History of Sony's Semiconductors

It introduces the history of Sony's semiconductor business, which began in 1954 with the commercialization of transistors for the first time in Japan.
Sony's semiconductor business and its history Timeline

Sony's semiconductor business and its history


A small-scale factory in Tokyo challenged transistors in the world. Everything started here!

That year, Sony founder Masaru Ibuka and later fourth president Kazuo Iwama traveled to the United States to study tape recorders. At that time, they were offered a patent for the "transistor," which had just been invented. At that time, Ibuka who was looking for a new core business of Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (currently Sony Group Corporation), whose number of employees was rapidly increasing, decided to take on the challenge of transistors after consideration. While a major domestic company that was considering manufacturing transistors at the same time was trying to enter the transistor market with a contract that included the provision of manufacturing know-how, they dared to research it on their own, and the following year they succeeded in prototyping Japan's first transistor. It can be said that Sony's semiconductor business started from here.

Then, Japan's first transistor radio "TR-55" was released in 1955, This product is also known as the first product to be engraved with the "SONY" logo.

A small-scale factory in Tokyo challenged transistors in the world. Everything started here!

Sony's Atsugi plant was completed as a new base for rapidly growing semiconductor manufacturing.

This year, Sony's transistor business expanded to a monthly production of 1 million units. At that time, transistors were produced at the head office factory in Gotenyama (Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo), but it became too small and they decided to build a large-scale modern semiconductor plant. Then, the land of Atsugi (Kanagawa Prefecture) was selected there. A site of 50,000 tsubo (approx. 165,000 m2) was secured here, and the Atsugi plant that incorporated the latest technology at that time was born. At the inauguration ceremony held in November, Ibuka said, "Japan, which relies on exports, must continue to produce excellent products at low cost in order to compete with the world", and proudly declared that the Atsugi Plant would be the foundation for this.

Sony's Atsugi plant was completed as a new base for rapidly growing semiconductor manufacturing.

Challenge to electronic "eye" CCD

In the spring of 1970, Sony's CCD research and development started with a new invention paper read by a researcher, who was in charge of Sony's basic research at the Central Research Institute. The person who strongly supported this was Iwama, who was the director of the Central Research Institute and Executive Deputy President of Sony at that time. Iwama felt a great future for CCD as an electronic "eye", and invested huge budget and personnel for commercialization of CCD with the purpose of rebuilding the semiconductor business, which had lost momentum such as withdrawal from the development of MOS semiconductors for calculators at that time.

However, the road to commercialization of CCD was a thorny road where other companies withdrew one after another. However, Sony did not give up the challenge of CCD and finally succeeded in developing a practical level CCD in 1978. They increased the CCD pixels, which was only 8 x 8 = 64 pixels in 1972, to about 120,000 pixels with a passion like obsession. This CCD was officially commercialized as "ICX008" the following year. The development cost used up to that point reached 20 billion yen at that time, and it was an investment prepared to be considered impossible to recover during the 20th century.

Challenge to electronic eye CCD

It was the jumbo jet that was equipped with the Sony's CCD for the first time.

The ICX008, which was mass-produced after a lot of hardships, was installed in the world's first CCD color camera "XC-1" in January 1980, and was adopted in "Sky Vision", which showed the state of takeoff and landing of ANA's jumbo jet. Then, in 1985, the camera-integrated 8 mm VTR "CCD-V8" equipped with the newly developed 250,000-pixel CCD was released, and at the same time, the external sales of the CCD started. However, in 1987, the problem of dirt and dust contamination that had continued since the start of mass production became more serious, and the yield did not increase. Other companies had similar problems, and the mass production of CCDs was stagnant throughout the industry. Sony had been working at any time of day or night to eliminate dirt and managed to overcome this, and since then, the CCD business has grown into a major pillar of Sony.

It was the jumbo jet that was equipped with the Sony's CCD for the first time.

Sony LSI Design, which has supported Sony's original manufacturing with semiconductor design

Sony LSI Design (hereinafter referred to as SLSI) was established in 1986 as a specialized group that designs LSI and develops microcomputer software. The company name at the time of establishment was "Sony Technical Soft." Until the mid-1990s, the focus of development was on microcomputers, and while contributing to Sony's products, they sold them to other companies using that technology. Meanwhile, they inherited the design of the signal processing LSI for the CD player, which is the basis of the subsequent hardware design, from Sony, and changed the company name to "Sony LSI Design" in 1990 according to the business content. In the 2000s, they successfully completed the difficult project of developing the LSI of the home video game "PlayStation" at a pace three months faster than usual, and they has gained the trust of being called “it is Sony LSI Design when it comes to chip development”.

Around 2006, in order to deal with the development of system-on-chip (SoC), which installs the microprocessor and program necessary for the operation of the system in one semiconductor, which was rapidly becoming widespread at that time, they established a system that handles not only design but also trial production, evaluation, mass production, and delivery with the aim of further improving technological capabilities. Since then, they became indispensable to support Sony's image sensors by significantly increasing their design capabilities to meet the rapidly expanding demand for CCD image sensors, CMOS image sensors and so on. Then, in April 2022, SLSI was integrated into Sony Semiconductor Solutions with the aim of further strengthening the business by an integrated management system for semiconductor design and design operations, ending the company's history of about 36 years.

