- The ten largest semiconductor R&D spenders increased their collective expenditures to $35.9 billion in 2017, an increase of 6% compared to $34.0 billion in 2016, says IC Insights.
Intel continued to far exceed all other semiconductor companies with R&D spending that reached $13.1 billion.
In addition to representing 21.2% of its semiconductor sales last year, Intel’s R&D spending accounted for 36% of the top 10 R&D spending and about 22% of total worldwide semiconductor R&D expenditures of $58.9 billion in 2017, according to the 2018 edition of The McClean Report that was released in January 2018.
Figure 1 shows IC Insights’ ranking of the top semiconductor R&D spenders, including both semiconductor manufacturers and fabless suppliers.
Intel’s R&D expenditures increased just 3% in 2017, below its 8% average annual growth rate since 2001, according to the new report. Still, Intel’s R&D spending exceeded the combined R&D spending of the next four companies—Qualcomm, Broadcom, Samsung, and Toshiba—listed in the ranking.
Underscoring the growing cost of developing new IC technologies, Intel’s R&D-to-sales ratio has climbed significantly over the past 20 years. In 2017, Intel’s R&D spending as a percent of sales was 21.2%, down from an all-time high of 24.0% in 2015. In 2010, the ratio was 16.4%, 14.5% in 2005, 16.0% in 2000, and just 9.3% in 1995.
Qualcomm—the industry’s largest fabless IC supplier—was again ranked as second-largest R&D spender, a position it first achieved in 2012. Qualcomm’s semiconductor-related R&D spending was down 4% in 2017, after a 7% drop in 2016, and it was close to being passed up by third place Broadcom and fourth placed Samsung, whose R&D spending increased 4% and 19%, respectively.
Despite increasing its R&D expenditures by 19% in 2017, Samsung had the lowest investment-intensity level among the top-10 R&D spenders with research and development funding at 5.2% of sales last year.
Samsung’s 49% increase in semiconductor revenue in 2017 (driven by strong growth in DRAM and NAND flash memory) lowered its R&D as a percent of sales ratio from 6.5% in 2016. Micron Technology’s revenues surged 77% in 2017, but its research and development expenditures grew 8%, resulting in an R&D/sales ratio of 7.5% compared to 12.5% in 2016. Similarly, SK Hynix’s sales climbed 79% in 2017, while its research and development spending increased 14% in the year, which resulted in an R&D/sakes ratio of 6.5% versus 10.2% in 2016.
Fifth-ranked Toshiba and sixth-ranked Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) each allocated about the same amount for R&D spending in 2017. Toshiba’s R&D spending was down 7% while TSMC had one of the largest increases in R&D spending among the top 10 companies shown in the figure. TSMC’s R&D expenditures grew by 20% as the foundry raced rivals Samsung and GlobalFoundries in launching new process technologies, while its sales rose 9% to $32.2 billion in the year.
Rounding out the top-10 list were MediaTek, Micron, Nvidia, which moved from 11th place in 2016 to 9th position to displace NXP in the 2017 ranking, and SK Hynix. Collectively, the top-10 R&D spenders increased their outlays by 6% in 2017, two points more than the 4% R&D increase for the entire semiconductor industry. Combined R&D spending by the top 10 exceeded total spending by the rest of the semiconductor companies ($35.9 billion versus $23.0 billion) in 2017.
A total of 18 semiconductor suppliers allocated more than more than $1.0 billion for R&D spending 2017. The other eight manufacturers were NXP, TI, ST, AMD, Renesas, Sony, Analog Devices, and GlobalFoundries.