Released on the opening day of the annual SEMICON West exposition in San Francisco, CA this quarter, the mid-year edition of the SEMI Capital Equipment Forecast shows an improving outlook for the chip equipment industry. Following two years of conservative capital investments by major chip manufacturers, SEMI forecasts equipment sales will reach $43.98 billion in 2014, a 21 percent increase over estimated 2013 equipment spending ($36.29 billion).

Cited as key drivers for semiconductor equipment spending are the significant NAND Flash fab investments by Samsung in China and Toshiba/Sandisk in Japan and investments by Intel, including at its fabs in Ireland.

Most major regions of the world will see significant equipment spending increases, the report claims. The highest growth is forecasted in China (82 percent), Europe (79 percent), South Korea (31 percent), and Japan (21 percent), but in North America this moderates slightly to just under double-digit levels at nine percent. While only projected to show two percent growth in 2014, Taiwan will continue to be the world’s largest spender with $10.62 billion estimated for next year, followed by North America at $8.75 billion and Korea with $8.74 billion.
Denny McGuirk, president and CEO of SEMI, explained in a statement, “Continued strong demand by consumers for smart phones and tablet computers is driving chip manufacturers to expand capacity for memory, logic and wireless devices.”

“To meet the pent-up demand for capacity, particularly for leading-edge devices, we expect capital spending to increase throughout the remainder of this year and continue through 2014 — to post one of the highest rates of global investment for semiconductor manufacturing ever.”

It’s thought that front-end wafer processing equipment will grow 24 percent in 2014 to $35.59 billion, up from $28.70 billion in 2013, while test equipment and assembly and packaging equipment will also experience growth next year, rising to $3.18 billion (up six percent) and $2.9 billion (+14 percent), respectively.

Expanding solutions
The forecast indicates that next year will be the second largest spending year ever, surpassed only by $47.7 billion spent in 2000. But what does all this mean for the specialty gases business?

The growing consumer demand for increasingly powerful flat screens, smart phones and tablets, and the capital equipment spending to match, is opening up a window of opportunity for the gases community to provide the electronic materials (EMs) to enable the next wave of growth. As Specialty Gas Report explored last quarter, a number of higher purity products are coming to the fore as solutions for the electronics business, in addition to the existing electronics gases that the industry provides.

Insight table

Advanced devices use new elements that require gases such as germane (GeH4) and precursors for materials such as hydrogen fluoride (HF), zirconium (Zr), tanatalum (Ta), titanium (Ti) and copper (Cu), we understand. Lower temperature deposition also requires new Si deposition materials such as hexachlorodisilane (HCDS), while advanced lithography applications such as immersion lithography use carbon dioxide and the next generation extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) technology will likely consume large amounts of hydrogen.
Air Liquide has made no secret of its intentions toward capturing the expected growth in the semiconductor business, recently acquiring US-based electronics materials manufacturer Voltaix Inc. The deal brings together synergies in molecule discovery and scale-up and is expected to expand the product offering to the semiconductor industry.

One of the areas of particular growth and investment for the microelectronics sector is MEMS (micromechanical systems). MEMS are miniaturized electro-mechanical elements that are widely used in many mobile and automotive applications, and are seen as key building blocks for the machine-to-machine (M2M) communications which will drive the next semiconductor growth wave.

The global MEMS market is set to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13 percent to 2017, driven largely by advancements in M2M communications. These include biomedical applications where the ability to transport fluids on a microscopic scale will enhance tasks such as drug delivery and blood analysis.

To satisfy an increased demand for MEMS devices, Linde and Pelchem (the global fluorochemicals specialist) have recently formed a strategic partnership to distribute xenon difluoride (XeF2), a critical material used in the manufacture of MEMS. The properties of XeF2 make it ideally suited to the etching of MEMS silicon.

In summary, a time of considerable change and optimism lay ahead for the electronics sector, as demonstrated at SEMICON West 2013 in July. With the projections for the microelectronics industry going up, up and up, it appears that 2014 will be a big year for the electronics/specialty gases business.