Chivalrous Island Interview with Ni Guangnan: China Core Design Progress Making is Short Board

 Chivalrous Island Interview with Ni Guangnan: China Core Design Progress Making is Short Board

While condemning American trade bullying, people are also concerned about Chinas chip technology and industry: whats the current situation and level of development? What is the biggest bottleneck facing today? How can we break through the encirclement and achieve self-reliance and self-reliance?

In response to these problems, our Wechat Public No. Chivalrous Island recently interviewed Ni Guangnan, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and researcher of the Institute of Computing Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The ZTE and Huawei Incidents gave the whole people a chip lesson

Chivalrous Island: Some people say that the number of publicity reports on innovation promotion is not equal to the warning of ZTE Event and Huawei Event. What do you think of these two events?

Ni Guangnan: Chip technology is the commanding point of modern information technology. Chip industry is the classic of modern fine processing manufacturing industry. The development level of chip technology and chip industry is related to national competitiveness and information security.

Before the ZTE Event and Huawei Event did not occur, many people thought that chips, like ordinary electronic components, could be purchased directly from the market. These two events give us a lesson, telling us that chip technology and chip industry are of great value, forming a situation in which the whole people are spontaneously concerned about the development of chip technology and the progress of chip industry in China. In this sense, the aforementioned incidents are the warning agent of the whole people, with a positive side.

Designs are progressing rapidly, but manufacturing is still a short board

Chivalrous Island: After years of development, what is the current level and strength of chip technology and industry in China? How far is it from the United States? What are the specific aspects?

Ni Guangnan: In the field of chip design, China has made rapid progress. It can be said that it has ranked second in the world, second only to the United States. It not only owns the largest number of design companies in the world, but also has reached a high level and designed a number of excellent products. For example, the chip used by Shenwei Taihu Lights supercomputer, which has been on the worlds No. 1 throne for several consecutive years, is designed by Chinese companies themselves. For example, mobile phone chips and server chips designed by Chinese companies have been applied and show excellent performance.

There are still some shortcomings in chip design tools in China. Chip design is accomplished on EDA software platform through logical compilation, simplification, segmentation, synthesis, optimization, layout, wiring and simulation by computer. Foreign companies are the main suppliers of this software service.

In the field of chip manufacturing, including manufacturing technology and equipment, Chinas capacity needs to be improved as a whole. Chip manufacturing sounds like traditional manufacturing. In fact, its manufacturing process and equipment are much more sophisticated and complex than the latter. Specifically, the process includes photolithography, etching, ion implantation, film growth, polishing, metallization, diffusion, oxidation... Corresponding to these manufacturing processes, more than 200 kinds of key equipment are manufactured, including lithography, etching machine, cleaning machine, Cutting Thinning equipment, sorting machine and other diffusion, oxidation and cleaning equipment. Each kind of equipment has a high technical requirement, which makes it very difficult and expensive to manufacture.

At present, in the field of chip manufacturing, most of the leading enterprises come from the United States, Japan and other countries and regions. A large number of equipment of Chinese chip manufacturers need to be imported from abroad.

With these advanced equipment, it is far from enough. We should also set up production lines and make business plans. It usually takes 2-3 years to build factories, install and debug equipment, which means that chip manufacturers should make a judgment on market demand in advance. Chip manufacturing technology is constantly updated iteratively. Whether the previous equipment and production line can meet the market demand when it is put into production is still unknown. If the new production line can not fully achieve mass production, the investment before will face significant risks.

Late start + deviation of concept is the main cause of the present situation

Chivalrous Island: In many industrial areas, we have successfully achieved leapfrogging and catching-up, such as high-speed railway, household appliances, but in the field of integrated circuits, this phenomenon has not appeared. Why?

Ni Guangnan: For historical reasons, we started late. In 1947, Bell Laboratory invented the semiconductor point contact transistor. It was not until 1956 that China succeeded in making the first silicon single crystal. In view of the fact that early computers were made of discrete components (electronic tubes, transistors, etc.), at that time, China could follow foreign computer technology.

