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March 02, 2024

Samsung, SK chiefs to visit ASML to discuss chip alliance

PUBLISHED : December 11, 2023 - 09:31

UPDATED : December 11, 2023 - 09:31

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Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong (left) visits an ASML facility in the Netherlands on June 14, 2022. (Samsung Electronics)

Samsung Group Chairman Lee Jae-yong and SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won are set to travel to the Netherlands this week to strengthen business ties with ASML, the sole provider of equipment critical in producing advanced chips.

The heads of South Korea's top two conglomerates are accompanying President Yoon Suk Yeol on his state visit to the Netherlands from Monday to Thursday.

There, they will visit ASML's headquarters in Veldhoven, and also explore the Dutch firm's newly built clean room, where all sources of contamination such as particulate-matter and out-gassing are under control, according to industry sources.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse released on Sunday, Yoon said that his upcoming trip "will mark a crucial turning point for the Korea-Netherlands semiconductor alliance," and that chip cooperation would be his "top priority."

It is the first time for a Korean president to travel to the European country since diplomatic ties were established in 1961. It is also the first time for a state leader to visit ASML’s clean room.

ASML is the sole provider of extreme ultraviolet photolithography equipment, a key system for producing the world's most advanced semiconductor chips, with nodes at 7 nanometers and below.

Global chipmakers are competing to win orders for ASML's EUV equipment, which is in tight supply. Last year, the Dutch firm sold 42 pieces of EUV equipment priced between 250 billion won ($189 million) to 300 billion won each.

As of last year, TSMC reportedly has about 100 units of EUV equipment in its manufacturing facilities in Taiwan, while Samsung has about 40 units.

For Lee and Chey, leaders of the world's two largest memory chip makers Samsung Electronics and SK hynix, respectively, their mission would be to make the trip an opportunity to forge stronger ties with the equipment supplier.

Samsung and SK will also have to secure ASML's next-generation high-numerical aperture EUV lithography scanner, which the Dutch firm is set to deliver for the first time in the industry by the end of this year.

The high-NA EUV system, which will enable chip manufacturers to produce 2nm node chips, is seen as a key factor that can sway the foundry industry producing third-party chips. The high-NA EUV system is known to be about double the price of the current EUV models sold, priced between 400 billion to 600 billion won each.

According to TrendForce, a market tracker, TSMC took 57.9 percent of the market share in terms of revenue in the third quarter this year, while Samsung followed with 12.4 percent. GlobalFoundries came third with 6.2 percent.

The competition is expected to heat up further with global chip giant Intel announcing its entrance to the foundry business, aiming to become No. 2 in the market by 2025.

Samsung Foundry and TSMC are slated to start production of chips on their 2 nm-class nodes in late 2025.

“We want to combine the Netherlands' advanced equipment and Korea’s advanced manufacturing capacity to maximize our complementary relationship in the semiconductor value chain,” Kim Tae-hyo, the first deputy director of Korea's National Security Office said in a press briefing last week.

“We will focus our discussion on establishing a semiconductor alliance involving governments, corporations and universities,” Kim added.

ASML is currently building a new support center in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, investing 240 billion won. Operations are expected to begin in the second half of 2024.

According to ASML, the new facility will utilize remanufacturing methods to repair and improve machinery for clients in the country, which include Samsung and SK hynix.

Samsung initially bought a 3 percent stake in the Dutch company in 2012, and invested about 400 billion won in ASML's research and development for a duration of five years at the time.

The Korean chipmaker has sold off most of its shares since then, and currently holds a 0.4 percent stake in ASML.

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

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