onsemi Rožnov is heading among the top

12/7/2023 |Articles are machine translated

Onsemi building | Photo: onsemi

Chips, tiny electrical components without which the modern world can no longer function. Countries are racing to attract companies to produce them in sufficient volume. The European Union has therefore come up with a new law that could benefit Czech manufacturers as well. He is no newcomer to the industry: the Roznov onsemi produces ten million chips a day, over three billion a year. So far, these are chips made on silicon. But the trend of the future is silicon carbide – and here, too, onsemi in Roznov is one of the successful ones. It is planning a major expansion in this area.

When you say “clean area” in the onsemi in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm, it doesn’t mean that a cleaning crew has just passed by, or that there isn’t a dangerous intruder with a machine gun lurking around the corner. A clean room, where chip production can take place, is essentially a hermetically sealed room where the air is continuously purified through a double floor and ceiling and a constant temperature and humidity is maintained. Only selected persons are allowed to enter, wearing anti-static overalls, headgear, masks and goggles. Even a speck smaller than a micrometer, which is not normally visible to the eye, can spoil the product being produced.

Automotive needs are growing

A product that requires millions of dollars to be invested in buildings alone is the chip, a component whose name has become one of the most frequently used words, especially in the automotive sector. In the last two years, it is precisely because of their scarcity that many car manufacturers have had to reduce or even stop production for a time.

The supply problems for semiconductors still persist to some extent, but it is certain that their need in cars is growing rapidly. Whereas five or six years ago there were around 200 chips per car, today there are around 1 500. Some of these components in today’s cars carry a significant Czech footprint – whether they are directly manufactured in Rožnov, or were created on silicon boards from the local onsemi, or were designed in the Rožnov or Brno design centre.

Onsemi Vice President Ales Cáb with a carbide-silicon plate. | Photo: onsemi

Of the more than three billion chips produced annually at Onsemi in Rožnov, 40 percent go to the automotive sector. The rest is consumed by communications and industrial applications.

So far, the Roznov plant has always lived up to its commitments and has not been the cause of any shortages even in the covid era. In order to meet the increasing demand, it is investing massively – last year it was four billion crowns, this year it is to be another eight. If all the plans can be implemented, the Roznov plant could become a globally important supplier of the most advanced chips.

How to make a chip

The main product in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm today are silicon-based chips and also our own silicon wafers, which are a crucial input material. Both are highly sophisticated processes. The board itself takes a long and complex time to prepare. “The input material is polycrystalline silicon, which onsemi takes from a supplier in Germany or other European countries,” says Michal Lorenc, head of onsemi’s R&D projects, and goes on to describe the production process. More than half of these slabs are sent to onsemi subsidiaries around the world, while the rest are used for chip production in Roznov.”

The perfection of the surface layer of the boards is ensured by so-called epitaxy, a process in which a thin crystalline layer grows on the surface of the board that has the same crystalline structure as the polished substrate, but may have different electrical properties depending on the required parameters of the specific application – the semiconductor component.

This is followed by the actual chip fabrication, which is a purposeful sequence of different physical and chemical processes – growth of functional layers, etching of the required patterns using masks, interconnection. In total, there can be up to 300 operations, each of which takes time. In total, it takes six to eight weeks to produce a chip.

The maximum number of chips that can be created on a single board depends directly on the size of the board and the size of the chip. In Roznov, they do not deal with the next process anymore. “For us, it is the final product that we send to production plants in Asia, the Philippines or Malaysia, where the chips are then broken down. The boards are cut and the chips are finally encapsulated,” says Aleš Cáb, vice president of the company, explaining why parent company onsemi chose this process. While the process of manufacturing chips on a board is the most demanding and requires complex professional and technological competence, cutting and assembly is a minimal value-added process that is advantageous to do where costs are lower. In addition, a large number of manufacturers who need chips for their applications are also located in Asia.”

Chip types are plentiful, with hundreds of different ones being produced in Roznov, primarily related to electric vehicle propulsion in the automotive sector.


Computer on wheels – where chips are needed everywhere

On average, there are 1,500 semiconductors in a car today, controlling virtually everything from the airbag to the engine. Without chips, modern cars wouldn’t run at all.

