By Yoichiro Ando, SEMI Japan
Since 2010, Japanese semiconductor manufacturers have consolidated low-profit LSI businesses. Additionally, some major integrated device manufacturers have spun-off or sold their semiconductor businesses. At the same time, device manufacturers are continuing efforts into growth segments, such as power and automotive devices.
Before 2010, those fabs were primarily sold to other domestic or overseas semiconductor manufacturers. However, since 2010, electronic component manufacturers, such as Murata Manufacturing, TDK and Taiyo Yuden, have emerged as buyers.
Japanese electronic component manufacturers have been leading the global market of passive components, such as condensers and resistors. However, similar to semiconductors, growing competition in the market exists with South Korea, Taiwan and China based companies. In response, Japanese electronic component manufacturers have focused on RF as a new growth driver for their mid- to long-term business strategy. Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) devices (SAW switches and SAW duplexers) are key devices in this field.
As mobile phones get faster and more sophisticated, more SAW devices are being used in phones ─ rapidly increasing SAW demand. Also, higher performing SAW devices are in demand and require a higher level of the processing technologies to manufacture. To meet this need, legacy semiconductor fabs have drawn the attention of electronic component manufacturers.
The manufacturing process of SAW devices is several generations behind leading-edge semiconductor technology. They are, instead, processed on 200mm, 150mm or 125mm wafers. The legacy semiconductor fabs can easily provide required process technologies by upgrading a portion of the equipment. By acquiring these fabs, the electronic components manufacturers can quickly add SAW device capacity with more modern process technologies.
The changes to the business model in RF components have also served as the motive for electronic component manufacturers to directly engage in the semiconductor business. Today, more RF devices are supplied in modules that integrate RF devices with other devices such as amps, antenna switches and sensors. To source those devices, the electronic components manufacturers seek partnerships with other suppliers and/or acquisition of the fabs manufacturing such devices.
The following summarizes acquisitions of semiconductor plants, business segments and companies by major Japanese electronic component companies.
- Murata Manufacturing: Murata Manufacturing has been the most active in mergers and acquisitions among the Japanese electronic component manufacturers. In addition to increasing SAW device capacity, they are actively engaged in the acquisition of manufacturers of communication chips, power amps (PA) and coils to strengthen its module business. In 2008, Murata acquired Fujifilm’s CCD image sensor plant in Sendai to manufacture SAW filters. This investment totaled 10 billion yen by 2010, including the acquisition and upgrades. Murata is also building a new SAW filter fab in Kanazawa that will be completed by September 2016. The total investment including the construction and equipping (mostly secondary equipment) will be 12 billion yen. In 2012, they acquired the Power Amplifier (PA) business from Renesas Electronics including its fab in Nagano prefecture that would enhance its front-end module product line for mobile phones. Murata plans to invest 10 billion yen to add a new fab building in Nagano. Murata is also actively acquiring semiconductor companies for its module business. In 2012, they acquired the Finnish fabless company VTI Semiconductor for its MEMS sensors. In June 2013, they also acquired NEC’s magnetic resistance sensors business including its sensor fab in Otsuki. In 2014, Murata acquired the US fabless company Peragrine Semiconductor, a major manufacturer of RF switches for 470 million US dollars. This was the largest acquisition in Murata Manufacturing’s history.
- Taiyo Yuden: In 2010, Taiyo Yuden acquired the communication device business from Fujitsu Media Devices, a Fujitsu company, including a plant in Nagano Prefecture to manufacture SAW devices. Then, to respond to the growing demand for SAW devices, they acquired Hitachi’s Ome Plant in 2013 to manufacture SAW devices. The volume production, started in 3Q 2015FY, may expand their production capacity of these devices by more than three times.
- TDK: In November 2015, TDK announced an agreement with Renesas Electronics to acquire Renesas’s Tsuruoka plant with its 125mm wafer line. TDK will strengthen their production capacity of microscopic electronic components. Volume production is planned for 2016. In December 2015, TDK agreed to purchase the Swiss Micronas Semiconductor Holdings AG, a manufacturer of Hall effect sensors and motor controllers for the auto industry. Hall effect sensors are widely adopted to detect and measure position information in automobiles. This acquisition strengthens TDK’s sensor business through the combination of TDK’s magnetic sensor segment with Micronas’s Hall effect sensor technology, circuit design technology, and packaging technology. In 2016, in the mobile communications field, they announced an agreement with Qualcomm to establish a joint-venture company (RF360 Holdings Singapore PTE. Ltd.) in Singapore planned for 2017. Both companies have agreed that, in addition to establishing the joint venture, they would expand technological cooperation in the major technological realm of sensors and contact-less power supply.
- Kyocera: In contrast to the competitors’ mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures primarily in the communications field, Kyocera foresees a future in power semiconductors and has worked to acquire related companies. In September 2015, they acquired 70 percent of Nihon Inter Electronics stock at 10.6 billion yen, and then in May 2016 announced plans to convert them to a subsidiary in August. Nihon Inter Electronics has a strong diode business for automobiles and industrial, especially for its Schottky barrier diodes.
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June 7, 2016