Embarking on an ambitious mission, Japan rallies industry leaders to reclaim their position in the semiconductor industry. Their new chip plant, supported by a powerful coalition, holds not only immense significance for Japan but also for its allies who seek to diversify the global chip supply chain.
Rapidus, the leading joint venture spearheading this initiative, faces a significant hurdle in Japan’s severe labor shortage. Construction workers have decreased by nearly 30% since 2009, and critical roles like truck drivers, plant managers, and engineers are also experiencing shortages. The challenge intensifies as Hokkaido needs an established ecosystem for chip companies, making it difficult to attract top talent.
Astuyoshi Koike, CEO of Rapidus, acknowledges Japan’s past missteps in the global chip industry. However, he brings a fresh perspective, emphasizing global collaboration and leveraging Japan’s manufacturing expertise. Through a partnership with IBM, Rapidus aims to begin mass production of 2-nanometer node chips by 2027, marking a technological resurgence.
Despite the alliance with IBM, concerns linger about Rapidus’ ability to compete with industry giants like TSMC and Samsung in terms of production quality and consistency. Japan’s current expertise lies in manufacturing less advanced 40nm chips, presenting a challenge in a rapidly evolving market.
Adding another layer of complexity is IBM’s legal battle with Global Foundries. Although it is anticipated to have limited impact on Rapidus, it highlights the legal risks within this fiercely competitive landscape. Financially, Rapidus estimates a need for ¥5tn to achieve mass production of advanced chips, with government subsidies and promises playing a crucial role.
Japan’s semiconductor ambitions through the Rapidus initiative find themselves at a critical crossroads. While challenges abound, the potential rewards are equally significant. The outcome will not only shape Japan’s technological landscape but also influence global chip supply dynamics amidst heightened geopolitical tensions.