Automotive industry driving SiC power device ramp-up

5th December 2018
Alex Lynn

On November 12th, it was announced by Infineon it will acquire Siltectra. Infineon is a well-known semiconductor player and according to Yole Développement (Yole), it is the current leading power electronic device company. But Siltectra is much less well known. Here, Yole explains this acquisition.

Siltectra is a German startup founded in 2010 that specialises in a wafering technology called ‘Cold Split’, which can be used to separate different types of crystals to produce wafers suitable for semiconductor manufacturing. Infineon’s press release highlights Silicon Carbide (SiC). Wafering SiC traditionally uses diamond saws, which lead to substantial material loss in the form of kerf cutting waste.

Siltectra’s technology is kerf-free, and the company claims that it allows users ‘to increase SiC wafer production immediately by 90%, without a need to increase crystal growth capacities. In total, the same SiC-Boule would give enough material for three times more final devices, final SiC-device costs can be reduced by 20-30% with the better utilisation of the required SiC material’.

This Cold Split technology value proposition is what Infineon is looking for, as it indicates in its press release: ‘Thanks to the Cold Split technology, the higher number of SiC wafers will make the ramp-up of our SiC products much easier, especially regarding further expansion of renewable energies and the increasing adaptation of SiC for use in the drive train of electrical vehicles’.

Yole has followed the SiC power industry since its emergence in 2000, and there has reportedly been a radical change in 2017-2018. Yole is optimistic about the SiC power device market, expecting the total SiC device market to be worth more than $1.5bn in 2023, equating to a 31% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for 2017-2023, as mentioned in the report from Yole; ‘Power SiC 2018: Materials, Devices and Applications’.

Among different applications, electric and hybrid electric vehicles (EV/HEV) are no doubt the main driving force. In 2017, people bought 1.2 million battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV), a 52% increase compared to 2016. Yole analysts expect the EV/HEV power electronics segment to grow with an impressive 20.7% CAGR 2017-2023, as described in the ‘Power Electronics for EV/HEV 2018’ report.

In terms of technological choices Tesla’s adoption of SiC MOSFETs in its Model 3 main inverter earlier than generally expected shocked the SiC power and electric vehicle industries. As a consequence, many questions have been raised at carmaker OEMs and tier one part makers about when to transition from incumbent silicon-based technology to SiC. SiC power device supply security and cost issues are the core of the concerns.

Facing increasing demand at the clients’ side and a short supply situation on the wafer side, device manufacturers are hunting for solutions. After the abortive acquisition of Cree and its SiC wafer business at the beginning of this year, Infineon has announced a long-term wafer supply agreement with Cree. Yole speculates that perhaps this agreement, even though it is valued at over $100m, is still not sufficient. At the end of the year, Infineon is now addressing both supply and cost issues by acquiring Siltectra.

What are the other potential solutions? Disco offers its KABRA ingot slicing process. Sicoxs has a SiC substrate that it produces using bonding technology. There are also other engineered substrate solutions, like Soitec’s Smart Cut. The semiconductor industry has plenty of innovative ideas, but players need to be fast.

Sumitomo Metal Mining gained a controlling stake of Sicoxs in October 2017. A second long term supply agreement was announced with an unnamed ‘leading global semiconductor company’ by Cree. And there is certainly more to come in this very dynamic SiC power industry, as it actively prepares to ramp up to serve the automotive industry.

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