SKC to begin full production of blank masks later this year

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SKC to begin full production of blank masks later this year

Trade officials announced Monday that SKC will start mass production of high-end blank masks by this year’s second half - an essential material to produce high-performance semiconductors that heavily relied on Japanese exports.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said the chemical material company is currently testing prototypes in partnership with domestic clients. Once clients approve the outcome, SKC plans to ramp up supply.

The announcement marks a step toward the country’s efforts to become more self-reliant on base materials for its large semiconductor and display industries, which suffered last year following a trade dispute with Japan.

Blank masks, also known as mask blanks, are plates of quartz glass coated in photosensitive resist materials. They are the base materials for photomasks, which have holes and transparencies through which lasers can shine to engrave circuits on semiconductor wafers.

High-performance chips with narrower circuits require more advanced blank masks that can work with light at a shorter wavelength. Products compatible with argon fluoride and extreme ultraviolet lithography are typically referred to as “high-end” blank masks, the ministry explained.

For blank masks of this quality, domestic companies were more than 90 percent reliant on Japanese exports before relations soured between Korea and Japan. It was one of the neighboring country’s top 20 exported tech materials to Korea.

SKC completed a new blank mask factory in late 2019 after an eight-month construction with investments worth 43 billion won ($35 million).

Korean companies’ heavy dependence on chemicals and materials in chip and display production became an issue last year when the Japanese government enacted export restrictions on several essential components for semiconductor production.

While blank masks were not subject to the Japanese government’s restrictions, Korean officials have worked to reduce dependence on a range of products by providing assistance to local companies and finding new suppliers abroad. SKC received funds from the government to boost research and development last year.

“For the top 100 tech components, materials and equipment, we plan to invest more than 210 billion won to boost domestic supply,” the ministry said in a statement.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]
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