Sony LSI Design, which has supported Sony's original manufacturing with semiconductor design

Sony's semiconductor business that extends from Kyushu to all over Japan

In April 2001, Sony integrated three business sites in Kyushu (Sony Kokubu, Sony Oita and Sony Nagasaki) that were in charge of semiconductor production in the group, added the Kumamoto Technology Center, which was under construction at that time, and established "Sony Semiconductor Kyushu Corporation", a semiconductor design and production platform company. The aim was to establish a "one-stop" manufacturing system that can manage everything from material procurement to production planning, quality control, distribution processes, and customer service in an integrated manner. This made it possible to respond flexibly and speedily to the accelerating semiconductor business environment, and become the driving force for many subsequent “innovations”.

After that, Sony Semiconductor Kyushu merged with Sony Shiroishi Semiconductor in Shiroishi City, Miyagi Prefecture in 2011 and renamed it "Sony Semiconductor Corporation" After that, in 2014, they took over the Tsuruoka plant of Renesas Yamagata Semiconductor in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture, and established the Yamagata Technology Center. While deeply rooting in Kyushu, they are expanding Sony's semiconductor manufacturing bases throughout the country. In 2016, the name was changed to "Sony Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation" following the start of operations of "Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation", which is responsible for Sony's semiconductor business. In addition, they took over the assets of Toshiba's 300 mm wafer production line in Oita City, Oita Prefecture, and established a new system as the Oita Technology Center together with the plant in Kunisaki City (currently Kunisaki Satellite). In order to meet the vigorous demand, they are working to strengthen their production system by completing an additional building at the Nagasaki Technology Center in 2021.

Sony's semiconductor business that extends from Kyushu to all over Japan

A big decision for the future, "No more investing in CCDs"

Sony began developing the CMOS image sensor in 1996, and commercialized Sony's first CMOS image sensor "IMX001" in 2000 (It was installed in the "Entertainment Robot AIBO (ERS-210)" etc.). The CMOS image sensor at that time was noisy in dark places and was inferior to the CCD in terms of the number of pixels. However, as the image quality of the video was changing from SD (Standard Definition) to HD (High Definition), it was clear that CCDs with slow read speeds would eventually become unable to support high-resolution data.

Therefore, Sony decided to stop investing in increasing production of CCDs in 2004 and focus its subsequent investment on developing CMOS image sensors. Most digital cameras at that time were still equipped with the CCD. Sony had the largest share of CCD in the world, and it was a decision while camera manufacturers strongly requested an increase in CCD production. However, that decisive judgment supports the current Sony Semiconductor Solutions Group.

A big decision for the future, No more investing in CCDs

Created the heart of PlayStation 3 from scratch

Following the worldwide success of the "PlayStation 2" released in 2000, Sony embarked on the development of the super high performance processor "Cell Broadband Engine" for its successor, the "PlayStation 3." The Cell Broadband Engine was a scalable design intended to be installed not only in game devices but also in various entertainment devices, and featured overwhelming processing power using an asymmetrical core, which was epoch-making at that time. Starting from PlayStation 3, which was expected to be successful, the plan to expand the Cell Broadband Engine to many devices was named "Cell plan."

The knowledge gained through this development led to a leap forward in the CMOS image sensor business.

Created the heart of PlayStation 3 from scratch

Return to No. 1 in the industry! Image sensor business made a big leap

In 2004, Sony's image sensor business changed significantly from CCD to CMOS. In 2007, Sony commercialized a CMOS image sensor equipped with a unique column A/D conversion circuit that realized high speed and low noise. In 2009, it commercialized a back-illuminated CMOS image sensor that achieved twice the sensitivity of conventional products and its performance has been beyond the human eye. Furthermore, in 2012, Sony commercialized a stacked CMOS image sensor that realized high resolution, multiple functions, and miniaturization by the stacked structure of the pixel part and the signal processing part, and in 2015, it was the first in the world to commercialize a Cu-Cu (copper / copper) connection that achieved miniaturization, high performance, and improved productivity.

Based on these achievements, Sony's image sensor business became No. 1 in the industry again in 2011. For about 10 years to date, Sony has continued to lead the industry with further technological innovation.

Return to No. 1 in the industry! Image sensor business made a big leap

And to SSS group

In April 2016, Sony spun off the semiconductor business in order to further accelerate the growth of the semiconductor business, including the image sensor business, which had achieved great success. Sony Semiconductor Corporation (name changed to Sony Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation) and "Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation" with Sony LSI Design Incorporation as a subsidiary were born here.
The number of employees was 3,300 (at that time). We have inherited the departments responsible for semiconductor development and design from Sony's Device Solutions Business Group, and created an organization for a new era. Currently, we are managing the semiconductor organization including these three domestic companies and related overseas business sites as the Sony Semiconductor Solutions Group (hereinafter referred to as SSS Group) with a sense of unity.

And to SSS group

What SSS Group is aiming for in the future

And now. What is SSS Group aiming for in the future?

SSS Group's mission is to impress people and bring affluence to society with the power of technology, and with the highest level of imaging and sensing technology, we aim to push the limits of image quality and recognition functions and expand solutions in every scene.

In January 2022, we formulated "Sense the Wonder" as the corporate slogan of SSS Group, and continue to disseminate it to various stakeholders including employees. This corporate slogan is not limited to words that express the existence of SSS Group, but also includes the thoughts of "Let's feel more curiosity" and "Let's make the world full of surprises and excitement." SSS Group believes that the evolution of imaging and sensing technology is full of power to expand human potential and open up an exciting future.

What SSS Group is aiming for in the future
Sense the Wonder

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