Semicon West 2007: All Eyes on Future Growth

San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center again hosted the 2007 Semicon West exposition, which ran July 16–20. Last year, IBO noted a certain levity among the booths and exhibits (see IBO 7/15/06), as spirits were doubtless buoyed by the surge of business in 2006. Indeed, sales of semiconductor equipment in 2006 surpassed even the generous growth forecast made at the last Semicon West by the Semiconductor Equipment and Materials Institute (SEMI), which organizes the exposition. SEMI had predicted total sales of equipment of $38.81 billion for 2006, but the actual figure announced this week was $40.47 billion, a healthy 23% increase over 2005’s figure (and more than double the figure for 2002). The mood at the show this year was perhaps not as ebullient, but possibly more relaxed. Managers and executives could even take a little time out on the floor to receive a golf lesson (courtesy of SEMI) from Ben Alexander, the Northern California PGA Teacher of the Year. For 2007, SEMI’s midyear forecast calls for only about 1% growth to $40.91 billion in total semiconductor equipment sales. Further into the future, SEMI estimates mid single-digit growth from 2008 to 2010, by which time the market should be greater than $48.5 billion, finally exceeding the record for semiconductor equipment sales set in 2000. SEMI segments equipment into four categories: wafer processing, assembly and packaging, test and other. Most analytical equipment is involved in the wafer processing area, which is the only segment expected to grow in 2007. Furthermore, growth in this segment is estimated to be accelerating, rising from 3.5% in 2007 to 6.8% in 2010. In total, 2007 sales of wafer processing equipment are expected to reach $29.75 billion, though only a small portion of this is related to analytical instrumentation. Nevertheless, if this sustained positive growth is accurate, sales of analytical instrumentation to the semiconductor industry should definitely benefit. In contrast, test equipment segment sales are forecast to fall nearly 8% in 2007, though growth is predicted in later years. With respect to geography, sales to North America, Europe and the Rest-of-World are expected to fall in 2007, but this will be more than offset by continued growth in Asia, particularly Taiwan and China. By 2010, Taiwan is expected to surpass Japan as the largest regional source of demand for semiconductor equipment, accounting for more than $10 billion in total sales. As in years past, many vendors of analytical instrumentation for laboratory, process and inspection applications were present at Semicon West alongside manufacturers of other kinds of semiconductor tools and materials. Given that the show was distributed across several halls, some of the larger vendors had multiple booths, taking advantage of the slightly different product focus in each hall to make a more selective presentation of their products. Because semiconductor features are small and decreasing in size, various forms of microscopy are of great importance in semiconductor applications. Although optical microscopes contribute to these applications, currently most of the technological development is in other kinds of microscopy. Karma Technology, a niche supplier of scanning probe microscopes (SPM), received a Technology Innovation Showcase award from Semicon West for its emerging SPM technology, involving easily interchangeable SPM heads for improving the efficiency and uptime of automated semiconductor SPM tools. Karma has also recently partnered with Hyphenated Systems to produce a combined confocal/SPM imaging system. In June, FEI announced the introduction of the newest incarnation of its Expida product line, the Expida 1255S. The system is an advanced automated scanning/transmission electron microscope (STEM) system that uses a second ion beam to mill samples for analysis by the STEM. The system can provide high-resolution images of the sample while the milling is in process, improving sample preparation. The system is intended to address semiconductor processes at the 45-nanometer technology node and smaller, and will carry a price tag of $2 million to $3 million. Yet another inspection tool with a different basic technology is the ECO 3500 from Thermo Fisher Scientific. An update of the ECO 3000, this instrument is an automated FT-IR metrology tool for 300 mm wafers. One of the advances is that it is rated ISO class 1 for cleanroom particle contamination, making it the first tool of its kind to reach that classification. Beta systems are currently in use, and the first commercial systems will soon be placed, with a price tag of about $550,000–$660,000. Microscopy was by no means the only kind of technology on display. Tiger Optics launched the compact HALO+ cavity ringdown spectrometer. The HALO+ builds on the success of the HALO, decreasing the HALO’s detection limit for water from 2 ppb to 400 ppt. Another compact and innovative system for water measurement was the Hygrotrace from GE Sensing. The system uses an improved aluminum oxide sensor, itself a product of semiconductor manufacturing techniques, to provide measurements of water in ultrapure gases at levels under 100 ppb with reasonable accuracy. The system has a two-minute cycle time for its measurements, and each analyzer is priced at about $12,000.

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