Industry Deals Underscore the Growing Importance of Wide-Bandgap Semiconductors

September 9, 2019 Alix Paultre

The market for wide-bandgap semiconductors in the embedded electronics industry continues to grow. More and more companies are releasing Gallium Nitride (GaN) and Silicon Carbide (SiC) devices for advanced electronics and power systems, and more and more engineers are adopting GaN and/or SiC in their next-generation designs.

This growth and pattern of development echoes the journey digital power took over a decade ago, as it migrated from idea to novelty to mainstream solution. A group of forward-looking startups presented new technologies to the industry, and over time those startups were either bought by or entered partnerships with Tier One manufacturers. 

In the digital power migration, companies like Zilker Labs and Primarion became parts of Intersil (now a part of Renesas) and Infineon, for example. Their people and IP became part of the larger company’s new product efforts, providing new technology with assurances of quality, consistency and reliability. This acquisition activity is a regular feature of new technology evolution within the industry.

In the area of wide-bandgap devices, there has been more partnering than outright acquisition, but it is still early and there are some good candidates out there. Current industry activity is more focused on ensuring a supply of GaN and SiC wafers to stay competitive. This pressure is more on SiC than GaN, because of the difficulty in fabrication. Cree and ROHM are working on developing an 8-inch (200mm) SiC fab but considering the growing pains it took to get to 6-inch (150mm), we won’t be seeing larger wafers anytime soon.

The latest moves not only involved electronics manufacturers, but also governments. For example, the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Naval Research exercised a three-year $15.9 million option from Transphorm, on an existing $2.6 million base contract establishing Transphorm as a U.S.-based dedicated production source and supplier of GaN epiwafers. GaN-based devices are important for RF and power electronics applications.

On the SiC side, Cree stated it would supply its Wolfspeed silicon carbide wafers to ON Semiconductor, an agreement valued at more than $85 million. Earlier in the year, Cree also announced it signed a deal with STMicroelectronics, a deal worth over $250 million. These deals underscore the importance of securing a source of wide-bandgap materials for device manufacture.

There will be more deals like this as SiC and GaN continue to expand their roles in the electronics industry. There are a lot of applications that can significantly benefit from the use of wide-bandgap devices, and as designers in those spaces start using them, the demand will create additional sourcing issues in the industry. This will make some of the smaller companies in the space more desirable to the bigger companies, as they move to consolidate IP and capabilities.

The electronics marketplace is on the verge of another sea change in capabilities and performance driven by wide-bandgap semiconductors, with higher efficiencies, smaller form factors, higher power densities and improved performance. The wide-bandgap industry is still struggling with growing pains but is rapidly rising to the challenge. Part of this growth will involve more partnerships, and outright company acquisitions, as we move forward.

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