From perceived to being in something of a demand lull 5+ years ago, the electronics gases business is firmly in vogue right now, as the further expansion of Air Products’ supply to Samsung demonstrates.
As Air Products explains, the expansion is the latest stage in a multi-phase elaboration of its nitrogen delivery to the electronics giant’s giga fab.
It is also the latest in a long line of electronics-related project news for the gases industry, with a plethora of high-profile plants and contracts revealed across the US, China and South Korea in recent months and years.
The reason for this? The semiconductor sector is enjoying a period of clarity and conviction, as we reflect in our upcoming February 2018 issue of gasworld magazine. There’s less confusion about ‘the next big thing’ and more conviction in the technological roadmap it aims to pursue.
I ‘called it’ in February 2016 when I wrote a piece on the newfound ‘serenity in semiconductors’. Back then, the industry was beginning to put the ‘wild ride’ of previous years behind it and, against a backdrop of challenges facing the oil and steel markets at the time, benefit from a welcome sense of stability.
The electronics industry will always be linked to consumer demand and increasingly GDP, so will never be truly non-cyclical in the sense that healthcare or food and beverages are, for example. But even back in early 2016, the markets for electronics, chips and semiconductor equipment and materials have been much more stable year-to-year than in the years prior to the financial crisis of 2009. These segments are also more synchronised compared to years gone by.
But what we have seen in the last 12-18 months is not just stability, but confidence and conviction – and that’s driving ever-increasing demands for electronics materials and their suppliers. Helium, hydrogen and rare gases, for example, are in arguably more demand than ever before.
There’s also increasing demand for consistency and quality in the provision of these gases, while we understand the Internet of Things (IoT) megatrend has created a further layer of stability and optimism in the semiconductor industry as it drives the adoption of the devices required to facilitate various levels of digitization for the consumer and industry alike. There’s even a visible uptick in legacy 200mm wafer manufacturing.
All of which means we can likely expect to see a further proliferation in electronics gas activity such as this from Air Products in the months and years ahead.