When the almost 27,000 attendees of SEMICON West 2013 gathered at the Moscone Center in San Francisco this July, they did so at a buoyant time for the semiconductor and microelectronics business.

While at last year’s show there was something of a brave new world in the air, as Specialty Gas Report reported in its review, this year the mood was both bold and optimistic. Topics surrounding the 450mm wafer, micromechanical system (MEMS) devices, and extreme-ultraviolet lithography (EUV) now appear to be less of a step into the unknown and more of an assertive entry into a new wave of growth.
This was summed up by a packed agenda across the event’s three-days of conference and exhibition. SEMICON West is the flagship event for the global microelectronics industry and headline topics this year included innovation in silicon markets, progress in EUV, and the sub-20nm device shrink, as well as an R&D Consortia Update which saw industry leaders share the keynote stage to discuss the industry’s top R&D challenges and collaborative R&D opportunities.

An Extreme Electronics session, titled Integrating Conventional Silicon in Flexible Electronics, also explored the various techniques available for creating very thin silicon chips that can be incorporated in flexible systems and the many ways to cost-effectively and reliably integrate more conventional processors, MEMS sensors or high speed RF communications with printed/flexible electronics systems into wider applications.

Opening keynote speaker Ajit Manocha, GlobalFoundries CEO, explained how the rules of the game have changed in the silicon foundry business in the last two decades and, amidst rising capital costs and increasing investment risk, called for a collaborative ‘Foundry 2.0’ business model for the future. More collaboration among IC design firms, foundries, suppliers of semiconductor equipment and materials, and other parties is required these days, he asserted.

Manocha then identified what he called ‘the Big Five challenges’ to the contemporary semiconductor industry - device architectures and materials, lithography (specifically extreme-ultraviolet lithography), packaging, 450mm wafers, and cost.

Underlining the sense of optimism in the electronics industry, however, was Gartner analyst David Christensen. Speaking at the event’s SEMI/Gartner Market Symposium, the senior research analyst described the driving factors for IC growth in 2013 and said, “It’s going to be a good year for memory chips, especially NAND flash memory devices. And a good year to be an equipment supplier to foundries, especially Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing.”

It’s going to be a good year for memory chips…And a good year to be an equipment supplier to foundries…

Global economic conditions are “still in a state of flux” Christensen said, but they are shaping up for “healthy economic acceleration in 2014” unless there are some negative developments, such as a US setback and a Eurozone meltdown. The semiconductor industry will enjoy a “strong growth pattern in the second and third quarters,” he predicted.

Confidence was also conveyed courtesy of the mid-year edition of the SEMI Capital Equipment Forecast, released on the opening day of the exposition. The report sees SEMI forecast semiconductor equipment sales of almost $44 billion in 2014, up 21% over the estimated 2013 equipment spending.

The increase will follow two years of little or no growth in global sales of equipment, according to SEMI, with China leading the way in terms of geographic growth next year (up 82 percent) and North American growth steady at nine percent.

Progress on the EUV front was also a source of discussion at SEMICON West 2013. While EUV isn’t completely out of the lab and into the fab yet, the event reported, the good news is that it’s on the way. Investments, acquisitions and process developments are all said to be underway in this area and Nikon Precision for example, the industry’s long-time lithography leader, is reported to be planning to have argon fluoride immersion system prototypes, capable of handling 450-millimeter wafers, in the 2015-16 timeframe.

SEMI figures showed almost 27,000 attendees, with 11 percent international visitors and 680 exhibiting companies from 23 countries, including 80 new exhibitors - demonstrating that the show is clearly in good health.

Organisers of the event, which features exhibits, products, technical sessions, and solutions, are already looking ahead to next year’s show. SEMICON West 2014 will be held from July 8-10, 2014 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, CA once more.
• www.semiconwest.org