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The Korea Herald
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THE INVESTOR
July 14, 2024

Economy

Samsung, SK bet big on glass substrates for AI chips

  • PUBLISHED :July 08, 2024 - 17:54
  • UPDATED :July 08, 2024 - 17:54
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SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won inspects the headquarters of Absolics, an advanced packaging affiliate of SKC, located in Covington, Georgia in the US on July 3. (SK Supex Council)

South Korea’s top chip makers Samsung Electronics and SK hynix are betting big on glass substrates, a “game changer” in chip making that could drastically boost the data capacity and speed of semiconductors in the era of artificial intelligence.

With its high heat resistance and flatness, glass has risen as the key material in chipmaking to overcome the limits of plastics and raise the performance and power efficiency of chips for high-performance computing and AI applications.

Glass substrates are also known to be superior in dimensional stability, being able to support a larger area for finer patterning when compared to conventional plastic substrates. They are made thinner than conventional plastic substrates and are expected to enhance chip processing speed by 40 percent when compared to plastic substrates while reducing power consumption by more than 30 percent.

For major chipmakers, it has become a mission to come up with the technology that can overcome difficulties such as the brittleness of glass and preoccupy the nascent market for future dominance.

The first company expected to mass produce the glass core substrates is Absolics, the advanced packaging affiliate of SKC that recently built its first manufacturing plant in Covington, Georgia.

In 2021, SKC, the investment arm of SK Group, became the first company to announce the plan to mass produce the glass substrates and established Absolics jointly with Applied Materials.

The company invested $300 million to build the Absolics plant with a production volume of 12,0000-square-meter glass core substrates, and the facility is the first Korean chip material firm to receive a subsidy of $75 million under the US CHIPS and Science Act.

Talking with its potential clients, Absolics aims to start mass production of the glass core substrates in the first half of 2025, according to an SKC official. The company also plans to build another manufacturing glass core substrate plant with an annual production capacity of 72,000 square meters.

SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won inspected the headquarters of Absolics last week during his trip to the US.

Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong also recently visited the headquarters of Samsung Electro-Mechanics, which has announced its intention to tap into the glass substrate market, setting 2026 as the target year for mass production. He was briefed on the company's strategy and plans for glass substrate production, according to a company official.

Samsung Electro-Mechanics has reportedly been speeding up its process to produce the prototypes, as competitors are moving aggressively to get an upper hand in the market.

LG Innotek is also reviewing its technologies for possibly tapping into the nascent market.

"One of our major clients is a US chip firm, and the company has shown great interest in glass substrates, so we are also preparing (for it)," LG Innotek Chief Executive Officer Moon Hyuk-soo said at the company's regular stockholders meeting in March.

Global tech giants are also jumping into competition in the glass substrate market. Last year, Intel announced the roadmap to adopt glass substrates in its chips in around 2028 and said it would invest $1 billion. AMD and Nvidia are also eyeing to apply glass substrates as early as 2026.

Corning Korea's president also expressed the determination for the company to expand its presence in the burgeoning glass substrate market for semiconductors, using its special proprietary technologies this year.

The world's No. 1 plastic substrate company Ibiden in Japan is also looking to enter the competition in the glass substrate market. In its 2023 financial report, the company included the funds in research and development for glass substrate technology.

According to market tracker Marketsandmarkets, the global glass substrate market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 3.5 percent in the coming years to reach $8.4 billion by 2028.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)

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