Semiconductor industry growth expected to double in 2010

July 23, 2010
San Francisco, CA--At SEMICON West 2010, SEMI North America president Jonathan Davis said that the semiconductor industry is "beginning a multi-year recovery", with growth expected to double this year compared to the last.

San Francisco, CA--In an early Tuesday morning press conference on July 13th, just prior to the official opening of SEMICON West (collocated again this year with Intersolar North America), SEMI North America president Jonathan Davis said that the semiconductor industry is "beginning a multi-year recovery"--a phenomenal comeback in 2010 with growth expected to double this year compared to the last. With approximately 25,000 visitor registrations compared to 21,000 last year (returning to the 25,000 level from 2008), SEMICON West 2010 (July 13-15 at San Francisco’s Moscone Center) had a buoyant mood, although the folks at Intersolar North America seemed less certain of the future of the solar photovoltaic market, which is struggling with low profit margins. Nonetheless, the Intersolar North America conference again had three levels of exhibits at Moscone West, with 568 exhibitors compared to 630 exhibitors total at SEMICON West’s North and South Halls.

Almost recovery for 2010

On the semiconductor side, SEMI president and CEO Stan Myers said in the press conference that all forecasting companies anticipate 25 to 32% growth in 2010, a forecast that has doubled since the approximately 14.9% growth numbers were announced in January. Book-to-bill ratios have been above 1.0 since July 2009--a clear indication that the semiconductor industry is back in the black. Myers attributes this growth to a 22% increase in PC unit production as well as a 14% cell phone unit production increase in 2010, according to numbers from Gartner.

However, it is important to note that this growth is on the heels of an even more phenomenal downturn in the semiconductor industry in 2008/2009--losses so severe that 2010 growth will ‘almost’ bring the industry back to 2007 levels. Here are a few sobering statistics (all figures are approximate):

1) The worldwide wafer area shipment index, although cyclical, increased steadily from roughly 80 to 220 from January 1998 to May 2008 (with setbacks to the 80 level in late 1998 and late 2001). In February/March/April 2009 it dropped to an eight-year low of 90 and now, in May 2010, it is back to a whopping 230, according to the SEMI Silicon Manufacturers Group.

2) Equipment spending on front-end semiconductor fabrication facilities reached $38 billion in 2007, dropped to $15 billion in 2009, only to rebound to an estimated $30 billion in 2010 according to the SEMI World Fab Forecast.

3) From the SEMI Mid-Year 2010 Semiconductor Consensus Forecast, the semiconductor equipment forecast dropped from $42.77 billion in 2007 to $15.92 billion in 2009, only forecasted to increase to $32.50 billion in 2010 and grow modestly to $35.53 billion in 2011. So even though 2010 growth is phenomenal, it is important to keep it in the context of the dismal semiconductor industry numbers in 2009.

Industry responsibility: a smart planet

At the SEMICON West 2010 Keynote session on Tuesday morning, IBM Systems’ Bernard Meyerson asked the question, “Where does our innovation [in the semiconductor industry] matter?” With the industry pleased by the resurgence of growth, the next step for the industry, said Meyerson, is to work towards developing a smarter planet. Pointing out that two-thirds of the states in America will have water shortages by 2013, that congested roadways cost the U.S. $80 billion dollars per year, that carrots typically travel 1600 miles to reach a consumer’s table, and that $2 million incorrect, hand-written prescriptions are filled every year in the U.S., the semiconductor industry needs to embrace its improved computational powers and direct them towards creating a smarter planet, with focus on improving manual processes and improving the methods of commerce and trade. Unfortunately, Meyerson noted that R&D spending has significantly dropped as a function of revenue for the semiconductor industry, making new innovation more and more difficult. One way to make a smarter planet, said Meyerson, is to have companies and industry consortia working together in a collaborative effort, citing the work of IBM in its Albany Nanotech center--an unprecedented collaboration called "Silicon Valley East." Meyerson concludes that improved computing can address the global issues we are facing.

New technologies

Some of the notable new products unveiled at SEMICON West/Intersolar North America 2010 were a laser-based fluid flow sensor from Digmesa (Stansstad, Switzerland; watch for an upcoming news story on this from Laser Focus World), the 9900 ultra-thin wafer-dicing system from Electro Scientific Industries (ESI; Portland, OR) that provides high-break-strength laser dicing for silicon wafers less than 50 microns thick, and a new ContourGT Optical Surface Profiler from Veeco Instruments (Tucson, AZ) configured for characterizing high-brightness light-emitting diode (HB-LED) patterned sapphire substrates (PSSs). Also, Tiger Optics (Warrington, PA) launched what it says is the world’s first ammonia analyzer designed for high brightness LED-related (HB LED) production that uses cavity ring-down spectroscopy (CRDS) technology.

In addition to these new products, nanotechnology research institute IMEC (Leuven, Belgium) announced a number of developments: an extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) mask-cleaning program for defect-free EUV masks crucial to achieving high chip manufacturing yield; demonstration of patterning and metallization of 20 nm half-pitch copper lines in silicon oxide with a TiN metal hard mask; a 15 micron MEMS mirror designed for use in display systems that uses an electrostatic actuation mechanism relying on 6 electrodes; and demonstration of 16.3% efficient epitaxial solar cells.

--Gail Overton; [email protected]; www.laserfocusworld.com.

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