A few years ago, the development of the Japanese semiconductor industry in terms of the practical application of lithography stopped somewhere at the 40nm turn, as all the more advanced electronic devices were manufactured outside the country. According to Rapidus management, when production of 2nm chips starts in Japan in 2027, they will be up to ten times more expensive than the current ones.
According to Atsuyoshi Koike, President and CEO of Rapidus, quoted by the source DigiTimes, the ability to produce 2nm chips is crucial for Japanese industry, so there will be customers willing to pay a high price for access to 2nm technology. High-performance computing is important for national security, and advanced lithography will also be in demand for autopilot in transportation and robotics.
Pilot production of 2nm chips at the Rapidus Hokkaido facility will begin in April 2025. The installation and conversion of engineering systems at the enterprise will be completed by September 2024, and by December specialists will start installing the process equipment. By the beginning of 2027, the mass production of 2 nm chips is to start here. Incidentally, Rapidus will not limit itself to this, because in addition to the first company, a second one will be built, which will be sharpened for the use of even more advanced lithography with standards thinner than 2 nm. In total, the location in Hokkaido offers space for three to four Rapidus production workshops.
By April this year, the consortium had already recruited about 100 engineers, by the end of the year this number could double, and the first group of specialists has already gone to IBM for an internship in New York State. To start pilot production of 2nm chips by April 2025, Rapidus may need 300 to 500 engineers. Among those already hired at this level are many industry veterans with years of professional experience outside of Japan.
According to some estimates, Rapidus will need up to $35 billion just to start producing 2nm chips in the country. The members of the consortium, which include large Japanese companies and financial institutions, are in no hurry to allocate funds, but Rapidus management believes that investors will soon believe in success and become generous. In addition, the company can receive up to $2 billion in government subsidies, and Hitachi is ready to offer support in the form of production equipment and technical advice. As an alternative, Rapidus is considering a public share offering, but so far this is only a theoretical initiative.
Initially, Rapidus will serve the needs of around five companies, but over time the number will increase to ten. That’s not much compared to large contract manufacturers, but Rapidus isn’t aiming for that either. However, the Japanese manufacturer will try to attract customers among the world-class cloud giants.
The chip production volumes in the Rapidus facilities will be small. This is at least evidenced by the company’s desire to analyze information based on the results of processing each silicon wafer. Management envisions this will allow faster feedback from the chip developer and ultimately speed up the process of bringing finished products to market. The head of Rapidus also philosophically stated in his interview that making money is not the main goal of the company, but the main task is to provide society with technologies that make people happier.