By Julian Gates, Managing Director, AG Semiconductor Services
The multibillion-dollar secondary or used semiconductor equipment market has gone through significant changes over the past five years and has become increasingly sophisticated in its approach, with industry leaders offering a full range of services well beyond the tool purchase itself. The days of a broker trying to sell a piece of chipmaking gear of uncertain condition and provenance out of a crate on a warehouse floor are numbered. IC manufacturers trying to balance cost considerations with the need to upgrade or expand their production capability can now partner with secondary equipment services firms that offer economical turnkey solutions combining tool configuration, refurbishment, installation, start-up and support with a risk-reducing warranty package that largely mirrors that of an original equipment manufacturer.
Since most OEMs have focused their efforts on the development and proliferation of their 300mm equipment suites and have either reduced or eliminated their 200mm offerings, many semiconductor companies need support in enhancing their existing 200mm production lines, or with converting from 150 to 200mm wafer size operations. Some firms lack the internal human resources or technical proficiency to handle the equipment aspects of the ramp by themselves. With dedicated expertise in 200mm systems, the full-service secondary equipment firm can provide a project management team to the customer site that will work with the device-maker to help get the facility’s toolset up and running.
Another trend in the used equipment space we’re seeing is the synergistic combination of dedicated remarketing services with turnkey solution capabilities. Done well, these services increase the amount and diversity of a secondary equipment company’s inventory and provide customers more flexibility and velocity in their ability to buy and sell surplus equipment.
Analysts forecast that wafer fab utilization will increase in 2013 and gain momentum into 2014, which means that chipmakers will soon begin to invest in production equipment to meet the demand curve of the emerging upcycle in the market. For those seeking to gain the most out of their capital budgets, the availability of more high-quality pre-owned 200 and 300mm equipment backed by comprehensive service and support packages offers a financially attractive, low-risk path to fulfilling their capacity requirements.