HITACHI, LTD. has returned to the city. This time, however, Irving will the center of the company's American semiconductor manufacturing equipment operations. Hitachi is building a facility to house sales, service, parts, customer technical training and support activities for the Semiconductor Equipment Group of its U.S. subsidiary. The building will include a state-of-the-art clean room as well as a 200mm (8-inch) and 300mm (12-inch) tool demonstration laboratory for Hitachi's etch, ion-beam, implant and gas-abatement systems. The Semiconductor Equipment Group currently employs 45 salespeople, technicians, engineers and other staff, but this number will be increased by 30 percent to support the new facility.

TOKYO ELECTRON LTD., Japan's top maker of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, is working with DOW CHEMICAL CO. to advance the development of processes and equipment modules for materials with a low or an ultralow dielectric constant for 0.13-micron and even smaller chip geometries using the Midland, Michigan company's SiLK semiconductor dielectric resins. The primary focus of their collaboration, which will be implemented on TEL's side through its Austin, Texas subsidiary, will be processes and equipment for spin-on deposition of low-k dielectric materials. Dow developed SiLK resins for use an an interlayer dielectric material for next-generation ICs. The product's characteristics produce devices with faster processing speeds and reduced "cross talk." SiLK and other Dow semiconductor- grade materials are available in Japan through a partnership with HITACHI CHEMICAL CO., LTD. (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 360, September 1999, p. 12).

IC assembler MITSUI HIGH-TEC, INC., one of the licensees of TESSERA INC.'s chip-scale packaging technology, is working with the San Jose, California firm to extend its BGA (ball grid array) CSP technique to next-generation products. At the heart of the new relationship is Tessera's WAVE (wide area vertical expansion) process, which the company believes will bring the benefits of its CSP packaging to such high-pin-count, high-performance products as high-speed memories, ASICs and processors. Mitsui High- tec and Tessera initially will develop a high-volume single-chip manufacturing process for the WAVE technology. Then they will partner on a wafer-level WAVE manufacturing process. The collaboration should position Mitsui High-tec to be the first assembler capable of offering the new CSP method to chipmakers.

Responding to the demand from semiconductor manufacturers for a higher-throughput scanner with both 200mm and 300mm wafer capabilities, the Semiconductor Equipment Division of CANON INC.'s U.S. subsidiary introduced the FPA-5000ES2+. This krypton scanner is engineered for the 150-nanometer design rule. With the speed enhancement of a 2-kilohertz excimer laser, the FPA-5000ES2+ can expose 125 200mm wafers per hour, or 25 percent more than its year-old predecessor. Among other improvements, it provides better overlay accuracy, minimized lens distortion and reduced wavefront aberrations.

An exchange rate of ¥109=$1.00 was used in this report.aaaaaa

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