  • Safety – Airbags, collision warning system, parking assist, locks, brake assist, tyre pressure monitoring system, traction control system
  • Drivetrain – Engine, fuel injection system, drive modes, transmission
  • Electrical systems – starter, lighting, car diagnostics
  • Comfort – windows and mirrors, seats, air conditioning
  • Infotainment – audio/video, display, navigation
  • Connectivity – CAN, broadband, Wifi- Bluetooth, wireless update


A bet on silicon carbide

However, the aim of the investments that have recently been flowing into the Roznov company is to move one step further from silicon wafers to the production of silicon carbide-based chips. The advantage of this compound of carbon and silicon is that it enables more efficient use of electricity.

“Already in 2016, parent onsemi made a key acquisition of a company that had a silicon carbide program,” Michal Lorenc describes the history. “Onsemi’s vision was to take advantage of the huge market potential and embark on the production of silicon carbide-based chips on a large scale. We were trying other processes in Rožnov at the time, namely gallium nitride, where we also achieved great results, but it never made it into production. In 2017, the management decided to end this programme in Rožnov and start research and development of silicon carbide wafers.”

The starting material for the production of the plates is a compound of silicon and carbon, which is produced artificially; Norway is a major supplier.

With an investment of $10 million, they quickly built a pilot line in Roznov and started their own research, development and subsequent production of 150 mm diameter plates. By 2021, Onsemi Rožnov will be one of only five companies in the world capable of producing a 200 mm diameter plate at the top level.

“We only have five furnaces to grow silicon carbide crystals for development purposes. For real production volumes, we would need several hundred of them, plus other demanding crystal processing technologies,” says Michal Lorenc with regret. The corporation’s production of silicon carbide crystals is thus handled by the US production facility that Onsemi absorbed in 2021, and the crystal growth furnaces in Roznov are now used only for research and development. The final production of chips on carbide wafers from Roznov is for now concentrated in the plant in Korea, but the logical step is to use Roznov’s high-end semiconductor capability to expand in both crystal and chip production.


The largest automotive chip manufacturers

Infineon  |  NXP  |  Renesas  |  Texas Instruments  |  ST Micro  |  onsemi

Note: If we try to differentiate automotive chips by application, onsemi ranks 3rd in automotive sensing, 4th in automotive power and 6th in automotive microcontroller.


Billion-dollar investments

Silicon carbide is a modern material whose use is still in its infancy, and chips are still only made in production volumes on 150 mm diameter wafers. However, unlike gallium nitride, which is still waiting for its time, silicon carbide is already replacing silicon in many ways. But as Aleš Cáb says, there will still be a number of technologies that will remain the domain of chips on silicon wafers. However, there will clearly be a shift to silicon carbide in applications for electric vehicles or solar panels.”

Strict rules apply to chip manufacturing. Only anti-static clothing, a hood and goggles are allowed in clean rooms | Photo: onsemi

This is also the reason why onsemi would like to introduce other production steps besides the production of carbide boards and have a complete silicon carbide chip production process here. “So far, the input material, the machined crystals in the form of pucks, comes from Hudson in the US, we make the polished board here, we make an epitaxial layer on the surface of the board with the electrical parameters for the application, and the chip production continues in Bucheon, Korea. Our ambition is to have both the first part – the crystal growth – and the actual chip manufacturing here. We know we can do it, we have experience with the whole process in silicon and our own R&D on silicon carbide. But the investment in the technology to grow the crystals and build the chip production line is in the billions of dollars.”

To realise its plans, the company needs support. So the logical step is to negotiate an investment incentive. The company’s CFO, Josef Švejda, believes in the government’s helpfulness. Other competing countries are also offering investment incentives. In the US, you can get an incentive of 30-40 percent of the cost, in South Korea they have 25 percent for the semiconductor business. In our country it is only ten percent as a standard.”


