Hwang Soon-min and Kim Hyo-jin
South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. has begun deploying local substitutes of high-purity hydrogen fluoride in its chip lines just two months after its Japanese supplies have been disrupted under government-imposed export curbs.
Samsung Electronics has been conducting multiple tests to find suitable replacements for Japanese hydrogen fluoride, a type of gas to clean chips for circuit boards, since the chemical came under case-by-case scrutiny by Japanese authorities on security grounds.
It has taken about two months for the company to apply a locally-sourced material in the chipmaking process. Industry experts say it would take another three to six months for the material to be ready for mass production.
Another chipmaker SK Hynix Inc. is also conducting tests for hydrogen fluoride replacements.
Korean chip and display makers have been forced to diversify their supply chain after Japan in early July imposed export controls of three chemicals necessary in wafer process ? photoresist, hydrogen fluoride and fluorinated polyimide. The move required Japanese exporters to seek case-by-case approval when shipping the three materials to Korea, a process that could delay imports for up to 90 days.
Japan is responsible for 70 to 90 percent of the world production of the three materials.
Japan further tightened its sanctions by stripping Korea of its fast-track export status in August, expanding the scope of the restrictions to more than a thousand items deemed sensitive.
Despite fears of delay in exports, Japan in recent weeks permitted shipment of hydrogen fluoride and photoresist to Korea in what was seen as a move to prevent tensions from escalating further.
Earlier this week, LG Display Co. became the first Korean manufacturer to apply locally-produced hydrogen fluoride for fabrication for LCDs that can settle for low-purity gas. Samsung Display Co. is also expected to complete its tests soon. Their transition is said to have been easier as the display manufacturing process does not require gas of high purity.