Mr. Park Jun Kyu, CEO of AD Technology

“I think Samsung Foundry will definitely secure the timing to surpass TSMC in the latest technology after the 3-nanometer process.”

Park Jun Kyu, CEO of AD Technology, Samsung’s largest design house partner, answered a question about ‘Samsung’s semiconductor technology outlook’ in an interview with the Herald Economy at the headquarters of AD Technology in Suwon, Gyeonggi-do.

After gaining experience in semiconductor development at Samsung Electronics’ ASIC team from 1992, CEO Park joined AD Technology in 2005 and is currently leading the company. CEO Park explains that after Samsung applied the world’s first gate-all-around (GAA) technology in June of last year, as technology know-how gradually accumulated, it was able to prepare a ‘stepping stone’ for TSMC in the high-tech process. Looking at the recent situation, CEO Park’s remarks are not ’empty words’. At the recently held ‘TSMC Technology Symposium,’ TSMC unveiled a roadmap (technical plan) that was changed to mass-produce 3-nano chips (N3E) next year, which were scheduled for mass production this year. The industry points out that this is because TSMC’s 3-nano chip performance using ‘FinFET technology’, which is evaluated at the pre-GAA level, was not implemented as planned. As a result, there is an analysis that the possibility of Samsung’s reversal has increased.

AD Technology, which had been a design house partner of TSMC for 15 years, changed its affiliation to Samsung’s design house partner in 2019. There was also a somewhat radical reaction from some that it was ‘crazy’. Considering the immediate profit, it seemed right to hold hands with TSMC, the world’s largest foundry.

A design house plays the role of supporting intermediate design so that a fabless (specializing in semiconductor chip design) company can properly manufacture a chip at a foundry company such as Samsung or TSMC. It helps communication between fabless and foundry by carrying out design assets (IP) required for chip production ▷design assets (IP) created by synopsis, ▷library (memory, etc.) ▷physical design for the foundry.

CEO Park emphasized that going from TSMC to Samsung Foundry was rather a decision for the company’s profitability. At the time, Samsung Foundry was able to tap into opportunities to increase sales through overseas companies. In 2018-2019, AD Technology faced a crisis. First of all, among fabless customers, the amount of orders placed by domestic companies was extremely insignificant. We had to go abroad. In addition, in 2019, as SK Hynix changed its NAND flash controller supplier from AD Technology to TSMC’s design house, Global Unichip (GUC), it was necessary to prepare for this.

However, as AD Technology has recently been able to directly win orders from overseas fabless customers, expectations for external growth are growing. In fact, it is continuously attracting companies that entrust cutting-edge chips under 5 nanometers. This is a change that occurred when the ‘turnkey contract’, which is a direct contract with the fabless customer company, became possible from the second half of last year. In the past, Samsung Foundry only assisted with chip design by consigning customers, but now, thanks to turnkey contracts, it is possible to directly bring in customers and connect them to Samsung Foundry. Its status as a ‘partner company that discovers customers together’ has been strengthened.

It was also effective to focus on ‘three strategies’ to create synergy while matching with Samsung Foundry for three years from 2019 to last year.

First, AD Technology spent three years trying to find the chip design strengths of TSMC and other Samsung foundries.

Second, research and development is ongoing so that Samsung can surpass TSMC’s chip ecosystem. Samsung’s customers are thirsty for ‘chip parts that work at TSMC and don’t at Samsung’. To quench this thirst, AD Technology has operated an ‘infrastructure team’ consisting of 50 people since 2019, and is continuously investing in supporting memory libraries that support Samsung.

Third, it is also striving to increase profitability by continuously discovering so-called ‘big chip’ customers such as cloud servers and supercomputers. Collaboration with ARM, a global IP company, is emerging as a great advantage at this time. AD Technology has joined the ‘ARM Certified Design Partner (AADP)’ created by Arm to help customers taste chip technology in advance.

It is also positive that Samsung is strengthening its foundry process capabilities so that it can catch up with TSMC. Samsung recently announced its position through the foundry forum 2023 that it would “pay attention to improving older processes such as 14-nano and 8-nano processes.”

CEO Park said, “Looking back on the processes that Samsung has progressed in the past means that it is moving forward as a true foundry company by providing various services like TSMC.” There is,” he stressed. He added, “We have reached a phase where we can raise the company’s growth potential (possibility) together with Samsung.”