Roznov and the world in 2022

global chip market USD 600 billion | global automotive chip market USD 50 billion | onsemi global sales USD 8.3 billion | onsemi global automotive chip sales 40% i.e. USD 3.3 billion | expected sales from silicon carbide technologies (2023) onsemi global sales USD 1 billion USD | onsemi Roznov sales CZK 5 billion | onsemi Roznov sales from automotive chips CZK 2 billion | expected sales from silicon carbide technologies (2030) onsemi Roznov > CZK 15 billion | number of onsemi employees globally 33 000 | number of onsemi Roznov employees 2 100.


European challenges

The European Chips Act, a law to increase Europe’s share of production from less than ten per cent to twenty per cent by 2030, also gives hope for support. The law opens up the possibility of providing support to companies that would not otherwise qualify, but only in selected sectors. Semiconductors for power applications were eventually pushed through the law. However, the final decision on whether onsemi would receive any further support and from which sources will ultimately also be up to the government.

Parent company onsemi has shown in recent years that Rožnov pod Radhoštěm plays an important role in its strategy to supply the chip market, including the European one. Moreover, the Rožnov plant has already demonstrated with silicon that it is capable of providing a complex production process – this is one of the aspects why the Czech subsidiary has a significant position within the group.

Prestigious customers

It is important to note in this context that Onsemi has taken care of the sales of silicon carbide-based power modules. Its biggest customers are Volkswagen, Tesla, Hyundai and BMW, with whom it has long-term business contracts.

The company announced a strategic cooperation with Volkswagen earlier this year. This involves the supply of semiconductors for next-generation electric vehicles, with a total portfolio of up to 500 different components.

Onsemi sees the agreement with Tesla, which is interested in about 300 components, as a major breakthrough.

The Chinese company NIO has also chosen onsemi as a supplier of power modules for its electric vehicles, as has the technology company ZEEKR, to which onsemi will provide components to increase the efficiency of the powertrain of electric vehicles. Jaguar Land Rover and Kia are also interested in supplying them.


From tubes to chips

What distinguishes Roznov’s company from its competitors, wherever in the world, is its history and, thanks to it, its long-standing competence in the field of semiconductors. One of the predecessors of today’s company, the national company Tesla Rožnov, was founded in 1949 and in the 1950s began producing semiconductors and electronic components, first for radios and later for televisions. As a matter of interest, in 1951 the Secondary Industrial School of Vacuum Electrical Engineering was founded in Rožnov, which for more than thirty years was a prestigious educational institution of national importance in this field.

Production was already world-class at that time, and in 1967 the first simple integrated circuits began to be manufactured here (eight years after their world-first commercial realisation). In addition to the actual production of components and complete radios and televisions, the production of the necessary pure materials such as polycrystalline silicon and mono-crystalline silicon was also mastered. Since 1984, colour television screens were also produced in Rožnov under licence from Toshiba.

After privatisation in 1990, fourteen independently operating units were created on the site of the original Tesla. One of them, the successor organisation Tesla Sesame, still a semiconductor manufacturer, partnered with Motorola in 1993, which had a semiconductor division in addition to mobile phones. Ten years later, Tesla Sezam merged with a second successor organization, the silicon manufacturer Terosil, and the merger created the manufacturing company ON Semiconductor Czech Republic, now called onsemi. It is wholly owned by the American concern of the same name, which is based originally on the semiconductor division spun off from Motorola.

Over the course of twenty years, the entire onsemi facility in Roznov has changed, with many buildings being renovated and modernised, as well as the volume of production. Roznov has the trust of its mother, who moved a number of production facilities here, for example from France, the USA or Japan, in order to create an important production base.

An important factor that makes Roznov a manufacturer that will not be lost in the competition is its own research and development, both in materials and chip production. However, the development is not only carried out within the company, Onsemi has established a wide cooperation with several universities, especially the Brno University of Technology and Masaryk University. These are, among other things, sources from which it can draw fresh employees and train them in the necessary fields.

The company also has a design centre with around 300 employees. The second such centre, which belongs to the multinational onsemi group, is ON Design Czech in Brno with two hundred employees. While in Roznov they focus on power management, the Brno centre is a centre of excellence in the field of so-called intelligent sensing.


Ing. Libuše Bautzová
Ing. Libuše Bautzová

Editor-in-Chief of the Český autoprůmysl magazine


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