With the development of integrated circuits into the era of large-scale integrated circuits, China has no support from the integrated circuit industry, so it is obviously weak to catch up. However, chip technology in the world has made rapid progress. So far, although we have Huawei Hess, Zhongxin International and other internationally renowned chip design and chip manufacturing enterprises, there is still a big gap in the overall industrial development compared with the international first-class level.

Late start is an important historical reason, and the deviation of the dominant idea leads to insufficient innovation promotion is the real reason. Once, in many ways, we hoped to solve the problem in a more economical way. The so-called better buy than build, better rent than buy. Practice has proved that the core technology can not be bought. Chinas chip technology and industry short board ultimately needs the Chinese people to innovate steadfastly to solve.

Give Full Play to the Advantages of National System and Market Mechanism

Chivalrous Island: In the face of internal short board and external blockade, how can Chinas chip technology and industry break through?

Ni Guangnan: From the point of view of supply chain security, once a part of the supply chain is out of supply, the whole industry will fall into passivity. In this case, we need to concentrate our efforts on breaking through the key core technology of weak links in the supply chain. The development of key core technology is often a process from scratch to large, with the idea of bench to sit cold for ten years.

The development and maturity of core technology can not be separated from the support of the market. If the newly developed core technology and products do not have the opportunity to try and error in the market and enter the virtuous circle of the market, whether software or hardware, it is difficult to reach the level of user satisfaction. It is in this sense that General Secretary Xi Jinping calls for market-oriented guidance. We emphasize that in the process of government procurement, we should give some support to domestic independent research and development of chips and software, let them enter commercial applications, accept testing and sharpening, only in this way can we continue to mature.

From the perspective of industrial cluster, we can refer to the industrial cluster model of Silicon Valley. In Silicon Valley, there are first-class research institutes and universities, many entrepreneurs and abundant venture capital. They have formed a close cooperation network and achieved strong alliance in talent, technology, capital and management.

Zhongguancun (8.750, 0.07, 0.81%) in Beijing has the potential to become a highland of chip technology and industrial clusters. It is advisable to make full use of the surrounding scientific research institutes and human resources, together with the support of national policies and capital, co-ordinate funds and R&D resources, strengthen cooperation between industry, University and research, and make high-tech industrial cluster projects with Chinese characteristics.

The investment cycle of developing large-scale software or chip industry is usually in the past 20 years. The investment is very large. It is difficult to achieve breakthroughs only by market and enterprises. Because, the general enterprises will have market pressure, such as listed companies to produce statements, to make heavy profits, to prove their performance to shareholders. Therefore, we should carry forward the advantages of combining the national system with the market economy. For example, at the national level, we should formulate some long-term planning outlines and development plans. At the same time, we should actively introduce financial market support, such as venture capital support in terms of capital, encourage enterprises to invest in R&D and production, and pay attention to balancing the short-sighted behavior that may occur in the process of R&D.

Generally speaking, the development of integrated circuit industry requires long-term ideological preparation and investment. We cant expect to get returns in a few years. It may take another decade or two to really develop the integrated circuit industry. We must have the determination and determination to make up for the shortcomings in the industry and persevere steadfastly.

(Interview arrangement: Zhao Jingfan)

Ni Guangnan, born in Zhenhai, Zhejiang in 1939, is a researcher at the Institute of Computing, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Graduated from Nanjing Institute of Technology (now Southeast University) in 1961, he pioneered the application of associative function in Chinese character input. The first chief engineer of the Computing Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (the predecessor of Lenovo) and Lenovo Group led the development of associative Chinese character system and Lenovo series microcomputers, which won the first prize of national scientific and technological progress in 1988 and 1992 respectively. Lenovo Group started parallel with the associative Chinese character system. So it got its name. Since then, he has been devoted to the development of independent and controllable information core technology and industry. In 1994, he was selected as the first batch of academicians of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. In 2011 and 2015, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Chinese Information Society and the Chinese Computer Society respectively.