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No. 362, November 1999

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Japanese Companies in the US


Two affiliates of MITSUI HIGH-TEC, INC. invested a total of $2 million in GATEFIELD CORP., the developer of a flash-based, field-programmable gate array architecture and the resulting ProASIC (application-specific IC) family of high-gate-count, nonvolatile, reprogrammable products. Kitakyushu, Fukuoka prefecture-based Mitsui High-tec, a major supplier of lead frames and packages for the chip industry, is the third major investor in the Fremont, California company. It owns 4.5 percent of Gatefield's shares. Gatefield was spun off from ZYCAD CORP. in 1997.

Soaring demand for flash storage in such products as digital cameras and MP3 audio players has helped to turn two competitors in the flash-memory business into collaborators. Under a memorandum of understanding due to be finalized by January 2000, TOSHIBA CORP., the market leader in NAND-type flash memories, and fabless SANDISK CORP., a prime mover behind the NOR flash-memory architecture and the world's largest supplier of flash data-storage products, will partner to develop and make gigabit-scale flash memories. Their immediate challenge is to come up with 512-megabit and 1-gigabit chips, a costly and technically demanding job, and SD (secure digital) Memory Card controllers. Toshiba brings to this work its future 0.16-micron and 0.13-micron NAND flash-memory technology. Sunnyvale, California-based SanDisk will contribute its multilevel-cell flash technology and controller system integration know-how. The two also will form an equally owned company to share the huge investment required to manufacture the jointly developed flash memories. They initially will use Toshiba's wafer-fabrication facility in Yokkaichi, Mie prefecture. However, sometime in the first half of 2001, production will start at DOMINION SEMICONDUCTOR LLC in Manassas, Virginia. By then, that fab will be wholly owned by Toshiba (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 359, August 1999, pp. 8-9). By 2002, the pending partners estimate, their joint venture should be producing more than $1 billion worth of flash memories a year. The Toshiba-Sandisk collaboration also will strengthen their efforts with MATSUSHITA ELECTRIC INDUSTRIAL CO., LTD. to make the SD Memory Card the industry standard for secure memory cards (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 360, September 1999, p. 8).

An equally ambitious technology alliance has been forged by HITACHI, LTD. and LSI LOGIC CORP. The big manufacturer of memory products and the system-on-a-chip leader have combined forces to work on process technologies for 0.10-micron designs and beyond. This effort spans not only joint development of a 0.10-micron device architecture but also cooperation on next-generation lithography tools, including direct-write electron- beam technology, and interconnect know-how for 0.13-micron devices. The near-term goal of the collaboration, which already is underway, is a SOC product with an embedded DRAM core. To be available from LSI Logic as soon as mid-2000, the so-called eDRAM will be based on Hitachi's 0.20-micron process technology and the Milpitas, California company's CoreWare design methodology. The Japanese semiconductor maker will serve as LSI Logic's foundry on this and future eDRAM offerings.

Some of the first personal electronic devices to incorporate the radio frequency-enabled wireless communications technology known as Bluetooth could result from the tie-up between module manufacturer TAIYO YUDEN CO., LTD. and SILICON WAVE, INC., a supplier of RF-powered system-on-a-chip solutions. Under their development pact, the Tokyo company will build a line of small modules for cellular telephones, notebook computers and future consumer appliances around the San Diego, California company's small, energy-efficient RMC (radio modem controller) Bluetooth ICs. Sampling of the Taiyo Yuden-Silicon Wave modules could start next spring. HITACHI, LTD. also is working with Silicon Wave but on a Bluetooth chip solution (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 361, October 1999, p. 9).

FUJITSU, LTD. and SUN MICROSYSTEMS, INC. will work together to extend the capabilities of the high-end SPARC processor in the market for enterprise-class systems while at the same time enhancing the software compatibility of their respective implementations of the SPARC V9 64-bit architecture. Specifically, they will develop a common programmers' reference model for future generations of the performance-geared, scalar SPARC processor. That will ensure that software written for forthcoming versions of Sun's UltraSPARC processor will run on Fujitsu's new SPARC64 GP products and vice versa. The agreement does not include joint SPARC design work.

As part of its strategy to sell more value-added automotive-use products in the United States, SANKEN ELECTRIC CO., LTD. introduced through subsidiary ALLEGRO MICROSYSTEMS, INC. several high-performance, compact and lightweight Hall-Effect sensors. These include a gear-tooth engine sensor and airbag and antilock braking system sensors. Worcester, Massachusetts-based Allegro, which specializes in mixed-signal ICs, also hopes to commercialize an accelerator chip. Much of its business in the automotive field has been in the power and signal-processing fields.

Japan's largest supplier of recycled silicon wafers, used by semiconductor manufacturers to monitor and optimize their manufacturing processes, is moving into the American market. RASA INDUSTRIES, LTD. plans to set up a subsidiary in California staffed initially by transferred employees to market reclaimed wafers to U.S. chipmakers as well as to Japanese fabs in the United States. Rasa believes that this new business can generate annual sales of $9.4 million in three years. It will be going up against a KOBE STEEL, LTD. subsidiary in Hayward, California, which runs what is said to be the largest silicon wafer reclamation facility in North America (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 351, December 1998, pp. 7-8).

Full-scale operations have begun at TOKYO ELECTRON TEXAS, INC. in Austin. By the end of March, the company expects to turn out 15 resist-coating systems for such next- generation products as 1-gigabit DRAMs. For now, all of the parts are imported from owner TOKYO ELECTRON KYUSHU LTD. However, the Texas unit, which has 50 or so employees, is in talks with American manufacturers about outsourcing some components. TOKYO ELECTRON LTD., the parent of the Kyushu company and one of the world's largest makers of semiconductor production equipment, has manufacturing operations in Gilbert, Arizona and Hillsboro, Oregon.

An exchange rate of ¥106=$1.00 was used in this report. aaaaa

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